How I Built a £50k/month Beauty
Salon Chain In One of London’s Prime Locations
Hi! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hi, my name is Ksenia McAnulty and I am the founder of Selfish London, a beauty salon chain based in Shoreditch, London. I founded my first salon four years ago. At that point in time we began with three employees and I was working 14 hours shifts with no days off! Now we have two salons, and nineteen employees, including a PR and Marketing Manager. I can now go on holiday once a year knowing that my managers and my staff will look after the business while I am gone!
What is your personal story and how did you come up with the idea?
A lot of people are surprised when they find out that I am not a qualified Nail Technician or a Beautician as usually, they own the salons. I have a Masters degree in International Trade and World Economics and my Diploma in Product Branding. I have worked as a Store Manager, Operations Manager and then finally as a Freelance Buyer for several companies, from a chain of lifestyle shops to a luxury distributor of beauty products.
I was working a lot with the certification and importing of goods from around the world but my main job was to find unique brands in categories of furniture, home accessories, beauty, giftware, tableware, etc and introduce them to the companies I was working with.
Throughout the years, I have developed a very large brand portfolio consisting of hundreds of companies from around the world. At one point, there simply weren’t enough new brands for me to discover, so my job became more routine and less exciting. This is when the idea of opening up my own store came into play.
I have always been interested in beauty and attended salons on a regular basis. My nails were always neatly made up! I was booked in for three months in advance to have work done every two weeks with the same person and it was a tragedy if she had fallen ill and someone else had to take over!
As a customer, I am the worst, just ask any of my staff! They hate doing my nails. I am a perfectionist and for me, there is always something that can be done better. I think this is one of the secrets behind the success of Selfish – we give really good manicures! From attending salons frequently and speaking with their staff, and with the idea of having my own store already in my head, I figured out that the beauty business has potential for very high profit margins.
I used to travel to South London from the Isle of Dogs over in East London to get my nails and waxing done just for the staff and level of service. Of the many salons I have tried in my time, many were either lacking atmosphere, their price was too high or the staff were too snobby!
The quality of service was not to my personal standard or in some cases they were not very hygienic. I recall a time once, having my nails done underneath an open staircase with dirt falling on my head! I realised that there was a gap in the market for chic modern salons with friendly staff, affordable prices and high-quality service. With all of my past experience and business contacts, I decided to give it a go!
What challenges did you face when creating your product/service?
The main challenge was raising the funds. I had to convince my investors and make sure my business plan was as detailed as possible. It was a lot easier to open the second salon (and a lot cheaper) taking into account the mistakes we avoided from opening the first business. It was challenging (and it always is) to find staff. We only employ qualified professionals with several years of experience and they are hard to find.
Finding the right price point and marketing tools was a mistake I think we made with our first salon. We undersold our services and the marketing strategy was more focused on price rather than quality. I did not make this mistake with my second beauty salon.
Our pricing is average for the area. We are not priced as high as luxury salons, but we are confident that the quality of service we provide is of the same level as a beauty salon in Mayfair! I think it is important for businesses to stand their ground in regards to the quality/price factor of their products and services.
Dealing with competition is always a challenge, although we started out pretty lucky. From 2016-2018, the competition at our price point were the South-East Asian owned salons, which at that time didn’t necessarily brand themselves as ‘chic’, and a few larger nail franchises with newly trained Nail Technicians, meaning their manicures weren’t always of a high standard.
Since 2019, there are more ‘chic’ salons popping up everywhere so we have really had to step our game up to make sure we keep our clients, or at the very least, we share them.
Who is your target market?
Our target market is primarily females aged 23-40 years old, working or living in the City. They are young professionals, models, architects, lawyers, you name it! It really is a blessing for our team since we get to meet with so many interesting people every day. We make great connections and learn new things all the time.
We have male clients too, but I would say they are around 5% of our customer base. Our male clientele have become regulars because my plan was always to create a unisex branded salon. Our colours and furniture are not necessarily pink and girly, and I guess that worked! I also think that the experience level of my staff puts them at ease. I imagine it can feel quite daunting for a man to walk into an all-female beauty salon!
How do you market your business and which approaches have been the most successful?
We have tried several marketing platforms. Looking back, I would have employed a marketing manager from the start of our business if the budget was available. Paid adverts on Facebook, Google and Instagram have worked, but I don’t think the return on investment is high enough in our line of business. They might bring one or two clients who spend an average of £30 a time.
So 2000 people may have seen the advert, 300 like it, 3 people clicked it, and then 1 attended! I find that paid adverts work best when you have highly discounted services to offer or when one or three customers is enough to break even on the advertising cost. For example, a neighbouring hair salon uses paid ads successfully but their average advertised service is £250.
We have worked with booking platforms like Treatwell and so far it has been successful. However, it costs around £2000 a month in commission fees so we are aiming to cut this out in the future. At the moment, we are focusing on brand collaborations working with influencers, and promoting our Instagram page. Our content is excellent at the moment.
We are also approaching the surrounding office blocks in person. This has been the most successful method for us so far and it comes at no cost! I would also like to highlight the importance of a search engine optimisation (SEO) specialist working on your website from the beginning. You can gain an impressive amount of traffic from organic Google searches and this shouldn’t be ignored.
Since you launched, what has worked in not only attracting but retaining customers?
The main thing is our team. Most of our staff have been with us from the beginning or since we started expanding. Obviously we have had some unintended losses over the years, but our careful hiring process is the key to making sure our clients return. Not just for the service but for the person providing it.
During some beauty treatments, a client sits with a therapist for up to two hours sometimes. This means that there must be a personal connection established between them to make this time pass more enjoyably. We treat our clients as friends.
What kind of culture exists in your company, and how did you establish it?
We try to create a friendly atmosphere where everyone can have fun. As a team, we spend more time at work than at home with our families, so it must be this way. We joke around a lot and we have a lot of laughs! Our group chats are just basically that. You don’t want to run a company where employees dread coming to work every day.
As both of our salons are small, we do not have a staff room so we made the decision to close the salons for a lunch hour each day. This way, all staff members are able to completely relax and unwind, connect with each other and share or be silent if that’s what they need. We also try to meet up once a month for a team-building activity. This brings everyone closer as a team and makes each individual feel valued.
What software, services or tools do you use within your business?
What are the most important lessons have you learned on your business journey?
I have learnt that I should have prioritised comfort over design and invested in a designer group to plan my first salon. I planned it myself, hence it wasn’t all practical and perfect. To reach our current point, we had to remodel twice. We wasted money. Having an eye for design doesn’t make you a designer and it’s worth finding the couple of thousand extra, trust me. A professional designer will save you much more in the future!
I have also learnt that it is better to conduct staff interviews myself since, as the business owner, it is only really me who can grasp whether someone is the right fit for my company. When your main value lies with your staff and the services they provide, you should try to minimise the number of mistakes in this area.
In the beginning I did not set clear boundaries between me and my staff. That has led to miscommunications, misbehaviour and poor quality of service. No matter how long you have worked with a staff member, you still need to be clear so that they understand that the rules set by the company must be adhered to. It is hard to be someone’s friend and their employer.
Another important lesson I have learnt is that you should evaluate the economic status of the market you are looking to operate within. I should have done this before opening my second beauty salon. Next time I decide to expand, I will hire an expert to do this for me. Even if you follow the news and believe you are savvy, it doesn’t mean you can predict a minor economic crisis, the likes of which can drastically impact your business!
What is your favourite aspect of being an entrepreneur?
Being my own boss, being able to use my creative potential to the max and being able to impact so many lives in a positive way. Either through excellent service to my clients, or creating employment opportunities.
What is your LEAST favourite aspect of being an entrepreneur?
The fact that my stress level is constantly at its highest! Something always needs to be dealt with and there is very rarely any peace. You can never clock out and forget about work. I am on my phone 24/7!
What books, podcasts or other resources have inspired and influenced your business journey?
1) Inner Engineering by Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev
2) The Business Model Navigator by Oliver Gassmann, Karolin Frankenberger, and Michaela Csik
3) The Positive Leader by Jan Muchlfeit
4) Creative Personal Branding by Jurgen Salenbacher
5) Customers for Life by Pawl Brown and Carl Sewel
6) Leading with Emotional Courage by Peter Bregmen
Where do you see your business 2-3 years from now?
Taking into the account the COVID-19 pandemic, I have no idea! I can go bankrupt, I can survive. Everything depends upon the government’s help, my landlord’s co-operation and the duration of the pandemic in the UK. My plan was to open the third salon on my own this year or to find investors and to open a few salons next year. But I think this will have to wait now.