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Interview Styling the Future of Business: A Q&A with Hairdresser Extraordinaire Ricky Walters

Styling the Future of Business: A Q&A with Hairdresser Extraordinaire Ricky Walters

Hey – I’m Abbie and I working in the marketing team here at the Speakers Corner towers. A graduate from the University of Adelaide, I hold two degrees in Commerce and Media. Upon completion I decided to relocate from my small beachside town in South Australia to London. I am please to report that I’m loving it here so far, although it has taken some time to get accustomed to there being more people on the tube in the morning then there are in my entire town!

When you picture a high school drop-out, not many people picture a successful entrepreneur, working their way up from the bottom to create an empire. This is exactly what Ricky Walters has done. 

Leaving school at 16 with no formal qualifications, Ricky walked his high street looking for anyone who would hire him. After reading an advertisement for a local hair salon, he joined the team as an apprentice. Fast forward and Ricky opened his own part salon, part cocktail bar Salon64 in 2017, and already it has won numerous awards and is paving the way for not only salons, but businesses alike.

He came in to speak to us, and we were so intrigued and fascinated by his story that we needed to ask more questions. We caught up to ask some of our burining questions and chat about his career, the struggles he's faced and how he tackles 'millennials'.

You have had such an interesting career so far, but let’s take it back to the beginning. How did you get into hairdressing?

I left school at the age of 16 with the dream that my parents would fund my lifestyle for the next 30 years or so. This apparently  was "ridiculous". I therefore knew I would have to go out and find a job. With zero qualifications to my name partnered with  a lot of enthusiasm I went out and searched for ANYTHING that would line my pockets. 

Still with no real aim or desire to be in hairdressing I managed to sweet talk my way to the interview stage of various jobs. For example a security guard at an expensive London jewelers and a funky record shop were a few potentials. 

On the list of random jobs that were willing to sit down and talk with me happened to be a small hair salon located within the town I grew up.  

Being positive I could fake an interest in the hair industry I accepted the job and little did I know I would stay in the hair world for good. 

When you came in to talk to us, you mentioned 3 of the key questions that clients would ask which ultimately led you to create a salon which answered these questions and resolved the needs of clients. Could you talk us through these questions and how they helped shape Salon64?

Number one question the majority of my clients would ask me ..... "Do you have a phone charger?"  

Probably a question you hear extremely often in the last few years compared to ten years ago, however still a vital one. Working away on a clients head of hair I couldn't understand why businesses do not accommodate such important needs. Being based at the time within a five star hotel you are trained from day one to never say no to a client and therefore moving of hairdryers, curling tongs and other miscellaneous hair equipment in order to prioritise a phone charge would be a daily occurrence. I knew in my head something had to be done to solve this issue longer term. 

"Can I stay and use your mirror to do my makeup?" - Another massively popular question of my clients. The answer of course always being YES! However everyone preparing their makeup in the salon can lead to complications as to where to cut your non makeup applying clients. It seemed madness that ladies ( and men) have absolutely nowhere to just simply get ready for their evening ahead. Cramming themselves into dirty public toilets, squinting into a tiny compact mirror far too small for purpose. The more I observed my clients behaviour the more I noted problems within the industry I believed I could fix.

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Last but not least my clients would ask, "Can my friend Carol (other names often too)  join me for a catch up while I have my hair done?"

With not only limited space inside salons the traditional salon layout is not something built with socialising in mind. All chair sat facing long mirrors around the perimeter of the room its nearly impossible to see the person next to you without receiving a very questionable haircut. 

Once again my mind was racing. How can we create a space that solved all these unanswered questions and put salons back into the twenty first century alongside other industries. 

What are some of the struggles you faced when trying to set up your salon, and how did you overcome them?

First of all ..... Investment! A brilliant idea and a lot of enthusiasm can only ever really get you as far as the investment stage. It was at this point when I saw there was a gap in the market and knew in my head I wanted to own my own business did I then question " now what?" I didn't have any cash of my own so I needed to solve this problem. I have since learned there is a multiple of different ways to gain investment for a new start up. Crowd funding, hedge funds, Private Equity, Gov funded schemes etc etc. I did not do any of these! 

Basing myself within a five star London Hotel I could see a huge amount of wealth around and me and having never been shy to ask for something when needing it I began to pitch for investment to my entire client base. The beauty of this is that my clients were trapped in my chair for around an hour anyway and had little choice but to hear my pitch. After countless attempts and leads I finally secured investment from a client! However this was just struggle number one. 

Hurdle number two was in the form of a premises. We had the vision and ideas, now had the investment, however we needed a property to start this venture. With no track record or trading history landlords would often laugh the 26 year old hairdresser out the meeting. Although SALON64 did eventually find find a home it is important to note the time frame involved with building any business. Often when Entrepreneurs tell their story they tell the Hollywood vision. 

Securing investment - Roughly one year 

Securing a property - Roughly one year 

We hadn't even started building and already 2 years in. 

I wont bore you with two many more struggles however from the last few years of trading I have learnt there is ALWAYS a solution. Usually all struggles help you to develop your business further and have a better end product. LONG LIVE STRUGGLES 

Your salon is leading the way for not only the hair industry, but the entire beauty and cosmetic world. What sets you apart from other salons, and what are some of your secrets to staying ahead of the crowd and being innovative?

I find within the hair and beauty industry people are too busy watching each other and their competitors. Taking inspiration from your own industry tends to mean very little growth which is why I believe the appearance of salons have stayed the same for so long. 

It is key to take inspiration from other industries in which you admire. Members clubs, Luxury hotels, Restaurants all played a huge part in the design and brand SALON64. I would always note things I hated about my industry and create a list over many years with the idea of solving such problems. 

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You mentioned that you have some tips and tricks for managing ‘millennials’. What are your three top tips on managing millennials that businesses could learn from?

Only a Millennial can call another Millennial - A MILLENNIAL 

Starting SALON64 at the age of 26 and now as I write this being 27 years old makes me a Millennial. A word  I HATE being associated with. Millennial is certainly a buzz word of the last year or so and it feels large companies are spending a huge amount of time and money to work out how to treat millennials. 

I would first of all sit down one to one with these millenials and ask them there likes and dislikes. Based upon these answers you can come up with a non official, non formal, Millennial plan. Remember Millennial  or not nobody likes to feel managed. 

I am told Millenials feel empowered? Great EMPOWER them! A snazzy title here, a heart to heart there, and the odd multiple choice questions and before you know it your new " CLEANLINESS MANAGER" feels respected, listened to and when given the choice would rather clean the stairs rather than the toilet, all while feeling empowered. RESULT!!!!!!!

If you had one thing that audiences could take away from your speech, what would it be?

I would love the audience to feel a sense of anything is possible no matter how unlikely. I do truly believe there is an answer to everything and with a little bit of ambition along with some creative thinking you can arrive somewhere very very special. Yes there is an element of very hard work and graft however I hope those listening to my speech can see the fun upsides to this hard work and learn take a few things from my story to help them with their own story. 

Finally, what’s on the horizon for you?

We are now around a year and a half into the business at SALON64 and its all systems go. I would like to push the salon boundary even further and continue to innovate within a market place that I feel is stagnant. Hair products, other branches as well as a big spin on what we have already created is all something I am currently working on and will be showcased in the not so distant future. 

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Thank you Ricky for taking the time to answer our questions, we can't wait to see what you do in the future!

For further information or to book Ricky Walters, call us on +44 (0)20 7607 7070 or email info@speakerscorner.co.uk.

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