How to Start your Own Hairdressers

What is it?

A hairdresser's is a business that primarily deals with the maintaining and styling of hair. However, salons are increasingly starting to offer more than just a simple cut and blow-dry. There are also vast arrays of other services on offer at hairdressing salons from manicures to electrolysis, body piercing to tanning.

Hairdressing businesses are a common sight on the high street but you don't have to rent expensive shop premises. Many businesses are mobile, where the hairdresser goes into a customer's home. Whichever you opt for, you'll need to do a lot of planning before you wield those scissors.

Government statistics estimate the amount of money spent on hairdressing to be somewhere in the region of £5bn annually. Around three quarters of businesses in the field are independently owned but over the last few years there has been a marked rise in the number of chain and franchise salons appearing on the high street.

Who is it suited to?

You may be drawn to the idea but are you suited for a life of shampooing and shaving? Before you even start to think about setting up, you should have several years' hairdressing experience of your own.

Thomas McMillan founder of the McMillan salon franchise believes you can run into a lot of difficulty if you don't have the appropriate level of experience to run a salon.

"Running a hairdressing salon and working in one are two very different worlds and you'll need plenty of advice and coaching before you start," he says. "For example, something like stock control. If you're just a stylist it's probably not something you've paid much attention to, but it's so important to get it right to avoid financial difficulties."

If you're particularly good with people this is a business which tends to inspire a great deal of loyalty from its customers who will often visit the same branch for years. Many people will even follow a particular hairdresser if they move to a new business.

As Linda Heald from Keeping Up Appearances in Chichester, West Sussex says: "I've had the privilege of working with some wonderful people. Getting paid for something you love doing and working with friends in a nice atmosphere can't be beaten."

Having said that, there's more to it than just standing there and asking the customer where they're going for their holidays. Things can get fraught, particularly at busy times and it's best to be able to stay calm in stressful situations. Making mistakes with people's hair is not one they'll forgive easily. "The pressure is high and you need to have the right kind of temperament to deal with that," says McMillan.


As with any business, when you start up a hairdressers you will need a certain amount of capital behind you. However, you may be in the position that Linda Heald, owner of Keeping Up Appearances found herself in, three years ago, when she took over a business following the death of a friend. As she says: "It all happened so quickly and unexpectedly that I was swept along by events."

However, it was still necessary to formulate a business plan. "Right from the start we drew up a contract stating the responsibilities of each of us and detailed how the business would be divided in the event of a split. We knew from the age and needs of our clients and the kind of clientele we wanted to attract. As so many 'upmarket' salons only do cut and finish we decided to target the older customers who could not do their own hair. This gave us a guaranteed weekly income that other salons were turning away."

There are many different types of salon out there, which attract and cater for different sectors of the market. For example, there will be those that mainly have young urban professional customers on their books, those that attract families and those, like Linda Heald's that attract the older generation. If you're running a female salon, bridal packages can also be very profitable.

Rules and regulations

A typical hairdressing salon will contain a wealth of electrical items, from shavers and hairdryers to curling irons and possibly electrolysis equipment. Portable electrical equipment must be checked to see that it is suitably maintained every two years. This is your responsibility and a reliable electrician must carry out the check.

Obviously, it's good to keep a check yourself and it may not be as difficult as you might think. Just by looking at an electrical appliance the wiring and the socket pins especially you should often be able to judge its safety. If you're worried, don't use it and call an electrician out.

There are also new regulations on the disposal of electrical equipment known as the WEEE regulations that you will also need to abide by when replacing or getting rid of any electrical items.

One of the most important laws which hairdressers must abide by relates to hair dyes and shampoos, some of which can be hazardous, causing such conditions as dermatitis. Care also needs to be taken in the handling of chemicals, in some cases protective clothing must be worn to protect skin or to prevent inhaling toxic fumes. All cosmetic products must be safely and correctly labelled.

Regulations known as Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) have to be followed with regards to the use and storage of chemicals at work. Again, it is down to the business owner to make the necessary arrangements.

Les Purseglove, team leader of Nottingham Civic Council's Health & Safety Enforcement Section, says that the local authorities are there to see that these laws are being enforced and that health and safety issues at work are being promoted.

Staff working on customers' hair must be qualified and have their GNVQ Level 2. Linda Heald, who also lectures in hairdressing at a local college, advises her students to get at least five years' experience before considering starting up their own business. It takes time for all these various checks to come through.

As an employer, you are liable for the work your staff do. With members of the public stepping over your threshold, you must also have public liability insurance. You also need to ask the local fire department to advise you on extinguishers and escape routes.

Purseglove adds: "Hairdressing is an interesting case because although they are often small businesses there are a number of significant risks in the working environment. If your salon has a sunbed or someone carrying out massage or beauty therapies such as aromatherapy then you have to have a license."

Your local authority's licensing department are the people to approach. These licences ensure that everything is being carried out safely on the premises and there is no danger of cross-contamination. If you are only styling and cutting hair though, you don't need any kind of licence but it may work in your favour to be registered with the Hairdressing Council as it could instill confidence in your customers.

How much does it cost to start?

A number of hairdressing businesses currently for sale over the internet indicate that purchasing a business can cost anywhere between £5,000 and £59,000. As an example, The Cottage Barbers on the outskirts of Birmingham cost the owner Anita Barlow £13,000.

In most hairdressers' that are up for sale, fixtures and fittings are almost always bought up with the shop itself. If yours is the exception, or you are going to refurbish the place and start again then there are rough guidelines to what you could expect to pay.

Anthony Holland and Romano Zullo of Zullo and Pack in Nottingham have recently had their salon refurbished. Their costs are similar to those that a startup might incur:

For fitting out units, mirror units, partitions and a reception area, it cost them £8,000. Legal costs were £2,000. New flooring cost them £1,500. Signage for their salon was a further £500. It is worth bearing in mind that the design was carried out by a designer from a TV home makeover show and that this is a large city centre business. Smaller local businesses may well be slightly more modest in their spending.

When McMillan opened his first salon in Glasgow he bought mirrors from Ikea and basic wash basins from a local company but now he averages around £50,000 to fit out each of his new salons.

"Cost will always depend on the premises," he says. "But it's got to the stage now where customers expect a certain level of decor from a salon and you need to keep up with that to attract the right kind of clientele."

Some basic equipment you'll need for any salon includes:

Styling chair: £150-£1,000 each
Mirror units: £200 each
Wash units: £200-£3,000 each

Hood dryer: £100-£500
Trolley: £50-£300 each

It goes without saying that you'll also need at least £2-3,000 for other basics such as scissors, pins, clips, rollers etc. These items will need to of good quality so it's best not to go for the cheaper options early on as you may end up spending even more on regular replacements.

How much can I earn?

Geographical location will also affect your pricing. Customers visiting a salon in central London will obviously be willing to pay more than a small town in the North of the country. However, your own experience will also play a part in determining your prices.

Many salons charge differently according to the level of stylist. They'll often be a separate price list for the chief stylist and it gives customers the option of choosing a more experienced hairdresser if they're willing to pay a bit more for it.

McMillan says you can't be afraid to increase your prices as you become more established. "If anything, your long-term customers will want to see that you've moved on and a higher price is a way of instilling confidence that you're good at what you do," he explains.

Another factor in determining how many other stylists you employ. Aside from high street rents, one of your biggest expenses will be staff. But how much should you pay them? Although technically anyone can work in a hairdressing salon, any business worth its salt will only employ those who are qualified. The other thing to remember is that you will have to comply with the minimum wage, which means keeping up to date with the relevant legislation.

So hairdressing is not a business that will make you a millionaire, unless you operate on the scale of Toni & Guy or Nicky Clarke. If you're in business purely for the money, then hairdressing is probably not the way to go.

However, running a good salon isn't just about the money for a lot of hairdressers. A good salon should inspire real loyalty from its clients. A trip to have a haircut or a new style is often the way that many people go to relax or to de-stress and pamper themselves. Particularly among the older generation, it is considered a luxury. So on a personal level it can be a highly rewarding business to go into.

Tips for Success

  • Always be passionate about learning and training as new practices and styles become popular
  • Jargon words they may be, but being customer focused and investing in your team will reap you benefits
  • It's always worth considering alternative agencies for appropriate financial backing it won't do any harm
  • It may be worth investing in attending an accountancy course. If you could complete your tax returns yourself, it could save you a good deal of money on accountants' bills.
  • Vet your staff qualifications are important
  • Many salons are in rented premises. It sounds obvious, but to avoid headaches make sure you have a written agreement with your landlords that you understand.

Useful contacts

Hair and Beauty Suppliers Association

The government approved standards setting body for hair and beauty

The Freelance Hairdressers Federation

Hairdressing Council

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