Beauty will never go out of business
The Galligan sisters run one of Ireland's leading beauty colleges. They tell Sean Gallagher their secrets to staying at the top of their industry
From exotic spas and professional hair and beauty salons to dedicated beauty counters in department stores, it has never been easier to look and feel good.
And as a business sector, the hair and beauty industry has shown it is largely resistant to downturns. Yes, consumers get more price conscious during recessionary times - but they tend not to stop spending altogether. And whether you are looking to get your hair cut, your nails done or to avail of the latest in non-surgical face-lift technology, you are going to need the services of a qualified therapist.
So last week I paid a visit to the Galligan Hairdressing and Beauty College - one of Ireland's longest-established beauty colleges - to learn more about the beauty business.
Set up in 1976 by Kay Galligan and located on Dublin's bustling Grafton Street, the business is now run by her daughters Lorraine and Careena Galligan. As they celebrate their 40th year in business, I am keen to know what they think has been the secret to their success.
"I think that is because of the reputation we have built up over many years," explains managing director Careena. "We are also accredited by the leading international awarding bodies, which has allowed us to continuously offer industry-recognised qualifications and the latest in course content," she adds.
"Our team of experienced tutors have vast experience, which provides students with the practical and theoretical training they need to be successful in the industry," adds Lorraine, who heads up the training side of the business.
The pair also operate a working salon in the same building, where students get the opportunity to gain hands-on experience of what it is like to work in a real-life salon environment.
"Our courses are also provided on a full-time or part-time basis, which offers added flexibility to students who may still be in full-time employment," says Careena. "Our primary target market used to be school leavers looking to pursue a career in beauty therapy, but this has now grown to include women wanting to re-train or return to the workforce - perhaps having had a family, or having been recently made redundant," she adds.
There's certainly a buzz around the place. In one room, a tutor is busy teaching a small class, while in another, students, dressed in purple tunics, get to work - practising on each other.
Looking through the list of available courses and modules, there are subjects ranging from skincare and facial treatments, to manicures, pedicures, make-up, nails and waxing. There are also foundation courses on general anatomy and physiology as well as exercise, diet and nutrition. For those with an interest in health and wellness, it's easy to see why the college is so appealing.
Next door, I get to meet the advanced class. Here, already qualified staff who are working in salons across the country have turned up for an intensive two-day course on electrolysis. On another floor, the sound of hairdryers tells its own story. This is where the next generation of hairdressers and hair stylists are being trained. Here they will learn everything from cutting and colouring to styling and barbering - a trend that has definitely been growing in recent years.
"One the most attractive aspects of this industry is that it offers graduates so many different opportunities - whether that's working in a salon or spa, or starting their own business," says Lorraine. "It also offers opportunities to travel - every year we have cruise liners and international destination spas contacting us, always looking for students," she adds.
The Galligan Beauty Group was originally set up in 1976 after the girls' mother, Kay, had been working as a receptionist manager in a Dublin city centre health club. She saw the growing trend towards personal grooming and beauty. Attracted by the positive nature of the business, she visited international beauty trade shows, where she came across a number of innovative products that she would go on to introduce to the Irish market, including strip waxing and gel nails.
"Kay has always been forward looking and could see where the industry was going," explains Careena. Kay eventually left the health club and set up her own salon in the Portobello area of Rathmines. She later took time out to go back and train in the London School of Beauty.
Two years later, Lorraine (who had also trained as a beauty therapist) joined the business full-time. Together, she and her mother started a small training school within the salon.
"I love the beauty business - but I also loved the idea of becoming a teacher, so for me this is the perfect job," says Lorraine.
In 1979 the business moved to its current premises on Dublin's Grafton Street, where the duo set up the college as well as the working salon. Soon after, and in an effort to introduce higher standards into Ireland, they became accredited by a number of leading international industry bodies.
In 1980, after having trained in beauty, Careena joined the business. Over the next 20 years, the Galligan trio grew the company to include a number of new outlets in Dublin, Limerick and Galway. They also took over the outsourced management of a number of salons that had been set up as part of the growing number of gyms popping up around the capital.
In 1995, Kay decided to retire. By that time, Careena and Lorraine had families of their own and they made the strategic decision to let go of these outlets and concentrate instead on growing the college business.
"We wanted to achieve a better work/life balance - the years up to that point had simply been crazy, managing multiple outlets across varying locations," admits Careena. "This way, we felt we could focus on the training side of the business, which we both loved," she adds.
They began adding additional specialist courses such as hairdressing, make-up artistry and advanced teacher training. To complement this, Lorraine returned to part-time education and qualified with a degree in psychotherapy while Careena qualified as a life coach - skills that now help their students when it comes to career planning or building better levels of self confidence.
"We are fortunate that we can support each other. Moreover, our skills are highly complementary - Careena looks after the sales and marketing side of the business, while I focus on training and education," explains Lorraine.
While not actively involved in the business, Kay also continues to offer advice and support.
"But we have also had our fair share of challenging times, too," says Careena. "The biggest of these was when the State-run Institutes of Technology began offering courses in beauty therapy and hairdressing for free - something that quickly led to the erosion of much of our customer base at the time. As a result, we had to differentiate ourselves even more by focusing on providing the highest possible standards, including Cidesco, Cibtac, Itec and City & Guilds courses, which are delivered by experienced tutors in small classroom groups."
What's next for the business, I ask?
"We are working on strategies to increase online sales, as well as developing our own range of branded beauty products," says Careena enthusiastically. "The industry is also evolving all the time as new techniques and new technologies emerge.
"Our job now is to continue to evolve with it. We want to ensure that our therapists continue to be the best trained of any in the industry," she adds.
As they celebrate 40 years in business, Careena and Lorraine Galligan look set to be about to celebrate many more.
For further information: www.galligangroup.com
Lorraine and Careena's business advice
1 Find a mentor
"We all need mentors in life. To me, a mentor is someone who will support you in overcoming challenges and will help you find solutions to problems that crop up in every business. Equally, though, mentors need to be able to challenge you and to help you confront limiting beliefs that do not serve you."
2 Keep motivated
"It's important to keep yourself motivated and energised. Sign up for short courses on new products or advances in your area of business. Attend trade shows, talks and exhibitions in order to keep abreast of new developments and emerging trends in your area. Expand your contacts and network."
3 Don't underestimate the effort required
"Don't underestimate the amount of perseverance needed to start and grow your own business. If you're in business simply because you want to get rich and work less, you're on the wrong path - you have to enjoy the journey because it usually takes a long time in business before you become successful."
Sunday Indo Business