This Working Life: 'Looking after yourself is no longer a luxury but finding time for it can be'
Noelle McCarthy, founder of Blow Hair in conversation with Mary McCarthy
Gap in the market: I was inspired to set up Blow because I could not find anywhere to get my unruly hair done before work. I had my own recruitment company and wanted to look professional for meetings. I was a single mum with no time to waste.
I opened my first salon in December 2002 on Baggot Street. Everyone told me I was crazy to start business at 7.30am but from the start, we were flat out with women needing their nails and hair sorted first thing. I added haircuts and colour nine months later. Today, our salons open at 6.30am and are busy with professional women.
We opened a concession in Dunnes in Henry Street last year, and this has taken off in a big way. If retail outlets are to be successful, they need other providers offering services in a mutually beneficial way.
Consumers want to get their eyebrows done, pick up the grocery shopping and get coffee in the same space. Women are no longer prepared to spend a lot of money on clothes (sportswear is the exception), though they are happy to spend on nails, hair and make-up.
People get their hair blow-dried for all occasions, from funerals to running the mini marathon. Beauty is becoming more recession-proof now that looking after yourself is accepted as a necessity and no longer a luxury.
At the height of the Celtic Tiger, I had seven shops, but had to contract back to two in 2010. The salons we kept open did well. Now we are looking at growth again, perhaps outside Dublin. The Dunnes Stores model is really interesting. We also have a concession in the Intercontinental Hotel in Dublin, another model that works well for us.
We are getting more men these days. There was a guy in yesterday for a 6.40am pedicure. I think men are taking more care of themselves. Men are more loyal than women when it comes to hair.
Need for speed
Our business model offers no frills; it's a fast, good-quality, friendly service. Our customers do not want to faff around but they want to look their best. We have a 25-minute facial that has been so successful.
When my two girls were younger, they would come into the salon with me at 7am and head off to school on the bus. As they got older, they worked for a time in the salon. If you have your own business, you need to make your family part of it.
I employ a lot of foreigners. I originally worked in call centre recruitment and knew how the model worked. It is just the way it has worked out.
I opened in Kilkenny a number of years ago and it didn't work. My ego did take a dent. I would advise anyone starting a business to make sure they have a peer who will give honest feedback. It is a lonely experience running your own business and you need someone you can talk to who will tell you when you need to cut your losses.
A huge number of people book online now, but our walk-in business is huge. People will think on a whim, I need my hair sorted. There will always be customers who prefer to book on the phone.
My repeat customers pay the wages so I have to keep them happy. I have a series of deals to reward them.
Within the law
The black market is the biggest challenge to the beauty industry in Ireland. I accept that I have to pay tax, VAT and PRSI, but when a customer tells me they can get their hair done cheaper if someone calls to their home, this is galling.
I wake up at 5am and will be sorting out bookings that come in overnight, and I'll work through till 7pm, either at home or in one of the salons. I spend every January in Australia, which gives me the space to think strategically and creatively about the year ahead.
It's important to spend time away from your day-to-day business so you can see where you are going.
Walking and boxing are my ways of keeping stress in check. And a glass of nice wine helps too.
Everybody goes to a salon to feel better about themselves. I tell my staff to be sensitive to people's insecurities. You never know what is going on in anyone's life.
Adding some polish
You can slump into a salon not feeling great and emerge polished and full of confidence.
Getting your hair blow-dried is like a security blanket. You can become dependent on it.