Wednesday 12 December 2018

Meet the owners of salon hit Zeba who are doing it with style

Sean Gallagher meets owners of small and medium-sized businesses and shares the lessons they've learnt in building their companies

Sean Gallagher with Paul, Angie and Richard Dromgole of Zeba. Photo: Mark Condron
Sean Gallagher with Paul, Angie and Richard Dromgole of Zeba. Photo: Mark Condron
Sean Gallagher

Sean Gallagher

This year Paul Dromgoole, his wife Angie and his brother Richard will celebrate 25 years in the hairdressing business. With three salons in Dublin - South William Street, Sandymount Road, and Arnotts Department Store - as well as one in the Manor Mill Shopping Centre in Maynooth, Co Kildare, their company Zeba Hairdressing employs 70 staff and has an annual turnover of more than €3m.

It's just after 9am on Monday when I visit the salon on South William Street and already the place is buzzing. Staff are warm, upbeat and engaging and there's a friendly yet professional feel to the whole place.

"We offer a full range of hairdressing services in all our branches, but our speciality is really cutting and colouring with hair extensions and the Brazilian blow out also having become firm favourites among our clients," says Paul. "Some 80pc of clients are women and 20pc men, a figure that is constantly on the up. And while most of our clients range between 20- to 60-years-old, we do have clients from as young at nine right up to 90," he adds.

Client profiles vary too depending on the location of their salons.

"Outside of the city centre, clients tends to be more locally based while here in this, our South William Street salon, we have built up a very well established and loyal client base, some whom work in the city while others travel into town and make a day of it," says Angie. "Our newest salon which we added just recently in Arnotts is getting a very eclectic mix of clients ranging from regular shoppers to those who to travel to Dublin and like to include a visit to this landmark store as part of their trip."

Key to the success of any such client-facing business is their staff. And all three are quick to emphasise the role their team play in the long term sustainability of the business.

"Our staff are such a vital part of our success and we continue to work hard and invest heavily in staff training and in developing a culture that supports the development of their careers as well as creating a working environment that is happy and fun. That's true for everyone from those who look after clients to the team of cleaners who keep the salons looking their best," says Paul.

Such has been their strategy that it has led to unusually high staff retention levels.

"We started with five employees 25 years ago - and all except one are still with us," says Paul.

Paul and Richard have been around the hairdressing industry all their lives. Originally from Beaumont on Dublin's northside, their mother was a hairdresser. Paul initially had set his sights on becoming an architect but while waiting to go to college, he got an offer of a part-time job in a salon. The part time role turned into a full-time job and he loved the business so much that he decided to make it his career.

"I found in hairdressing many of the things that had attracted me to architecture such as the focus on design and creativity," says Paul. "People like Vidal Sassoon also inspired me and particularly his very structured and almost architectural way of cutting hair."

It was while working for Peter Marks in Dun Laoghaire that Paul first met Angie. From Kincasslagh, Co Donegal, she too was a hairdresser. Paul worked for Peter Marks for over 11 years including time in their Grafton Street salon as well as later becoming manager of their Stephen's Green branch. "While being a stylist was rewarding and challenging, I always knew I wanted to open my own salon one day," says Paul.

A visit to New York would give him the final motivation he needed. "That trip stands out for me personally as the defining moment on my journey because I came across a salon there that reflected everything I thought a salon should be. From then on, I knew I had to pursue my dream of having my own salon. I chose the name Zeba because, in Persian, it means 'to beautify' and our mission isn't just to do hairdressing but to make our clients feel beautiful," he adds.

Having Angie and Richard involved has also been a huge part of the journey. Richard who also worked for Peter Marks in the early days had set up his own salon in Ashbourne in Co Meath and after six successful years, sold that business and joined the company.

Finding the right location for a salon is key and Paul's decision to locate on South William Street, though a risk at the time, proved an important decision for the business's future success.

"Back then, it was still just a side street and not the vibrant hub it is today" says Paul. "Building the team has also been key and I have been very lucky to find hard-working talented people who share my vision and my strong work ethic," he adds.

Paul insists that training and nurturing staff is vital. A lot of both his and Angie's time continues to be invested in the development and upskilling of staff. Central to this is ensuring that his front of house team try to match a customer with the right stylist to ensure that there is a perfect fit not just in terms of style and skill set but also personality.

Continuing to attract good staff remains high on his list of priorities. In this regard, the company set up Zeba Creative Team, which works on exclusive fashion shoots and hairdressing events across Ireland, the UK, Europe and the US - all of which helps staff wanting to work in the business. "The hair and beauty market is constantly changing," says Paul. "Launching in Arnotts was different to our traditional salon model but it is proving very successful. I am definitely open to expanding this model further. For now though, our focus is on maintaining and developing our current portfolio and ensuring that each site operates to the best of its ability."

"It's a very positive and rewarding industry to be involved," adds Angie. "This is because hairdressing staff are by their nature happy and outgoing and because it's about making people feel good as well as look good," she adds.

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