Interview with Roz Colthart, founder of Salon Studios

Find out how UK Marketing Director for Malmaison boutique hotels, Roz Colthart, was inspired to launch US-style ‘salon suite’ hair studios in the UK – and how Salon Studios was born.  

What is your career background?

My career has been mainly in luxury hospitality – prior to Salon Studios I worked in a leading luxury sustainable resort in the Maldives, I sold floating real estate onboard the only residential ship in the world (aptly called ‘The World’) and I was the UK Marketing Director for Malmaison boutique hotels for many years.

Oh, and I was also part of the management team on Richard Bransons private island (Necker)!

I have loved my career as it has taken me to so many places. Hospitality is a lifestyle, not just a job – you have to work hard but it has been a very satisfying career choice!

Where did the idea for your business come from?

I was on a year out finishing my Masters degree and spending time in the USA. I asked somebody to recommend a hairstylist and this particular one was located in a ‘salon suite’ location.

I was so intrigued by this concept and the more I spoke to the hairdresser about it, the more convinced I was that we should bring this idea to the UK.

I literally made my mind up before I left the salon that I was going to do this; by the time I got home and told my partner that I was starting a new business, I knew with every bone of my body this was going to happen! 

How did you move from idea to actual business?

Before I left the USA I researched this concept, I visited at least ten different companies that do this to see how they did things – what the differences were, the sizes of the suites, the décor, what they included, how they priced their suites, what the mix of professionals were, etc.

I pretended to be a hair extension professional and was nearly caught out on a few occasions which was quite funny! This research was well worth it as it really gave me a solid idea of how I would translate this to the UK market. 

Once I returned to the UK, I had to find a location. The set up in the USA is generally in their ‘strip malls’, which are very common and have lots of parking out front.

Unlike the UK, a public transport system is not common in the USA and most people drive everywhere; salon location isn’t so critical because of this, but here it needed to be easily accessible with local public transport links. Also, all of the buildings I visited in the USA were very modern and in nice large squares or rectangles with no unusual features.

After seeing them all, I realized I wanted a big empty space that I could divide into lots of smaller units. Unfortunately, our beautiful architecture (especially in Edinburgh) is not conducive to that. So between that and listed buildings with features that have to be protected, the property search was quite tough! 

In the end, I got in my car and drove around Edinburgh looking at what was available, what the footfall was, public transport access, potential market, etc.

Funnily enough I was close to giving up and was flying out of Edinburgh for a while – on my way to the airport I drove past the property that is now our first location which had a big ‘to let’ sign outside, so as soon as I got to the airport I called the agent and we took things from there!

What’s your USP?

We are currently the only company in the UK to offer this model and so are enjoying first-movers advantage, but I know this will only last for a limited amount of time. We offer complete flexibility for our salonpreneurs; they get so much more from us for the same price they pay to rent a chair elsewhere. 

Who’s your target audience?

Self-employed, ambitious hair, beauty or wellness professionals. 

How do you spread the word about what you do?

We use a combination of PR and social media. Currently our focus has been on a local market, so this includes word of mouth and industry suppliers who have direct contact with these self-employed salonpreneurs.

What’s been your most successful marketing strategy?

The profile of my target market points everything towards social media; Instagram has produced more new enquiries than any other channel. 

What’s been the biggest obstacle you’ve had to overcome?

Definitely finding the right property! 

And your proudest moment so far?

When I first saw the property after we did the refurbishment, it was truly a ‘pinch myself’ moment. We took the building from a very unloved and tired looking office to a fresh, welcoming space.

I believe it’s important to stand back and look at how far you’ve come – our salonpreneurs and their clients will never know (nor do they need to) about the work involved in transforming this location, but for me that was a huge achievement!

Why is work so important to you?

Such a huge part of your life is spent at work and as they say, if you choose a career you love, then you never work a day in your life. I’m very lucky that this is true to me.

I would probably be called a workaholic, but I just don’t see it that way at all – I get such pleasure from what I do and when you hear people say things like ‘I could never have done this without you’ it really is quite emotional, as you realise then that your business has purpose and is changing lives. 

Who inspires you?

Really anybody that stands up for what they believe in – we can all follow the crowd, but it takes a certain person to stand out and follow their heart in spite of everything. 

What are your three top pieces of advice for someone wanting to do something similar?

1) Be careful who you ask for advice

There’s no point asking ‘your friends’ for advice if they do not reflect your target market. They can give you their opinion but that is all it is, so it’s important to speak to your target market if you want the most helpful answers.

2) Be bold, be brave and drown out the noise

People will try to talk you out of it, for so many reasons, but if you genuinely believe in something, follow your heart.

3) Stay on top of your cash flow at all times

Without your cash flow you are nothing, so really look at what you need, what’s nice to have and what’s unnecessary – stay away from the ‘shiny new objects’ which are easy to buy (ie online memberships, etc) and not necessary, but can quickly add up!

Find out more about Salon Studios.