Q&A: Hair today, online tomorrow
Wellington hair salon Sable has been taking online shopping in the hair product industry by storm. Here’s the story behind the success. Sable has been growing exponentially since owner Anthea Digby-Smith accidentally noticed a shopping tab whilst developing her new website eight years ago. Once she spotted the shopping cart, she began selling niche, exclusive […]
Wellington hair salon Sable has been taking online shopping in the hair product industry by storm. Here’s the story behind the success.
Sable has been growing exponentially since owner Anthea Digby-Smith accidentally noticed a shopping tab whilst developing her new website eight years ago. Once she spotted the shopping cart, she began selling niche, exclusive brands and hard-to-find products that she loved, on the Sable website. In the first year, they sold $20,000 of product, the second $50,000, and in 2020 they made $290,000.
Selling some products you can’t buy anywhere else in New Zealand or even Australia has made all the difference. Here Anthea provides the highs and lows of running a successful business in a traditional marketplace.
NZB: Tell us about your career background? How long have you been in the hair salon industry?
Anthea: I first started hairdressing at 13 in the salon where my mum worked in Hawkes Bay. I left school at 17 to train at the prestigious Servilles hair academy in Auckland and worked under the guise of top hairstylist and entrepreneur Louise Pilkington as a colourist for 1.5 years. I moved to Wellington 23 years ago and have been working here ever since. My husband and I opened our salon Sable 15 years ago and the online store has been operating since 2013.
NZB: What sparked your decision to open your own salon?
Anthea: Brendon and I decided to go out on our own, to be able to make our own choices and build a team of like-minded hairdressers. We wanted to create a comfortable place where everyone feels at home, where they can benefit from a highly experienced stylist.
NZB: Why did you go down the e-commerce route with your business?
Anthea: We wanted to showcase the products we sold in the salon on our website and saw the potential to bring our products to people who weren’t our salon clients and don’t have easy access to high quality haircare.
NZB: Your online business has grown exponentially over the years. How have you gone about attracting and retaining customers?
Anthea: We have grown through the normal channels like Facebook, Instagram, email marketing, and Google AdWords. We also run an affiliate programme for people like naturopaths so they can recommend our clean and carefully selected products. We have established a rewards programme for our customers and with this we have seen great retention. We’ve even made friends with online customers and talk often, even though we’ve never met!
We like to offer a point of difference to our clients and personalise every order through gift wrapping and handwritten cards. We offer a haircare quiz to help guide people on what products to buy and partake in giveaways with other small businesses.
NZB: When and why did you decide to expand into the bed & bath, hair accessories, and even a pet range?
Anthea: After deciding to sell vibrators pre-lockdown 2020 and seeing how successful sales were, we started concentrating on extending our “non-hair” range. We want to be the go-to place for all things bedroom and bathroom. We talk with clients and online customers about what they would want, and what they can’t find. It goes back to our initial reason why we opened, to take care of people the best we can in a relaxed environment. So if you can get your shampoo, vases and bedroom toys at the same beautiful store, why wouldn’t you?
NZB: What have been the biggest challenges you have faced for both your physical salon and online store since Covid arrived?
Anthea: The biggest challenges we are facing in-salon is juggling the bookings of customers, lack of walk-ins, cashflow and not getting any rent abatement.
We have a big surge of bookings after lockdowns but then you get some quiet weeks. Some in-salon clients haven’t returned after the lockdowns. This could be down to budget, or now people working from home more and are opting to use local hairdressers as opposed to the big city, which is generally quieter because of Covid. Some clients have taken the lockdown time away from salons to grow out their colours so client yearly spend is down.
As for the rent, in the first lockdown our landlord only offered us cashflow help, no rent abatement or reduction. And in this year’s lockdown we are yet to be offered anything.
Our biggest challenge online has been finding new clients and retaining those clients attracted during lockdowns.
NZB: What advice would you give someone wanting to start up their own salon business? Is it worth it in a Covid era?
Anthea: Now we know what lockdowns are like you need to factor this into your lease negotiations. Know what they will offer before signing up. Rent is usually your biggest outgoing other than wages and you are lucky if you have a good landlord who will look after you during this time. Look at the suburbs as rents can be cheaper and where more people are working from home. Everyone needs their hair done but people want to be connected to their salon/stylist, so think about this as a starting point for your salon environment.
NZB: How has your online business been a saving grace for your company during Covid?
Anthea: My online store sales increase during lockdown and this has made up for clients not getting their hair done. It keeps cash coming in, but it is also great to have something to do whilst in lockdown for both myself and staff.
NZB: What are some of the challenges you have faced with your online business from a product perspective i.e., shipping/availability?
Anthea: With sales increasing during lockdowns it’s hard to predict stock levels. We have had to do quite a bit more planning for Christmas this year anticipating supply issues. This has made budgeting harder; we are getting stock in early hoping we have got this correct.
Suppliers have now changed what we can and can’t sell online. This for sure has been a challenge in moving products that used to be very popular on our site.
When an area is in lockdown, we see a rise in sales but like the salon, it’s hard to juggle stock levels. With our suppliers tending to be in Auckland and with the couriers being overwhelmed we are seeing delays.
NZB: Where do you see the future of your business?
Anthea: We would like to be known as the go-to place for hair, bath and bedroom products.
Ultimately, I would like to cut down my cutting/salon hours and focus more on growing my online business.