Blushbar is 4 this year–here’s what I’ve learned.


The Salon Business is Hard

It’s been four long years, but I wouldn’t change it for the world. I’ve learned so much about business during these last four years; I can’t even begin to start writing it all down.

The salon business is a complicated business to make work. It runs on fine margins and complex social interactions to make everything profitable and as stress-free as possible. Blushbar has gone through a few metamorphosis in four years, and I’m really happy to say for at least the last 18 months, we’ve really come into our own, and this has been down to not wavering on a few key points of our business.

The service industry is tough; even more difficult when you have many variables that can change the profitability of your final product when you’re running a flat-fee mantra salon. This is almost unheard of in the salon industry, and I can see why. It’s tough.

I started Blushbar because I was fed up of walking into the salon and seeing pictures of crazy hair up on the wall; pink with an asymmetric fringe and birds leaping out of a nest of hair. I didn’t want that. I wanted something classic. Something beautiful and timeless. There wasn’t a single salon that championed this ethos and I still find the salon industry bizarre with the techniques and colours they do champion, most of the posters we get sent we throw away. It’s just not what Blushbar is.

I also hated the fact the prices changed, for apparently no reason, every time I got to the front desk. My end ticket would waver between £80 and £140 for seemingly the same service. It was always masked and never transparent and being British; I never had the balls to ask what I was actually paying for or why. I just mostly left disgruntled and confused.


How Blushbar is Different

No Pinks, Purples or Unicorns in Sight

We don’t do any crazy colours, and we’re very open about that. If you come to us wanting candy-pink hair or zebra stripes with a shaved under-bob, that’s fab, but we’ll point you in the direction of someone within the town who can do that perfectly. It’s just not us. We focus on the gorgeous creamy highlights and shimmering brunettes as well as hand-painted hair. We know our strengths, and we stick to them.

Cruelty-Free Morals

We’re also a cruelty-free salon. This is really important to me personally. I have two dogs at home and couldn’t bear the thought of us using something that is tested on dogs like them, day in day out. This is quite unusual in the salon industry. The big players, L’Oreal, Schwarzkopf, Wella, Redken and so on – all test on animals in one way or another. We put our morals before profits. This can sometimes be quite a considerable difference. A tub of bleach, for example, down at the wholesalers – it’s horrible quality, but if we wanted to, we could service about 20 guests with one tub that costs £9.00. Our bleach paste is £17.00+VAT and services two people. The same goes for our backwash shampoos. A lot of the big players do kick-backs whereby you buy X amount of stock, and you get X number of backwash shampoos (1 litre) for free. We don’t get that. Ours are £22.50 + VAT and we keep it that way because we also sell the same products as we truly believe in them. They really are the best product line we’ve ever used.

We Are Uniformed

Most salons wear black. Any kind of black anything. It never looks cohesive to me, and you can always spot the hierarchy quite clearly. The juniors look different to the stylists and the art directors etc. We don’t have juniors, and we don’t have a hierarchy aside from someone being in charge of the day to day running. Everyone is in a gorgeous custom-designed pinafore and grey t-shirt. This standardises your perception of everyone across the board.

The Tech Behind it All

We’re a flat-fee salon with online booking. You can book online for all of our services. This is quite unusual. Most salon systems can’t handle the different processing times between each appointment. I also custom built a system in PHP that secures us against no-shows by holding a valid credit/debit card on file, securely, in Stripe.

We’ve recently moved over to Square from iZettle due to the analytics Square has in the backend. iZettle was a fabulous system, and we used it for three years but actually, even though Square costs us a little more each month, the analytics it has are worth their weight in gold. I’m also excited to see Square appointments integrate once it comes over to the UK from the US.

We shipped over the Square Point of Sale terminal from the States just because it’s so ergonomic, safe and handy – despite many of the features such as swiping a credit card, being obsolete in the UK.

Guests Not Clients

I hate the word “client”. To me, it has a negative association with money and it feels far too transactional for a service industry. The word “client” has been banned from Blushbar since we opened. Everyone is guests at our daily party, not clients to pay our bills.

We Are Strict

We have two rules. You have to give us 24 hours notice of cancellation and if you’re more than 10 minutes late, we can’t serve you as it has a knock-on effect with the next guest and that’s unfair. We’re very strict. Openly saying we will take the full cost of the appointment if you fail to do either of these things. As a business, you can’t be expected to pay for other peoples disorganisation and tardiness. We don’t believe the customer is always right and we put plenty of catch-alls in place to safeguard us against losing money unnecessarily and through no fault of our own.

We Trust and Progress Our Staff

When I entered the salon industry, despite having zero previous experience in said industry, the thing I found most bizarre was the way staff reacted to being given full autonomy over their work schedules. People either totally abused it, or flew. We got rid of those who abused it as they simply don’t fit our culture, and kept those that were able to manage their own schedules without someone breathing down their neck.

We also invest considerable amounts into our staff each year. Many salons don’t do this, worried that they will take the training and leave; only to further another salon with those skills.

We’re also add personal touches to different touch points for individual staff members. Staff have their own cards with their faces on them, to help guests remember who they were serviced by. Staff also have sheets of stickers for the membership books so each time they service a guest, they can put a sticker next to that column and write what that guest had. This helps us to keep things neat inside the salon too.

Exciting times ahead

Now that Blushbar is four we feel the company is in a position to now open up select franchise stores with the right partners. In December 2016 we were named one of the “Top Blow Dry Bars” in the country by Hair Magazine – so it feels like we’re now in a strong position to bring more Blushbar’s to the UK. If you’d like to talk seriously about that, do email me.

I’ve learnt enough about Blushbar over 4 years to fill an entire mini series of blog posts. I’m happy to take any specific questions you have about business or building a brand in the comments section below – alternatively, if you have any suggestions for future blog posts that you’d like to read, I’m all ears.

  • Ben Willmore

    Great post Sarah, you’ve learnt a lot and come along way. I think many people could learn huge amount from what you’ve achieved. Maybe a vlog to accompany this?

  • James Tudsbury

    Great to see a business branded so well and focused on the guest experience which it seems is always overlooked. What exactly constitutes your autonomous work schedule? Staff decide which hours to work and get paid accordingly?

    • It’s difficult because we do need opening hours and consistency, however – we allow staff to make smart decisions about the schedules around what is booked in. If someone cancels on a Saturday and it means them finishing two hours early, we allow them to go home and make up the time somewhere else. If they want to stay later to accommodate a guest, they have full autonomy to take those hours out of any other time in the week that is convenient to them. It’s a small thing but this is unheard of in the salon industry. We basically trust them to make their own schedule that works for the business and us.

  • Thank you Ollie, appreciate you reading.

  • Harrison J. Brown

    Can you quantify the cost of those employees who abused the autonomy vs. the benefits of giving it to the ‘good’ ones, and how to monitor whether people are using it well? I’m often worried about giving my own team too much free-reign and tend to micromanage a bit too much for fear of loosing money on new people I don’t know as well as my core team.

    • Those who abused the system were also abusing other responsibilities given to them, so it wasn’t a hard decision to get rid of them on that basis. I don’t feel the need to micromanage them because I can see what is going on in the backend systems and put it right myself if needs be. Ours is a little easier to see because it’s service-based and if they’re servicing a guest, they’re obviously busy for hours on end, it’s a little harder when your employees are sat behind a laptop getting up to goodness knows what. I tend to find that even the people who think they can gain the system, it ends up catching up with them in the form of missed deadlines or sloppy work. It’s not easy to hide that personality trait for long.

  • John Brooks

    Little did I know who I was sitting next to on a plane from NY. Since that time, being a business geek and especially since doing my degree, I have followed your work with interest. The fact it is in my old town of L-o-S even more so. I think many businesses, not just salons, would learn from the autonomous model you work with. Empowering staff to make decisions but maintaining world class customer/guest experience is something to be envied. Letting go the mistrust that you, as the employer, knows best is hard but obviously, as you have proven, worth it from every angle. More power to the next 4 years…and the next…and the next….ad infinitum

  • Russell Anderson

    It’s great to see what a designer’s mind can bring to a business and/or service industry. Design is designed to address and solve a problem and enhance people’s lives, right? Business owners could benefit with a design course.

    Love your style and business methodology. Having run a concierge service, and transitioning over to design, I find your work insightful and inspirational.

  • Nick Thorley

    I would be interested to know why the profit margins are slim. Appreciate you have said that you use high quality products vs cheaper ones but I would have thought you would promote that fact and increase the prices inline with that. So is it that you dont feel you can increase your prices above other salon’s / bars ie a local price ceiling, is it that you pay much higher to get the quality of staff? etc. I perhaps naively thought there would be a guide to the profit margin for the industry ie 20% or 40% etc and you would just add up the staff time, cost of products, add the margin and charge accordingly. I would be interested to understand the model a little more. Loving your work 🙂

    • There is a ceiling around here unfortunately and many people don’t care about cruelty-free/vegan friendly morals when it comes to price. It’s surprising just how many will forgo their ethics to head down the road where it’s £20 cheaper. We do pay for quality staff too. There is a guide of 30% industry wide but unfortunately there are some other costs that fluctuate on a month-to-month basis that make margins tougher too, like cost of sales (which you would think would be in line with what services you’re doing) but unfortunately these can vary greatly dependent on what has walked through the door; long hair for example, can suck colour product but rarely gets charged with additional, at any salon – because there’s a problem at where to draw the line and where to advertise that you draw the line on what is considered “Long hair” as someone with short, thick hair can equally use up as much product. There’s just a ton of variables that make it a tough business.