In West Malling, Kent, you will find Saks Hair & Beauty Kings Hill. The impressive salon owner, Claire Denyer, has been awarded “Employer of the Year” at the Professional Beauty Awards twice. The salon, which celebrated its 12th birthday in February, was also the winner of the ‘Franchisee of the Year Award’ at the British Hairdressing Business Awards in 2017.
Initially, this was a small salon with just four hair stations and a few beauty rooms. The salon has grown from strength to strength and now boasts 11 hair stations, 4 beauty rooms and even a shampoo room, added during the salon’s 10th birthday.
Claire has trained over 40 apprentices over the last 12 years. She believes apprenticeships have been, and continue to be, “fundamental to the salon’s development.” Her salon manager is a former apprentice, and many of Claire’s apprentices stay on with 13 out of 16 Level 2 apprentices continuing at the salon to complete their Level 3. The salon’s average staff retention is 7 years, much higher than the industry averages, showing how strong a relationship Claire has with her employees.
Interestingly, Claire didn’t always envision embarking on a career in hair and beauty, “I always thought I would be a horse riding instructor. It was a friend that suggested hairdressing as I was always doing her hair and makeup.” Claire started in a busy high street salon after completing her own apprenticeship at 17, noting, “I fell into it and I fell in love with it.” After 7 years, Claire joined Saks as a stylist. Within 4 years, she decided she wanted to own her own salon and that’s how Saks King Hill was born.
When Claire entered this career path, there was a stigma around hairdressing. This stigma still exists to some extent today. However, Claire’s story truly highlights the entrepreneurial spirit of the sector and the many career opportunities available to those who choose it. “It’s a really evolving and progressive career if you want it to be.” Claire’s own career progressed from an apprentice to a full-time hairdresser; she then became a L’Oréal colour expert followed by a business owner and then a qualified trainer and assessor. She said, “I never thought when I started in this industry that that’s how my career would go”.
The salon has played a central role in Claire’s personal life, especially at the time she was diagnosed with multiple, chronic health conditions. Claire shared, “The salon for me has been a lifesaver.” Her health has restricted, but not halted her. Though no longer physically able to cut hair, she is still very much involved in the salon where she is continuing to build up wonderful, creative people.
Claire sees the flexibility and opportunities available through a career in hair and beauty as a huge advantage. “There are so many ways your career can go.” Her advice for anyone considering an apprenticeship is to “take every opportunity that’s offered to you” and “really learn as much as you can from the other stylists and therapists, not just from the trainers.”
At Saks Kings Hills, apprentices are involved in the entire process from preparing stations, shampooing, blow drying, rebooking clients, home care advice and mixing colours. If they are learning a specific hairstyle, apprentices are encouraged to integrate with the stylists and ask questions in order to develop both their technical skills and their confidence. Claire describes one of the most rewarding parts of the apprenticeship process as “watching people grow and develop their confidence.”
If a salon was considering taking on an apprentice, Claire’s advice is to remember, “They are not a stopgap shampoo-ist but a future stylist.” There is a key advantage to offering apprenticeships over recruiting. “When you hire an apprentice, you could be hiring your next stylist and you are able to create and mould someone into the perfect fit for your business.” Many of Claire’s employees are former apprentices. ‘‘They really are valued. They are such as intricate part of the business. The more they give, the more I will reward and offer to them.”