Beauty sector is booming as more turn to salon for career

Students Ross Berridge, Alex Dempsie and Robert Simpson practise on hairdressing styling heads. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
Students Ross Berridge, Alex Dempsie and Robert Simpson practise on hairdressing styling heads. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
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TUESDAY midday, and every chair in Neil Barton’s eponymous hairdressing salon is full. There’s a frenzy of washing and coiffing, twirling and curling, dipping and snipping, blow drying and colour applying.

The 33-year-old’s business opened five years ago – just as the banking crisis was about to hit – yet there’s no sign here of recession, of a customer base disappearing through austere scrimping and scraping. Rather there’s an increasing clientele more interested in primping and preening, proving the rule that when all else fails, we still need to eat, drink – and get our hair cut.

Student Michelle Gallagher styles the hair of fellow student Samantha Thomson at Edinburgh College. Picture: Phil Wilkinson

Student Michelle Gallagher styles the hair of fellow student Samantha Thomson at Edinburgh College. Picture: Phil Wilkinson

Hairdressing and beauty is a booming economic sector. According to Habia, the UK’s hair and beauty industry authority, nearly 16,000 people are employed in the business across Scotland through 3300 employers, recording a combined annual turnover of more than £400 million. Across the UK the industry has an annual turnover of £6 billion and employs a quarter of a million people.

With statistics like that, it’s hardly surprising that the further education colleges which train the stylists of the future have started shouting about just how important such skills are to the financial health of the country. No longer should taking a course in cutting hair be seen as a place to park academic no-hopers. Instead, says Edinburgh’s College – which sees 90 per cent of such graduates going into 
employment or further education – such training should be applauded.

Mandy Exley, principal of the newly merged college – formerly Telford, Stevenson and Jewel and Esk colleges – hairdressing is one of the hottest industries in the country and counters “misconceptions” about the value of such courses and the students who take them up.

“The scale of the value to the Scottish economy from this sector is as impressive as it is immense,” she says. “But more so it sharply rebukes suggestions that hair and beauty courses are a waste of time in the FE sector and that students only fall into these courses as a last resort. That is an insult to both FE colleges and to the students whose commitment and endeavour is being reflected in the considerable benefits they are providing to the economy.”

Neil Barton agrees. He was supposed to study at Dundee’s College of Art after leaving Tynecastle High, but instead was convinced by the late George Paterson, of Paterson SA hairdressers, to try his hand photographing models in his salon. It led to a love affair with scissors and straighteners
which has recently seen Barton crowned as the first ever British winner of the Goldwell ColourZoom trophy – where he competed against 28 other nations at the Parisian final.

He believes that the training he received at the then Telford College was invaluable to giving him the skills required to be successful in what can be a ruthlessly competitive world.

“As a man going into hairdressing you can feel there’s a stigma – even when some of the most successful hairdressers in the world are male. Then there’s the idea that studying hairdressing is not a ‘real’ thing to do and that it doesn’t pay a lot of money – you get the impression that a lot of people look down their nose at the idea.

“But the training I received was fantastic, and I was wholly supported by my family to do it, so that helped. And money was never really my drive, it was more about the creativity. It’s like anything though, if you’re serious about it and want to do well, then you’ll work hard and should succeed.

“I was working while attending Telford, and then worked for ten years at JFK salon in Newington, building a client base. And I used to work Friday nights at the Youth Cafe on Victoria Terrace, charging £5, and if you can manage that clientele you can manage anything – I still send my students there,” he laughs.

“But if you want to be a success, and to make money, you have to get the basics right, and that’s what college can do – everything from reception to shampooing to cut and colour. It puts you on the right path if that’s where your career lies.”

In Edinburgh there’s plenty of success for aspiring hairdressers to attempt to emulate. Charlie Miller, Cheynes, the aforementioned Paterson’s, Medusa and Neil Barton are all well-respected, award-winning salons. Then there are national chains like Sassoon, Saks and Toni & Guy all running successful salons in the Capital. And Scottish crimpers travel well, too – Trevor Sorbie and Paul Mitchell are snippers to the stars and have their own range of hair care 

Apparently the rise in male grooming is helping the hairdressing and beauty business increase in size, but it’s women who are keeping the turnover up. The average spend at Barton’s salon is £120, while research has shown the average annual bill for haircuts, colour and manicure comes in at £752. Where there’s bleach, it seems, there’s brass.

According to artistic director with Charlie Miller salons, Jason Miller, while a tiered price structure helps meet all client budgets, even in these austere times the biggest demand is still for top stylists to do the cutting.

Medusa managing director Colin McAndrew says that clients are still spending as much on their hair – even with price rises – although some are now attending every eight weeks rather than six. But he adds that Medusa has moved to concentrate more on the “nuts and bolts” of the business, rather than splashing out on expensive artistic photo shoots.

“We are still expanding, though,” he says. “We’ve opened two new salons during the recession, one in South Clerk Street, the other just two weeks ago in the Grassmarket. There is still potential to expand our client base, and with that there are economies of scale with suppliers and brands.”

He adds: “It always annoys me when the hair and beauty business is treated like fluff, as though it’s not important to the economic health of the country. While retailers are closing, we’re opening and hiring more staff. That’s why it’s important that there are college courses where young people interested in a career in this business can learn the basics. Then they come to us for salon training. There is most definitely a future in hairdressing.”

Barton agrees. “There’s no shortage of successful hairdressers. Why wouldn’t a young person look at them and want a bit of it? But there’s room for all types of salon – which is why even if they open next door to each other, they can survive. People always need a haircut. And importantly for salon owners and hairdressers, it’s something that can’t be done online.”

Billion pound industry

• 151 search for hairdressers in Edinburgh and this is the number that’ll greet you, according to

• 133 the number of barbers also in the city.

• 16,000 the number of people employed in the hairdressing and beauty business across Scotland through 3300 employers – which generates a combined annual turnover of more than £400 million.

• £6 billion the annual turnover across the UK industry which employs 250,000 people.

• Since 2008, self-employment records have shown that personal service occupations, such as hairdressing, have risen by 31 per cent.

• 90 per cent of hairdressers are female, though men can make up as much as 35 per cent of some of Edinburgh’s top hairdresser clientele.

Out on their own, Natalie and Paul stay in trim

NATALIE Hamilton and Paul Bertram opened their first salon in November last year.

It was quite a gamble for the pair who quit their jobs at a well-established hairdresser in Dalkeith to open Chapter One Hair Spa in Newtongrange.

Yet, aged just 24 and 23, the friends were able to convince both The Prince’s Trust and RBS that their start-up was worth funding because, says Natalie, hairdressing is still proving incredibly viable during the recession.

“We hear from clients that they still want to have their hair cut every six weeks. They don’t want to stretch the time between appointments because to them it’s a necessity, not a luxury.

“There might be other beauty treatments that become something to have now and again, but getting your hair cut and coloured is regarded as necessary.

“Admittedly, when we opened we made a conscious effort to keep our prices low – we’re £40 cheaper on average for a cut and colour than the salon we worked in before which helps when people are counting every penny – and to offer great service in a modern salon.

“We also open at times to suit clients, so that means a six-day-a-week operation and late nights Tuesdays and Thursdays.

“That has meant that 99 per cent of our clients have come with us but that we’re also getting in 27 new clients a week, which has been amazing.

“We already employ two trainees, but now we’ll have to look at taking on another stylist quite soon.”