“I see hairdressing as a profession – not an unskilled labour.”
Clearly there is merit in Jules’ methods, as clients often book up to 12 months in advance. As such, it’s no wonder Lily Jackson Hair & Makeup is often called ‘Sydney’s best hairdresser’.
Speaking on the My Business Podcast, Jules and partner Amajjika Kumara explain what it really means to operate at the high end of your industry, their approach to overcome the poor communication skills prevalent among young people and why the abolition of 457 visas spells disaster for their own industry and many others!
Enjoy the show!
Adam Zuchetti: G’day everyone, welcome to the My Business Podcast. It's Adam Zuchetti here. I've got my regular co-host beside me. Andy, how are you doing?
Andy Scott: I'm doing well Adam, how's things?
Adam Zuchetti: All good, all good. We've got an interesting pair in the studio today that's an industry that pretty much everyone in the country has some dealings with at some point in time. We've got Amajjika Kumara is that right? I pronounce it right?
Amajjika Kumara: Yeah.
Adam Zuchetti: Jules Peacocke and they're the owners of Lily Jackson Hair & Makeup in Sydney. Guys how are you going?
Amajjika Kumara: Well thank you.
Jules Peacocke: Thanks for having us.
Adam Zuchetti: Thanks for coming in. Yeah. Just tell us a little bit about the business. How long you've been going, where you're based, that kind of thing.
Jules Peacocke: We started Lily Jackson, or I started Lily Jackson in 1998. We started... I started, I should say, in a terrace house in Five Ways and Paddington, just with me. I'd been in Australia for about three years having done my apprenticeship, completed my apprenticeship in New Zealand and then went to London and spent three years with a very big salon and famous hair dresser in London. Came to Sydney in '98 and really struggled to get a job here. The market was really hard to get into. As a qualified stylist, most salons at that time were really looking for staff who had clientele already and obviously I wasn’t an Australian. I didn't know any Australians, so I just rocked up and thought, I'm really good at what I do, I can build a clientele quickly – someone's going to want me. I ended up working for a really small business in Paddington, which was... I sort of felt like I was coming into the dark ages really, having worked in these really big high end salons both in New Zealand and in London.
The salon only operated from 9 till 5. I think they're open till 2 on a Saturday. I spent two years with those guys trying to break through with them how important it would be to do after hours, because clients were all at work. If they wanted to be busier, they should open up their business later in the evenings, maybe extend Saturdays, or where it was quiet, maybe we should start a bit later, you know? They were pretty old school, these guys. They didn't really like a young woman particularly coming in and telling them what to do with their business. So I suggested to them that after two years, perhaps I was making half their turnover, perhaps I should become a partner in their business and take them to the next level. And they thought that was funny. I said, "Well, if you don't, I'm going to do my own." They thought that was funny. Six months later, I opened my own salon and they were quite shocked, which I was surprised about.
Amajjika Kumara: Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, right? Honestly.
Jules Peacocke: I think too, particularly being in New Zealand, women coming into an Australian business market, we grow up quite different. The culture's quite different in New Zealand. Women and men just stand on the same platform. I wasn't used to coming into an environment where men weren't going to respect so much what I had to say. So that was a new experience for me and I just realised it was too hard to make the shifts and changes, and be in the business that I wanted to work in for my clients, and build the team that I wanted to have around me. So I stretched out and opened my own. It was very small, it had four chairs. It had a premises upstairs, so I lived upstairs as well. It was tiny and I was 26 years old and knew nothing about running a business. All I knew how to do was to build a clientele and do a great haircut.
That was really the birth of the business. We spent six years in Paddington – we completely outgrew the space and in 2004. We actually bought a premises above Victoria Street in Darlinghurst. Having never run a business in a shopfront or on the street before, I didn't feel particularly phased by that because I knew my reputation and the stylists who had now come to work for me, their reputation was going to help us build the brand and really get going. That space has thirteen chairs, so it was a much bigger operation. Really got into the serious end of high end hairdressing.
Adam Zuchetti: How did the two of you come to work together then?
Jules Peacocke: Oh, that's probably not long enough for this podcast story. We got together, we met through a mutual friend and we're life partners by the way.
Adam Zuchetti: Okay.
Jules Peacocke: Not just business partners. That's probably more of a story to have over a glass of wine than live on radio.
Amajjika Kumara: Basically I was doing something completely different, I was doing energy healing. I had a clinic on George Street. I've done a lot of different things in my life. A comment from a very old friend that just said, "I mean you could always reinvent yourself." I think that's really important. You're here for a short time – just get out there and do different stuff. So Jules would come home and she'd talk about the challenges and I'm like, are you doing this? Are you doing that? I realised my questions were actually stressing her out even more, because she's at capacity – having a full week of clients and then actually managing the operations and a staff, you know, what has she got left in terms for understanding for marketing and business? My corporate background, I just basically said, "Okay, well I'll come in and help a little bit." Then it's like the borg – it just sucks you in and become one of them. I have spent time in the business full time as well as right now I just work part-time. I spend most of my time away from the salon. I just do the digital marketing.
Andy Scott: I mean we were talking obviously before we started recording and I'm not sure if you really stated how... I mean you are genuinely top-end in what you do. Your, in the... You were telling me, how much would the client, not who they were, but how much... You told me the fee and in my mind, it was like, I know how much they're saying. Three hours work, how much did you charge him?
Jules Peacocke: It was a thousand dollars for the service. I'm not a cheap experience. An initial appointment with me is $300 for a haircut. That then drops down as that client becomes a regular client. In my experience with meeting a client for the first time, you really need time, you need to provide a service that is really going to create something that's profoundly beneficial to them. I need to know who they are, I need to know what their expectations are. I need to understand what their lifestyle choices are. How they manage their hair, how they want to manage their hair. What they want to look like, what the problems they’re facing in managing their hair. Really what happens is that client sits in my chair and we discuss it all and that can take half an hour and then the service will begin. From there, I take over complete management of that person's hair. They never have to think about their hair again. My clients are booked 12 months in advance. So I know what I'm doing with my clients every month for the next 12 months.
Adam Zuchetti: You're saying that they're booked 12 months in advance, because I was going to actually ask, do you have a problem conveying the value of what you do?
Jules Peacocke: No, none. No, by the time someone has got to me and they're willing to spend that much, they're often traumatised by the experiences that they have had and they are really looking for serious solutions. They might be women in business that are in front of the camera. They might be... There's an expectation of how they look and they are prepared to spend the money to have that managed for them. They need to be able to trust someone and they need to be able to feel that communication, not just their physical hair needs. They need to be able to sit in the chair and understand that we can have a conversation that's relevant, that they feel like they're not only getting a great haircut, but they have a good relationship with me and that they can share things that may in some way assist them.
Adam Zuchetti: There'd have to be a lot of trust in that relationship that you're building with a client. Particularly if their high profile, they're a celebrity or a TV presenter or someone high in business, they're not going to want to know that their past horror story is being made public.
Amajjika Kumara: No. I think it's not only their horror stories, but they share their life with you. Like, for me, I'm fascinated, like I've got a lot of...a big clientele of powerful women in business. People that have been advisors in government, they've won NBEs or OBEs – they're very smart women. They’re real influences in their environment. I'm passionate about those people. To have those people in my chair, they're serious about their life. I think it becomes a situation where not only do you do their hair well, but you actually share this experience – it's a shared experience in a moment that is really where the value is as well. It's a unique service and a unique scenario in that sense.
Adam Zuchetti: In that unique service and scenario, and you're obviously very... You can see just here, you're beaming with pride about what you do and you're very sort of knowledgeable and very keen on it. But bringing in employees in to the business and particularly when you are operating at the high-end, how do you get them to have that same passion and scope and trust, that you, yourself have built over the years?
Jules Peacocke: It's definitely, you have to take a step back and remember where you were 20 years ago. We train a lot. We do a huge amount of education. We're really dedicated to taking people on that really want a career in hairdressing. I see hairdressing as a profession, I don't see it just as an unskilled laboured job, or a job that you don't have to have any talent to do. I think there are those environments and you can pay $20 for that. We're not that environment. We were never that environment. I think it's really a passion of mine to be able to take what I've understood and help someone who's just coming into the industry, who wants to achieve a great career for themselves, who wants to make good money. I don't want my staff earning $30,000 a year. I want them being able to make a $100,000 or $200,000 a year, using their skills to have a great life.
They're artists that need recognition, they need financial recognition. How do you build that? You educate it. You educate it, so all of our apprentices, not only get and education in hairdressing, they get an education in business from the moment they start. They understand what KPIs are. We run a completely open book. Everyone knows what the business is doing every day. They have that available to them on their phone. We talk about money. We're not scared to say, not discuss it or scared to say, hey, you know it's been a hard month, what are we going to do to make it different? We sit down as a team and we go, this is our financial goal for this month – how are we going to get there? For me, the artistry isn't just the haircut; the artistry is in the translation of the service to the client. It's in the translation of the services and the client retention. The retail recommendations and what that means for the business and for the team. What that gives us to be able to grow and to be able to develop and have adventures in the business.
Adam Zuchetti: Do you bring in senior employees as well or do you bring in everyone at that apprentice level, so that you can then train them up your own way?
Jules Peacocke: Well, we do both. In our business, it takes... Our training program is 67 weeks to get someone at base level qualification.
Adam Zuchetti: Six to seven, was that?
Jules Peacocke: 67.
Adam Zuchetti: 67 weeks.
Jules Peacocke: Yeah, that's our training program. Now, the government has said that you can get a person qualified in hairdressing in 12 months – we don't think that's possible, so we work alongside government, but we do all of our own internal education. Then we bring in an RTO which is TAFE New South Wales, just to run the certification.
Amajjika Kumara: The training happens on so many different levels as well. I can remember once I having my hair shampooed and the apprentice said, "Do you want a treatment?" I went, "I beg your pardon?" "Do you want a treatment?" I didn't hear him properly and I said, "Is that how you talk to customers?" “Yeah.” I said, "Well actually, you don't talk to customers like that." God bless him, I coached him through the way that would work. I listened to his barriers to adopting a different way. I just said, "Well, to cancel the stylist not wanting you to sell a treatment, you actually ask them what treatment they would like to be sold." You know what treatment is the right treatment for them. Anyway, God bless him, he implemented it and he was our best person at recommending and selling treatments.
So I think it's constantly…working with staff, it's a constant exercise in putting aside your expectations that they should know better. They actually don't. If they did know better, then they'd do it. Then a significant amount of effort, especially with staff that are developing, you need to constantly help them, coach them, understand where they're coming from. Understand that they may not have the emotional skills to deal with some issues. Gosh, I've even taken some staff through a short meditation to help them reground and centre themselves. So it's pulling out all the guns for everything, and we've had some incredible experiences, like a staff member changed all the passwords on our social media and locked us out of our very own social media account because he knew he was going to have a performance management meeting. He was just so crazy... I said, "Look, this is not going to bode well for you. I mean our next step is to actually call the police." Mind you, I wasn't in the salon that day. Here I am, it's Saturday and Jules is ringing me going, "Ah, babe, we've got this issue."
Andy Scott: Put the wine down.
Amajjika Kumara: The other thing is that we could write an encyclopaedia of all the things. We went out to dinner one night and came back and it was a little bit later. All the staff were out the back, pissed, drinking vodka and smoking out the window. What do you do?
Jules Peacocke: It's a really unruly environment, when you consider that there's a lot of conversation about millennial attitude. None of our staff are over 30. We're in it. We're elbows deep in that culture. And what I've realised is that it's a very insecure culture and we have to get in and be able to subliminally educate that it's okay that you don't know everything, and try and find ways of getting through the ideals about perfectionism and how they perceive themselves to be already. So hairdressing is a communications game. A lot of these kids come in and they have absolutely no idea how to communicate in an intimate environment with somebody, because most of their communication happens on their phones. It happens by social media. We bring in an expert and we teach them how to shake somebody's hand and how to look them in the eye and how do introduce themselves. We take all that baseline work and then what we get with these young guys particularly is a really solid human being that now knows how to communicate. Okay, now we've got somewhere to start. Someone who knows how to communicate, then we can teach them. The skills are easy to teach, the communication is where the challenges take place.
Adam Zuchetti: That's really interesting. Sticking with the point of people, we were talking off air about the issue of pay across the industry. You were saying there's a lot of conflicts and a lot of nuances right across the industry – different people, different levels, and also with foreign workers coming in. Recently the government announced the abolition of the 457 Visa, which is going to affect a lot of industries. And hairdressing I've heard is going to be one of those that is quite severely affected. So what are your thoughts on – first of all – foreign workers in the industry, and then we'll come to the pay issue.
Jules Peacocke: Yeah, okay. We need the foreign workers, 150% per cent, because there are very few qualified Australian hairdressers. We have sponsored 457 staff for 15 years. We've just had our application renewed by immigration until 2020. I don't know what that means, I've had no correspondence from immigration at all on what that means for us. In fact, we've been talking to some stylists overseas who are meant to be coming in on this Visa. I don't know. This announcement was made, we saw it come out and have no more information but we need them. We need foreign workers. We need stylists and hairdressers coming in from other capital cities around the world, bringing their knowledge and their information to train Australian workers, Australian hairdressers, help our industry become more exciting and attract younger people in. It's an industry that does travel. We travel around the world. In Australia and New Zealand, hairdressers are so in demand, in cities like New York and London. You're snapped up because of your skills. Those hairdressers have something to offer Australia as well. I think we should be bringing them in.
Adam Zuchetti: What about in terms of apprentices here and local staff? You're saying there's quite a low proportion of apprentices that can actually complete the course.
Jules Peacocke: Yeah, that's right. The statistic that I was given by New South Wales industry is the completion average for apprentices in New South Wales is 40 per cent in hairdressing.
Andy Scott: Is that across the board or just in hairdressing.
Jules Peacocke: Yeah, just in hair dressing.
Andy Scott: Okay.
Jules Peacocke: Yeah, I think it's a 60 per cent completion across all industry. Hairdressing has been earmarked by the New South Wales government as a major problem. They're looking at punitive ways to ensure that their KPI is raised and met. One of those ways that was introduced to me, is if you don't get completion rates up, you can't have apprentices. For me, that's a pretty naïve look at what an industry needs in terms of support to get their apprentices completed. That's how they've perceived it.
Adam Zuchetti: I mean, that's basically the framework that you're given. Like it our lump it. How do you actually deal with it and really work to improve those KPIs and make sure that apprentices are completing with you.
Amajjika Kumara: Actually, if I could step in actually. Our training, we actually recently hired or had three senior apprentices who are also, almost as expensive as a fully qualified hair stylist. Instead of paying minimum wage, we're paying top dollar. We allocate 20 per cent of our weight to training and 20 per cent are for senior stylists to that training allocation. You know, it's a condition of their employment that they're always having models to be trained. We place a heavy emphasis on training. So getting these senior apprentices is a double edged sword. You need to get them onto the floor, they're a little bit maturer, so they can actually grasp the skills more quickly. In relation to the challenges with recruitment, we've got this issue about 457 Visas. We need talented people and this apprenticeship or this education system that we've got, we've got a low completion rate. So we absolutely need talented, educated people from overseas. Our recruitment experience has shown that. We've tried a couple of major platforms and we've advertised for two and a half years. Very few people, of Australian skills, that we've hired, apart from their communication capabilities with us and actually just turning up for an interview, which they might say yes. You'll text them even in the morning, but they actually don't show up or they turn up for an interview and then disappear after they go to the toilet. We've got a million stories to tell.
Actually getting people to show up is one thing and then you actually test their skills. This person has actually done a course and they said, "Yeah, I've got experience on the floor." But they absolutely cannot work in our salon because their level of experience and their excellence to their trade... We can't, it's like putting them back to an apprenticeship. We just have to say, "Maybe you work in suburban salon where they are going to charge lower prices and the expectation is low." At a top salon, you just have to get someone with that experience or that level of quality. You know, we've got this Fair Work Australia issue as well, where salons are able to operate at the lower end of the market because they're not paying their staff award wages. That is the industrial instrument that we are legally bound to pay our staff with. They can only afford to charge $40 for a haircut, because they're underpaying their staff.
So the first audit today revealed that a salon had underpaid their staff by $300,000. How do you come back from that? It's no different to the 7-Eleven debacle, you know, a couple of years ago. People are paying cash. When we talk to people as well, it's like the individuals themselves, the employees they're putting up with, I don't know why – they put up with substandard conditions. Working through lunch, they don't actually have a contract, there's no super that's being paid. It's like it's the Wild West. It really is a terrible situation, so we actually see the Fair Work audit as a really good thing but at 1,600 salons, I don't know whether it's going to change anything ongoing.
Andy Scott: What I'm interested to know for... Because obviously you guys are at the very top-end and there are operators in those businesses who were not, who were in that Wild West, that whatever you are, and that's the same in many industries. Hypothetically, if you were a... What advice would you give to business owners who might be in that level of whatever the industry they might be in. They're in that mind, that there's a lot of issues, they want to aspire to that. From your guys’ experience, what advice would you give to those people?
Jules Peacocke: The first thing they need to do is do a cost analysis on their business and look at what they're charging and what they're making, and what their expenses are. I think there's a lot of salons that will just open without any kind of cash flow projection running in their business. They're just looking at the salon next door and going, “Oh, they're charging $25 for a haircut, all the clients are going to go there. What do I do? Oh, I'll meet that, because I don't want my clients going next door.” Rather than looking at what they can afford to be doing and actually trying to set themselves apart and become better, be different, stand on your own two feet, going this is who we are and this is what we're doing. Get some values in your business. Look at the staff you need, look at the staff you don't need and make some really tough decisions. I just say, "It's time to go guys." We've got to get on the move because we've got some big problems and if we don't do it, the government's just going to come in and shut you down.
Amajjika Kumara: I think from my perspective is, you know, everything that Jules said, but basically are you worth more money? If you're not worth more money, get education and make sure you're understanding your real worth. Two, get on the Internet, most people only have a Facebook page and getting a website is not that expensive. If you just want a basic thing, just get a basic website. You can't tell anything about a business from a Facebook page. The other thing is-
Jules Peacocke: I think that's interesting note. Like 50 per cent of salons don't have a website and I think it's like this 50 per cent of salons actually don't have any kind of software that runs their business. They use an appointment book.
Amajjika Kumara: Then you can never get any metrics from your business.
Adam Zuchetti: I think this is something that will actually... If you're happy to come back again in a couple of months and explore this side of your business as well. If we can sort of talk about that because we're running out of time now and I think there's a lot that we could go into there.
Jules Peacocke: Sure. Love to. Yeah, absolutely.
Adam Zuchetti: All right. Well, where can anyone who wants to find out about you?
Amajjika Kumara: www.lilyjackson.com.au, that's L-I-L-Y-J-A-C-K-S-O-N.
Adam Zuchetti: That's the spot. All right, anything to add Andy?
Andy Scott: No, nothing.
Adam Zuchetti: That's really good actually.
Andy Scott: No, no, they're fantastic. I could talk to you guys... It's an amazing business.
Amajjika Kumara: What was your wife's phone number again Andy?
Andy Scott: That's not happening. Don't worry about that, but no, I really appreciate you coming down…
Jules Peacocke: If Andy's wife is listening, we'd love to meet you.