Sunday, 05 July 2020
NICOLA CHAPMAN is the proprietor of Elements, the hairdressing salon in Bell Street, Henley. She was born in Perivale, Middlesex, and went to school in Iver. From the age of 13 she worked on Saturdays in her aunt’s hairdressing salon in Langley. On leaving school, aged 16, she did a college course in hairdressing and then worked for her aunt. Nicola lives in Sonning with her son Jack, who is a plumber and was a promising national tennis player when he was a boy.
Describe your business
We are a ladies’ hairdressers.
How many people does it employ?
There are 14 of us including me — 13 females and one male. The floor-space in our salon is much larger than it looks from the outside.
What did you do before you started this business?
We moved to Sonning when Jack was 10 to be nearer Bisham Abbey National Sports Centre, which he was attending. I went to work for Tony and Guy’s in Windsor. I then worked for Aveda, a hairdressing company with its own range of natural products and salons in London and the Home Counties. A woman there encouraged me to open my own Aveda salon in Henley. I spent almost a year looking at premises and then chose the first one I’d looked at and we are still there.
When did you start your business?
We opened in December 2014 with just three of us. It was the Christmas Festival so we had live music and served drinks and canapés. Lots of people came in and many of them made appointments, which got the business off to a great start.
What was your objective?
Until then I had always worked for somebody else but I had always wanted my own salon.
Who or what influenced you?
My father and my family. Dad ran his own electrical business and was a great support.
What impact is the coronavirus pandemic having on your business?
Until we had to close we were doing brilliantly and I had just renewed my lease. But, like so many other businesses, when the lockdown came into force, we closed and I had to furlough all my staff. I’m very grateful for the Government’s support. We had thought it would only last a few weeks but it has now been three months. However, we are ready to get going as soon as we are allowed and have done a lot to be prepared for a very different working environment.
Do you compare how you are doing regularly?
Yes, weekly. We also set goals, which involve all the staff, and have friendly competitions where they can win some nice prizes.
How do you market your business?
Now most of our business comes from recommendations but we do use social media, which some of my staff are very good at.
What’s the best thing about running your own business?
I love working with clients and my team.
What’s the most challenging aspect?
Making sure that every client gets the best service.
Do you have a five-year plan?
I had been thinking about opening another salon but obviously that’s on hold at the moment.
What’s the most valuable thing you’ve learned?
How important it is to build the right team and make sure your clients all get the same high level of service. If somebody goes away happy they may tell three people but if they are dissatisfied they are likely to tell 10.
What would you advise someone starting a business?
Enjoy it. You may be apprehensive during the first couple of years but work hard and put everything into it.
What three qualities are most important to success?
Having passion for what you do and the ability to build a good team and ensuring that things run smoothly.
What’s the secret of your success?
A great location. In Henley people look after others. Plus having good staff — it’s hard to build a good team but worth it. We have a lovely working environment.
What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made?
I’ve made only a few small ones.
How organised are you?
How do you dress for work each day?
We wear smart uniforms with black gowns and when we re-open we’ll have black masks to match.
What can’t you be without every day?
Clients. And our trainees, who we depend on to make lots of tea and coffee.
Lunch at your desk or going out?
In the salon. We have a staff room and if the weather is nice we have a small marquee out the back. I often go across the road and get something from the Bell Street Bakery.
Do you continue to study?
No. While in lockdown I considered taking an Open University course on social care but realised that as soon as I went to back to work I wouldn’t have the time.
What do you read?
I have just read The Handmaid’s Tale. I recently read The Tattooist and The Secret. I love going into the Bell Street Bookshop, where co-manager Hillary Redhead gives me lots of excellent suggestions.
How are you planning for retirement?
I’d like to travel. Thailand is high on my list.
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