Aboki Hair customer success story

Success story: Aboki Hair

19 Oct 2022 by Kitomba

We recently spoke with Melissa and John van Gosliga, co-owners of Aboki Hair in Nelson, New Zealand. They told us how they’ve managed to run a thriving business for more than 27 years, and successfully lead a big team of 18 staff aged between 20 and 75 years old!  

Watch the video and keep reading to hear their story and their top tips for other salons.

Tell us Aboki’s story: what has your journey been like?

Melissa: “We purchased Aboki in 1995. We started on the first of January and it’s been a wonderful journey. We’ve been here for nearly 28 years, which is extraordinary. It’s not what we intended, but it’s been amazing. 

“I started in the industry when I was 13. I was brought up in a hairdressing family. My mum owned a salon before she had me, and I started full time at 15 and I’m still here. And John started a bit later than that, the year 2000.”

John: ”We met when we were quite young, when Melissa was hairdressing. I used to work in forestry before this, working in a logging crew. So this is a completely different industry to be in. But since knowing Melissa from early on, I always thought hairdressing would be something I’d be interested in.”

Aboki Nelson  leadership team

The Aboki Hair leadership team

What do you like most about the hair and beauty industry? 

Melissa: “The best part of working in this industry is definitely people having a safe space to tell their stories. I love to hear about people’s journeys. The friends that we’ve made over the years, the places, the experiences, the inspiration, the motivation, everything is always changing, and I love that challenge.”

John: “I love the hairdressing industry because it’s always challenging. You can be creative, time doesn’t stand still within it. There’s always new trends, there’s always new techniques. Even though we’ve been in this industry for a long time, you’re always learning, you never stop learning.” 

Aboki Hair CEO Melissa

What’s it like running Aboki as a couple?

Melissa: “Running the salon as a team is amazing. I had those first few years where it was just me by myself and it made a huge difference to have John with me on board. It’s incredible to have somebody to throw ideas off and challenge each other. We look at things similarly, but also have differences. So it’s nice to sort of throw our ideas together.”

John added: “I think that the two of us work amazingly well as a team. As I said before, we’ve been together since we were quite young, so we know each other’s strengths. It’s fantastic to be able to be working with and spending every day with Melissa.”

“Running the salon as a team is amazing. I had those first few years where it was just me by myself and it made a huge difference to have John with me on board,” Melissa van Gosliga, CEO of Aboki Hair, Nelson.

Who is your target market?

Melissa: “Our target market is quite diverse because we’ve been in business for a long period of time and our hours are quite long. We have a team that starts at 7:00am, so we’re here at 6:30am, and that goes right through to the end of the day and we’re open six days a week. But we have two target markets at the moment and that would be our young to 30-year-old balayage long hair clients. And then we’ve got our older clients that have been with us for a long time.

Aboki Salon Nelson

What makes your salon unique?

Melissa: “We’re known for our global colours with foils, so quite different, and our team spans all the generations. Our youngest is 20 and our oldest team member is 75. We’re very family orientated. We’ve got four family members that work within our business and we call our team our Aboki family and that really does mean a lot to us. We really want to bring them on a journey in their personal life as well as their work life. We think that that provides an amazing atmosphere for our clients as well.”

John: “We’ve had numerous awards for our service. We’re really thinking about each individual client and their time and our space and how special that is that they choose to come to us as their time is precious. We just keep evolving all the time, so we never sort of sit still and think yes, we’ve got it right. We keep looking for what’s new out there, where we can add value, what we can do for people on an individual basis. And I think that really is the key to who we are.”

Melissa: “Also our team is amazing. We tend to employ people with amazing personalities and their skill level is absolutely fantastic. I think our team is very genuine in what they do and they actually want to help our clients. I think that’s a big part of who we are.

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How do you ensure training is a focus in your business?

Melissa: “Training is a huge deal for us. That’s absolutely how we run a big team. We like to grow our own people because they are trained the way we like to do things and that’s actually sometimes much better than somebody else coming into our systems and protocols. So right from scratch is better.

“We have a training academy which is really important to us. They train through D levels, so every part of what they do in the salon is pulled apart and grown until they become a D4, which is an expert in every area. We have a training educator within the salon and we also have our salon manager who’s in charge of the HITO training. She does that separately too, on an individual level to make sure that each stylist is getting where they need to go, that they are happy and supported, and ready to move on, and we grow our girls through there.” 

John: “Also with our training we have an outside educator who does all our cutting training. She’s been with us for 22 years and we’re very fortunate that she bases herself in Nelson. We do a two year foundation course with her and all new stylists who start here have to do that foundation course. So we all tend to cut very similarly, but we’re all individuals as well.” 

Melissa: “We also provide training for other life skills. We’ve had a financial session, teaching them about where all the money goes that comes in and all the different things that have to come out from that and that’s for their own financial success as well.

“Other things that we’ve done this year are personality tests where we find out what everyone’s personality styles are and we look at how to respond to them in giving praise and being able to accept constructive criticism as well because some people take things differently. We do that as a team, but it’s also good to recognise that in clients so that we can communicate on a different level.” 

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How do you motivate your team for success? 

Melissa: “Motivating the team is really important to us. I think you can only be motivated from the top as well. I need to be motivated to be able to motivate everybody else. I do training myself – I have coaching and that’s really an important part of my week. I do that with Salon Mastery, which has been incredible. So I bring those ideas and things to the rest of the team and it filters down. And obviously our educators, salon manager and front of house will have a part in that as well.” 

John: “Another way we keep our team motivated is we do trend reports. We look at what trends are coming through. What are fashion trends coming up throughout the world and we work on these within the team.

“We also have competitions. We’ll have photo competitions that our clients can actually vote on. It keeps the excitement going all the time.” 


What are your business focuses at the moment? 

John: “Our business focus at the moment is growing our team. We have struggled as a lot of businesses have since Covid. Growing our executive stylists is a big thing at the moment. We want them to be looking at possibly buying into the business and that would ensure Aboki keeps going for a very long time.”

Melissa: “We’ve got the 100 year plan going on, not just 28, we want Aboki to continue after us.” 

How do you balance working on your business with working in your business?

Melissa: “I find the balance of working on and in the business can be quite tricky for me. I love working with my clients and that’s a real focus and having enough time to work on the business, which is equally important because there’s 18 of us, so that does require having a vision and working on it consistently. I do tend to do a lot of hours, I tend to work about 30 hours with my clients and then the same on the business and it is hard to juggle.

“Last year we promoted one of our staff to a salon manager and we’ve taken on a front house manager and that has given us more time to be able to have more time to grow the business as a whole, it’s been really important.”

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What has been your biggest challenge in business and how did you overcome it?

Melissa: “Our biggest challenge to date has definitely been Covid and obviously that’s a very recent thing for everybody. It’s been a huge couple of years and basically because there hasn’t been any protocols or systems in place for that, we’ve all had to learn together and that has meant that we’ve had to be connected to a wider community to learn what those need to be.

“It’s been really difficult having mandates put into practice and I definitely went through long weeks of sleepless nights worrying about the staff that didn’t want to vaccinate and trying to figure out a way through for that. I had a lot to do with our local MP to try and make sure that there was a future there for those people, but I didn’t have worries because they went on their own journey. 

“So Covid for us has been huge. Not only business wise, I’ve had it twice, had Long Covid, we’ve lost a family member. But now we’re coming out the other side and there’s hope and things happening that are much nicer. We’ve got through it.

“But I do find that if we look back over those big challenges that we’ve had over our 28 years and I could write volumes of stories, the hardest things that we’ve been through have been the biggest lessons and I wouldn’t take any of that away because it’s really when you come out of something that’s difficult that you get all of the growth.”

“The hardest things that we've been through have been the biggest lessons and I wouldn't take any of that away because it's really when you come out of something that's difficult that you get all of the growth.” – Melissa van Gosliga, CEO of Aboki Hair, Nelson. 


What does success look like for Aboki? 

John: “Success for us as a team is getting our stylists to achieve their own goals, helping them on their journey. Also success is having a more of a balanced life out of the salon. We work 50, 60, 70 hours a week, and that is getting a little bit less for me, not so much for Melissa…” 

Melissa: “But we have granddaughters now, so that’s really an important focus for us. So if we are thinking about what success looks like for us, it’s that our team carries on without us and we don’t necessarily need to be here. And they’re smashing goals, we’re smashing goals and we all have time with our families.” 

Aboki Hair salon Nelson _MG_2923

What importance does software play in your business? 

John: “Software is key to our business. It’s actually one of the first things we look at when we wake up in the morning. We look at what our day is looking like, we look at all our online bookings, we look at our targets for the day, which are all there.

“The targets are individual for our team and they all can see their own, so they know what is expected. That helps to drive sales.” 


Why did you choose Kitomba Salon and Spa Software? 

Melissa: “We changed from a paper based system to Kitomba around 10 years ago. We tried another software first and the process was horrific. We just couldn’t do it. It wasn’t the right system for us. So we went back to the paper system and after a while it became apparent that we would have to go with a software.

“We came across Kitomba and it ticked all the boxes for us. It was a massive change to go from paper and input all of that information. And at the beginning, I remember that week very vividly. It was 80 hours of computer work, which I have never done before to that extent, but we trained the team up and from then we’ve just absolutely flown with it. It’s just been amazing. And I’ve never looked at any other system because Kitomba ticks all the boxes.

Unlimited free support

John: “With Kitomba, the support is a huge thing for us. So even the most simple problems that we think it’s not actually worth ringing for, that we’ll figure it out ourselves, we can message, we can phone, and nothing is ever a problem. That is a huge thing for us.” 

Melissa: “When we’ve needed something we’ve had discussions with the support team and they’ve implemented things that we have suggested, and that is a real key for us to be able to say, ‘hey, this isn’t quite working. Do you have something that it could be measured by?’ And then for Kitomba to be able to follow through with that is just amazing.” 


Remote access and smart marketing 

Melissa: “We have an in-house marketing manager, our daughter. She’s based in Auckland, and she does our marketing from afar. And that’s a fantastic thing with Kitomba. You don’t actually need to be based in the salon and in Nelson. So sometimes if we don’t want the phone going, we can switch it over to her in Auckland. And she can do everything from Kitomba 1 on her computer.

“And the marketing side of things, being able to email out and being able to isolate who you want those emails to go out to, like marketing for a particular stylist that may want to do something special by themselves, or a newsletter, which we would put out twice a year to everyone, is just fantastic.” 

John: “If a customer hasn’t been in for or made a pre-booking for five weeks, we have a text or an email that goes out to them to remind them that they need to come back and see us. And for my clients who don’t pre book, which is not many, those ones always get that reminder and they’re straight on the phone calling us or booking online.” 


Growing the business with Online Booking 

John: “We use Kitomba Online Booking every day. We can look at it over the weekend on a Sunday, and we sometimes will have 20 bookings there. It’s almost like having the salon running and somebody being there to take appointments without us actually physically being in the salon. It has taken away some of the work that’s needed to take those appointments. That’s been a huge part of our growth.”

Reducing no-shows with deposits 

Melissa: “We’ve started taking deposits for online bookings. It became an issue for us that we were getting new clients booking and then not turning up on the day, so we felt that we needed to do something about that. We’ve started putting in a deposit for colour work, and you think that might be a negative thing, but it’s been nothing but positive.

“You know that the people that are going to make the appointment are going to turn up because there has been a deposit made. And if it’s a genuine reason that they’ve needed to change their appointment, say they’re sick, then that online deposit is still there waiting on their account for them next time. It’s been really wonderful to actually have that facility. It’s all done through PayPal so it’s simple and easy. We have better retention with our online bookings from that.”

John: “Also with Kitomba online deposits, our clients have actually mentioned that it’s quite good that they come in for their appointment knowing that part of it has already been paid for. It also increases the likelihood of being able to upsell your to a treatment or the home health care that we are recommending, because it’s not as much of a big invoice for them on the day as they’ve already prepaid part of their service in the five or six weeks beforehand.” 

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No-nonsense reporting 

John: “The main thing that I love about Kitomba is the reporting. It’s all fact based so there’s no emotions in it. We know exactly where we’re moving to, the stylists know what they’ve done for the week, so that just makes it a lot easier for everybody.” 

Melissa: “With Kitomba reporting, I can isolate an area of the business that I’d like to check, or even if it’s for an appraisal for a team member or for KPIs, I can grab any information that I need and it’s there at my fingertips.” 

Want to find out if Kitomba can help your business thrive like it has for Aboki Hair? Book your free demo where we’ll discuss your business’s unique needs, goals and vision, and what features will help you to achieve your business goals this year and beyond.

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