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Success story: Hillcrest Hair Design

17 Jan 2023 by Kitomba

Hillcrest Hair Design, located in Hamilton, New Zealand is a family-owned salon that has been operating for over 50 years. In 2021, Amy Carswell took over the business from her grandparents and it has seen incredible growth, even during the pandemic.

Watch the video below and keep reading to learn more about Amy’s start in the hair industry at a very young age, how she maintains a great culture at the salon, and her top tips for anyone who is thinking about stepping into salon ownership.

What’s the story behind Hillcrest Hair Design?

It’s a family business, and my grandparents owned it for over 50 years. It was founded in 1967 and I’ve owned it since 2021.

The journey has been very up and down for me. The business has had some great highs and some lows with the pandemic, but overall, as a salon and team, we’ve grown so much over the last year and a half. And although they don’t own it anymore, my nana is always there to support me, giving me advice and helping with training, and she definitely gives me confidence in what I’m doing in the salon.

I have a team of six staff, including myself. We have four apprentices and two seniors, and we are all on the same level in the salon. There’s no hierarchy at all, the owner is no better than the apprentices. Everybody cleans and everyone is constantly learning and going on their own journey with their careers, which makes our salon quite unique.

Coming out of one of our lockdowns, we actually advertised for some more senior stylists and we didn’t get much interest. After that, we decided to grow our own team and that’s how we came to have four apprentices. We’re located opposite Waikato University, and our target clientele is all age groups – Business people, families and students – so it’s really nice having students working on students and it’s a great opportunity for learning and growth.


Can you tell us about your personal journey to salon ownership?

As I mentioned before, my grandparents owned Hillcrest Hair Design my entire life, and so I started working at the salon from the age of 13, helping to sweep the floors and clean the product shelves during the school holidays.

When I finished school, hairdressing was actually my backup option. I kept thinking “if this doesn’t work, I’ll do hairdressing” and then after some time I just thought, “stuff it, I’m just going to go and do hairdressing!”.

So I went and I was at a polytechnic full time, working part time in the salon and doing work experience around Hamilton. And then I found an apprenticeship at a different salon and did that for three and a half years. After that, I ended up working at Hillcrest Hair Design until then in 2021, taking over just before our second and third lockdowns.

I believe it was always my grandparents’ plan for me to take over the business, but I never really saw myself taking over the business until I was mature enough to think about where I wanted my life to go. And this is a great opportunity, so why would I turn it down? I guess it was always the plan but it wasn’t my plan.


How do you motivate your team for success?

I motivate my team for success through using KPIs and incentives, and by really understanding each individual and what drives them. 

For some people it’s petrol vouchers or clothes or money or products. So really participating in those incentives gives me a great indication as to what individual gets driven by what. 

We track three main KPIs (key performance indicators) in the salon; rebooking, retail and treatments. We found that these three are a great and easy basis to start motivating us and really checking in with staff members. If someone is driven by numbers, I am happy to explore other KPIs.

When I set KPIs, I really individualise them to each staff member as they may be focusing on certain things like rebooking for one or treatments for the other. Some things come naturally to people and other things don’t. So just like how their reward is personalised to the staff member, the goals are very targeted for that individual as well.

We base our targets off the Kitomba Benchmark and where we should be sitting in reflection to those. I don’t really put much pressure on them as I don’t personally work well under pressure that much, and sometimes you can almost feel like you’re not achieving anything because you’re not there yet. As long as that number is going up now, I’m happy.

So to track KPIs, we use the Kitomba Business Summary report. We find this really easy to use in the salon. Any staff member can access it so they can see day to day how they’re tracking and what they need to improve on or how they’re doing really well for that particular day or week.


How do you create and maintain a great team culture?

We maintain our culture through gratitude, being really thankful for each other, and encouraging and empowering each other.

If someone has done a really good consultation, we’ll just go up and say “Hey, I really liked how you said that”. I think checking in each day, like “how are you?” And if you can tell someone’s not doing well, making them a cup of tea or extending a lunch break, or if they can go home early, then sending them home early.

It’s the everyday little things that build a great culture, and creates a happy place that affects everyone’s moods, including the clients.

That mentality applies to our clients as well. We use the client card notes section on Kitomba to make note of things like where someone went on holiday, or if they have an allergy or their favourite herbal tea. It adds those little things to the client experience and makes the salon a happy environment.


You’ve mentioned training is a passion of yours, how do you make training a focus in your salon?

It’s important for me to train apprentices so that the business and industry keeps growing with new talent.
HillcrestBlog_QTE2 It changes the dynamic because they are constantly asking questions. So it makes your brain think. As a senior stylist, we can just get stuck in our day to day, but apprentices are fresh and are always asking questions and getting really excited about new things they’ve learned, and that is so fulfilling.

To ensure training as a focus, we set aside a staff meeting each week and also two to three hours for training each week. This is for them to work on what they are learning at Tech or something they’ve seen in the salon or on social media and we have that time available to train them and inspire them.


What tools do you use to run your salon more effectively?

Hillcrest Hair Design has been open for over 50 years, and so we’ve definitely seen changes in how we manage our appointments during that time; from a paper book writing down appointments to now having it all electronically which is really cool.
Kitomba is very important to us – it’s the first thing we open in the day, and the last thing we close at night. It helps with tracking everything and the admin involved in running a business, but also helps in the day-to-day running, like keeping track of client notes and history, and all communication with a specific client.


What Kitomba features couldn’t you live without?

Time Sheets and Time Clock

I still work full-time on the floor in the salon, so I use Kitomba as much as I can to help me run my business. One feature that helps me the most is the Time Sheets and Time Clock feature.

My stylists clock in when they come in in the morning, and clock out when they leave. If they do overtime, or they come in earlier one day, it’s all getting accounted for and I can make sure they get paid for what they’re working.

At the end of each week I can go through and approve all of the time sheets and run a report that shows me exactly how many hours they’ve worked, and that helps me process my payroll a lot faster and easier, and brings me peace of mind that they’re getting paid for what they work.


The marketing tools in Kitomba help me so much. We track what promotions and discounts we use in the system to segment our client base and create lists of people that we can market to; and with the integration to MailChimp, or even just sending emails directly through Kitomba, we can communicate with our clients easily.

For example, we have a promotion to push our students working on students initiative. We can run a report for clients that have used that promotion in a date range and then use that list to send a promotion to.

We also use Everyday Marketing in Kitomba; staying connected with our clients with automated messages for happy birthday emails, new client feedback etc. really helps us deliver the best client experience.

Kitomba 1

This is something that we’ve only recently introduced at the salon, but I’m already getting such good feedback from my girls. Giving your staff access to Kitomba 1 allows them to see their day on their phone, check the notes and messages of their upcoming clients, and overall, it helps them prepare for the day.

I feel that it eases my staff into work. When you’re still learning and you see a new client on your appointment book, it can be overwhelming sometimes, so giving the girls access to see what they have on that day, before they even arrive at the salon, has made them more comfortable, and made me more comfortable as an owner.

What’s also really cool is that you can customise what access they have, so you can control if they can edit appointments or just view them, or allow them to track their targets from their phone.


What are your top tips for people who want to move into salon ownership?

Tip 1: Make a plan

You need a plan. I would advise you to pinpoint what you want to focus on for your business, find something that you are passionate about (for me, it’s training). Being passionate about what you’re doing will grow your business and lead you to success. 

Include your staff in your business planning; more minds are better than one, and if your staff are not heard, then they’re not going to want to step forward and give ideas in the future.

Tip 2: Ask for help

Another lesson is that you need help to run your business; you can’t take it all on by yourself. There’s someone out there that will help you and will probably do a better job than you with some tasks. Learning to build a website is not beneficial to me to do for my business; there’s someone out there that can do a much better job then I ever could, so delegating that task away frees up my time to work on other things. 

Look internally as well. Identify what skills your stylists have; I have someone take care of our social media for me, I know the staff who are really good at admin tasks so I give them some of my admin work. It really helps to grow the team as I am giving them more responsibility by delegating tasks that work with their strengths. Remember, you are no less of a business owner if you get help from external resources or sources.

Tip 3: Just do it!

The other tip I have is to take the plunge and just do it! The best way to learn is by experiencing salon ownership yourself. If you feel like you failed at something, know that there is always a lesson to learn from it, and that as you move forward, you won’t do it again. Also, it only takes one person or external voice to stop you from achieving your goals, so make sure you surround yourself with positive and like minded people who will support you.

Want to find out if Kitomba can help your business thrive like it has for Hillcrest Hair Design? 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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