We recently chatted with Reece Unahi, founder of RU&CO Hair Group. Reece launched his hair business in 2020, in the midst of the pandemic, and not only persevered during these unprecedented times, but thrived and grew his brand to five locations in New Zealand.
Learn more about his incredible journey to success, the importance he puts on mental health, and his passion for giving back to the industry.
How did you start in the hair industry?
“I’ve been in the hair industry since I was 17 years old. I chose hairdressing because I wanted to leave school and I thought it would be fun to do. Little did I know it’s a lot harder than it looks from the outside world, but I fell in love with it and I’ve done it ever since.
When I was just starting in the industry, I would help managers, I would learn the ins and outs of the business, even if I wasn’t being paid for that job. I was just so intrigued by the business side of things and wanted to know how it worked.
In return, now that I’m starting and growing my company, the things I learned along the way have really helped to prepare me for this time.”
How did you found RU&CO Hair Group?
“We opened in January 2020, and we’ve grown to five salons in 2021. We’ve grown this much during Covid-19, which has been a crazy whirlwind.
There were a lot of challenges along the way but I’ve used it to our advantage and taken time to look at how we did so well in such a short time and then replicated that to build the business and make it stronger as we’ve gone forward.
Our plan is to expand across the South Island and we have three more sites in the pipeline for 2022.”
How do you lead your team to success?
“We’re proud that we were able to create the team environment that people want to work in. It’s important to be changing the way we think about our staff. You are not a business without the people that work for you and they are the number one most important person that you have.
They will help grow your business. They will help bring clients to your business. So if you want to succeed, you do have to focus on looking after them.
We look after their mental health, we look after their work-life balance.
We’re always looking to improve the industry standards. We pay staff through a model that we created where we’re still profitable but also can share a bigger part of the profit with our staff, which keeps them wanting to stay with us.
In return, it’s been bringing more clients into the store and the stylists are getting busier and busier, which means we’ve been able to grow as fast as we have.”
Why is the mental health and well-being of your employees important to you?
“We’ve built mental health into our training and education program, and made it part of our culture.
I’m fortunate enough to have a partner who teaches mental health as a business. He has bite-size programs that focus on everything from how to create a really nice environment, how to look out for your coworkers, your work-life balance, financial literacy, bullying in the workplace, to understanding how everyone’s personalities work differently, and how we can work together. It’s a reminder that it’s important to know that people always have something going on in their life and it’s about creating a supportive place.
So far, we’ve only done a couple of those segments, but we’re building those into our education calendar for 2022 to complete them. All of our staff will be required to go through these training sessions as well as any new people coming on board. We’ve built it in as part of the culture.”
How are you contributing to the growth of the hair and beauty industry?
“I want to leave my mark on the industry to improve working conditions for staff and improve wages. There’s a common mistake that hairdressers can’t earn good money and I find it fascinating when people are shocked when some hairdressers are making more than a doctor or lawyer.
I also want to attract more people into the industry. An exciting project for 2022 is that we’re going to look at having more of an adult apprentice program, rather than just focusing on the school-age apprentices. Bringing in people that want to join a different industry, for example, a mum who wants to come back into the workforce in her 30s and she wants to do something different. We can give her the opportunity to do an apprenticeship and hopefully she stays with the company.”
RU&CO has also moved away from gender-based pricing to reflect diversity among its staff and clients. The new initiative was launched a couple of weeks ago and has already received plenty of positive feedback.
Why do you love Kitomba?
“One of the reasons we chose Kitomba was because it works over multiple sites. We loved the integration with other software, we loved all the functions that we could use to monitor all the businesses like setting KPIs is so simple to use. It also has the best reporting.
I’m still discovering lots of great features we’re not using and I’m shocked that I didn’t know that it was there.”
“One of my favourite features is Appointment Book where we can see who moved in our appointment book on any given day or who cancelled and see what the day looks like.
It sounds really simple, but it’s so important.”
“My favourite feature is Reporting and all these different reports you can generate. It’s so simple, I can get a snapshot of what my entire group is making in one day, how many clients they rebooked, how many cancelled, plus online sales and retail sales.”
“I love the Waitlist function. We use it to work out two things. First, we use it for knowing when we might need to have more staff on for rostering. Second, some of our stylists are so popular, so if someone cancels their 9 am appointment the night before, it’s great that we can go to Waitlist and we can usually fill it. We know the people that are free and available that day. We keep all the notes in Kitomba and the Waitlist feature is really important because you fill gaps in your day.”
“Benchmark is a really cool function. It blows my mind to be able to see where you’re sitting amongst the industry. For example, you can see client averages in your area.
Even though we do focus a lot on our own business and not what everyone else is doing, it’s still nice to know where that standard is or if you’re having a really bad day and you look at Benchmark, you might see that it’s a trend for everyone.
As a business owner, finding trends and patterns is one of the most important things that you will ever learn. Once you identify a trend or a pattern, you can build from it or prepare for it.”
“All of our staff have access to Kitomba 1 on their devices so that they can manage their appointments. We’ve found that our industry has changed quite a lot with social media. Our stylists individually get contacted through their social pages and they can pop in Kitomba 1 and book the appointment or respond to someone anytime, anywhere. They can also check their colour notes and other information about a client.”
Easy client consultations
“I love the function where people can submit photos. It’s really cool that it prepares you for a new person coming in or gives you an opportunity to start building an idea of what an existing client wants. You can go through your consultation faster because you’ve already got that information.
Going forward, we want to get into using Digital Forms for client consultations. We’ve ordered devices for that and everyone’s excited. Having consultations done on iPad will allow us to access that information easily and on the go. Then we can update any information or add notes too which is super important.”