Success story: Surreal Hair

13 Sep 2023 by Kitomba

Surreal Hair in Christchurch, New Zealand, is an outstanding example of perseverance, success, and leadership in the hair industry. Having been in business for over 25 years, and with a team of 18 staff, Surreal Hair’s owner Michelle Marsh shares how she has overcome financial and environmental crises only to come back stronger than ever by building a fantastic team culture and living by the mindset that failure isn’t an option.

Watch the video below and keep reading to hear Surreal Hair’s incredible story. 

Tell us about your journey

I started working in the industry when I was 15 years old and since then I have worked in many salons and met some incredible mentors who have helped me to get to where I am today. At the age of 22, I started managing a salon before moving into the corporate side of the industry working for L’Oreal.

When I was 27 I decided to open my own salon, which came with a lot of hurdles including the property I leased not being zoned for retail! However, I’ve always been one of those people where there is no choice in failing, so I kept going because failing is not an option.

Then 25 years ago I started Surreal Hair and during that time we have been in several locations around Christchurch. Our current location is definitely my favourite though, as soon as I walked into the building I knew what I wanted and so I drew all the plans to scale, stuck pictures on the walls and the renovations began. The lease was signed in February and we moved here in July. We love the space and so do our clients.


What makes Surreal Hair unique?

What I think makes Surreal Hair unique is that we have a really good team culture – it’s a real family environment. We have a policy that everyone says hello to everyone, it doesn’t matter if it’s your client or not, every person that comes in is acknowledged and welcomed by us all.

One of our big focuses is the 10 out of 10 client experience. We often talk as a team about ideas on how we can make their appointments special. It’s important to remember if it was a client’s birthday last week or if they’ve just returned from a holiday.

I always say to the team that our clients don’t just pay to get their hair done, they pay for our time. Especially mums or working people, it’s an opportunity they get to have two hours that’s just about them.

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

I think the biggest challenge I’ve ever had to face in business was the 2011 Christchurch earthquake. I didn’t realise the magnitude of the situation at the time.

On the day of the earthquake, I lost my home and my business all on the same day. I didn’t have time to think about it, I just had to do what I always do, which is putting one foot in front of the other, and although it did take a long time, we eventually recovered.

We’re into our second recession now, I’ve already been through the Global Financial Crisis. I feel like, in my experience, hair salons can do well in good times and bad. It’s the lipstick effect: If people are feeling down or they’re worried about money, they still seem to be able to put some money aside to get their hair done because it makes them feel better. When times are good, people love looking after themselves and getting their hair done as well.

Covid was a struggle but I think the great thing about being in business for so long is that you learn how to ride the waves of good times and bad, you know how to rain the costs in and get those sales up. I think you just learn to do what you need to do.


You have a big team, how do you attract and retain great staff?

One of the goals that we’ve always had here is to give our staff more of a lifestyle. No one here works more than 35 hours a week and we make sure that everyone always has three days off. I’m not here to burn people out, making people work six days a week, three late nights, that kind of thing.

We currently have six apprentices, and we tend to build our team from the bottom up; we rarely hire senior stylists. I’ve got one stylist that’s been here for 17 years, another one that’s been here for 11 years, and another one who’s coming up to 10 years. 

Once you get to certain levels, you get rewarded with different things. One of our stylists has a company car, which is a cool little sign-written mini, some people get cell phones, all that kind of thing. The harder you work here, the more you’re rewarded.


How do you motivate your team to succeed?

I like to reward people for winning and teach them how to win. Every time somebody achieves their KPIs each week, whether it be for rebooking or retail or average client bill, they get $10. 

Then whoever meets their targets the most gets an additional $50. I always make sure the girls feel supported and have the necessary resources to meet their KPIs to motivate them to do the best they can. 

KPIs in Kitomba tell me straight away who needs help with what. So if somebody’s got a low retention rate, maybe they’re not ready to be on the floor or we might need to go back and revisit what they’re doing with the consultations. I want every to feel supported and know they can achieve whatever they put their mind to.

What does success look like for you?

I used to think that the more money that you make the more successful you were, but I don’t think that anymore. I think success for me now looks like being able to work three days a week for the same amount of money that I did before, being able to go on holiday for two months and having my business still run well without me.

I think success is seeing a young person that perhaps isn’t overly confident, taking them under your wing teaching them, and helping them realise their full potential.

Overall, the more successful I can make my team, the more successful I’ll be. 


What Kito
mba features couldn’t you live without?


Having Kitomba in the salon is my lifeline. Everyone has monthly targets, it’s so nice for the girls to know what their target is each month and be able to see how far they have left to go before they reach it. Having a plan by using the numbers from Kitomba Targets helps to keep our team motivated.

We are super focused on growing at Surreal Hair. We’ve grown 41% in 2022 compared to the previous year, which is a massive result. Tracking our progress with Kitomba Targets is so important because if we don’t track and we don’t measure, how do we know if we’re growing? 

Upsell Retail

I’m big on retail, but not because I want to make a whole lot of money. I want my team to sell retail because I want to know that our clients are being serviced and getting a 10 out of 10 experience, and that includes having the tools and the equipment they need when they go home. The upsell retail button in Kitomba makes it super easy for our staff to recommend and sell retail.

Business Summary

I think my favourite feature in Kitomba is the Kitomba Business Summary because it gives me all the information I need to know in one report. I can look at each team member’s metrics and know who’s looking after their clients, who are top retail sellers, and more. 

I like to see the growth and I especially like to show it to my young girls, so they can see it like “When I was a year one this is how much money I brought in, and look how much I bought this year”.


Advanced features and resources for growth

If you take the time to look at what’s available, it’s just life-changing. Kitomba is like a treasure trove of features – I’ve been using it for so long and every day I’m like “Oh, I wonder what that feature does”. Kitomba isn’t a basic booking system, I think it’s so much more than that.

Having the Kitomba Knowledge Base is good because if you don’t know something you can find a little tutorial about it. The blogs that Kitomba creates are amazing, you get so many good ideas and you get more insight into what challenges other people have and solutions to those. 

There’s also an ebook that I use all the time that Kitomba created called “100 ways to grow your salon, spa or clinic”. I give a copy to all of our apprentices, and if they’re struggling to fill up space in their column, I say; “hey have you tried some of these ideas?”

Also just having that backup of talking to the support team on the phone – the people that give you technical advice and support are amazing. Being able to have remote support is great, it’s just like all of a sudden the support team takes over your mouse and shows you what to do while explaining to you on the phone what they’re doing, and then it’s all done.


Also, Kitomba is always looking at evolving. I love the fact that the people at Kitomba are proactive and they listen to what our industry needs and what they add to their software, especially with making online bookings and all that sort of thing, all that they do helps us to improve our businesses.


What’s one piece of advice for other salon owners to become more successful?

I think the key to my success is having apprentices and hiring from the bottom up. We train good senior hairstylists and then we do our utmost to keep them by paying them as much as we possibly can and offering them the lifestyle that they want so they have a good work-life balance.

I think the reason why it’s so important to take on apprentices is that great senior hair stylists don’t just fall out of the sky because they’re either working at home or they’re renting chairs; it’s nearly impossible to find a senior stylist to come and work for you. Whereas if you take on an apprentice, you give somebody an opportunity, you’re passing on a skill, you allow them to grow and learn and then hopefully out of that, if you create the right environment, they’ll stay with you and have an awesome career within your business.

Want to find out how Kitomba can help your business thrive like Surreal Hair? Book your free demo to see how we can help your business to achieve success.

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