Sandi Larkin’s tips for small business growth

Hair salon owner Sandi Larkin is growing rapidly and welcoming 150 new clients a month. Here are her top tips for other retailers looking to achieve the same success.

At a glance

Here’s a snapshot of the insights from our interviewee:

  • Five years after starting her own hair salon, Sandi Larkin’s business is going from strength to strength.
  • She always tries to manage her staff with a good heart to make them feel "wanted and loved".
  • Sandi creates clear financial goals and involves her team in her strategy, encouraging them to meet the targets she requires.
  • She believes no retail business can grow without a targeted and diverse marketing strategy, and advises retailers just starting out to invest in a business coach.

In our ‘I wish someone had told me that’ series, we speak with seasoned small business owners to hear their advice on growing a business and what they wish they were told along the way. Click here to read the rest of the ‘I wish someone had told me that’ series.

Sandi Larkin always wanted to own her own business. Five years after starting her upmarket hairstyling salon The Following Hair Co, she says the learning curve has been as dramatic as her business growth.

But these days she’s welcoming around 150 new clients a month and seeing rapid growth. For other retailers wanting some of the same, these are her top tips.

Control your own destiny

“When I worked as a hairstylist in an Auckland salon, I dreamt of the freedom to make my own decisions, choose the people I worked with, and create the work environment I always wanted.

“I just wanted to be in control of my own destiny, which is ultimately why I think most people want to be business owners. So when a salon came up for sale in the affluent suburb of Parnell in late 2018, I snapped it up.”

Be prepared for a bumpy ride

“I inherited two stylists, brought my own clients with me and hired some amazing staff. At first, business growth was rapid, but there were challenges ahead.

“COVID hit, I was pregnant and very sick with pre-eclampsia, and I was hospitalised for three months. I didn’t step into the salon for six months.

“A lot has gone on in the last five years and to be honest, we’re still recovering. Right now there are new challenges. Staff members are moving overseas, business costs are rising and our customers are seeing their budgets squeezed.

“I’ve had to completely change my business strategy, but it’s working. I now have nine employees and we’ve enjoyed rapid growth in the last year and a half.”

Look after your staff

“I believe staff retention problems have been a massive contributor to many retailers folding. Their service just isn’t good enough and they can’t keep their customers.

“Over the years, I’ve tried to manage my team with real heart. My staff know that I’m there to support them on a personal level. I think that realness is key.

“I also focus on team building. We go out together, have breakfast in the morning and pizza on a Friday. It’s those little acts of kindness that make my team feel wanted and loved.

“I try to hire people that will be a good fit and I never hire out of desperation, which I see happening a lot at the moment. The right people really make or break your business.”

Stay across your numbers

“I use Xero accounting software and the salon software Shortcuts, which tracks targets, spend per head and customer retention.

“I set quarterly and yearly financial goals and I know exactly where I want my wage percentage, cost of goods, and marketing expenses to sit. This allows me to see where I can take from when needed. For example, my staff recently told me they were struggling with rising costs. I look at my books and found the solution by [changing our approach to resourcing our cleaning staff].

“I also involve my team in my goals so they feel like they’re part of the business. When we’re looking at the spend-per-head targets, I’ll encourage them to hit certain targets for the day.”

Spend on marketing

“One of my biggest learnings is that putting money in marketing feeds your business. The majority of my growth is as a result of a diverse and targeted marketing strategy.

“I have a consultant who manages my Instagram, Facebook and TikTok content, and a company that manages my Google Ads. I target magazines and approach influencers who I feel align with our target market, some of whom I pay to come into the salon for an experience.

“With people’s reluctance to spend, I’m having to push the hardest I’ve ever done when it comes to marketing. It can cost me up to $2,500 a month but it’s worth every cent. We welcome around 150 new clients a month.”

Hire a business coach

“At the beginning I was very much a case of faking it until I made it. But if I could do it all over again, I would hire a business coach.

“A lot of the hard lessons you learn over time can be communicated early on by a business coach who understands your industry. They can help you find the right tools, develop strategies, tell you what numbers to look at and how to pay your staff.”

Stay on top of industry trends

“The hairdressing industry is currently going through the biggest change that I’ve seen in my whole career. People are going from wanting to look very done to wanting to look softer and more natural. People are also into massive transformations at the moment.

“In response, we’ve completely changed our marketing content and our wording of what we feel we specialise in. Rather than positioning ourselves as blonde experts, we’re changing to be transformation experts.”

Savour the wins

“I certainly don’t have as much freedom as I thought I would have when I dreamt of managing my own business. But The Following gives me so much joy.

“The little things – such as seeing us profiled in magazines, every positive Google review, people crying because they love their hair so much – I don’t think there’s anything quite as fulfilling.

“It’s been a very rewarding adventure.”

Ask a Prospa specialist about how a Prospa Business Line of Credit could help support your business to make the most of growth opportunities.

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