Rising to the challenge

James Davis, owner of the Clay Salon and Spa in Oxshott, reveals how he’s built a successful salon from scratch in today’s tough economic climate 

Having taken the bold move of opening a salon in the midst
of a recession, James Davis, owner of the Clay Salon and Spa in Oxshott, Surrey, says there was no doubt in his mind about the timing: “It was now or never,” he says. And now, with two years’ trading under his belt, his gamble has paid off. In 2011, the owner planned to increase the salon’s turnover by 50
per cent month on month, but it actually consecutively rose by 100 per cent. So how did he do it?

BUSINESS TIP ONE: Don’t let obstacles get in the way

“At some point your business will face major challenges,” Davis explains.

“Not just small issues that need a bit of attention, but major factors that could seriously send the business under. But never, ever, let these challenges make you question why you are in business or let them get the better of you.”

“I was burgled, twice, in the first year of trading, then we had a major fire in 2011 – and believe me, these were all extremely large issues to overcome. In the case of the fire we had to close the salon for two weeks and needed a £50,000 refurbishment. But we got through the crisis, the team pulled together and we made home visits and set up an office/call centre in a nearby hotel.”

“The best thing I did in this situation was employing a business consultant to manage the claim. It was a massive advantage because it took a lot of the stress away and meant that nothing was overlooked.”

“Both the burglaries and the fire made me put measures in place that I wouldn’t have done otherwise, and I believe my business is stronger as a result. It also made me realise what a fantastic team I have around me, and how valuable each member is to me. I can’t change what happened and looking back, I’ve learnt a lot from the obstacles that we have faced.”

BUSINESS TIP TWO: Watch the bottom line – always

“Profit is sanity and turnover is vanity. From day one I have always focussed on the bottom line figures because in my mind this is what makes sense. You can be turning over ten million pounds a year but still not be in profit. So while turnover is of course important, it is the profit that keeps a business afloat.”

BUSINESS TIP THREE: Look after the pennies

“Opening a business in a recession has really made me watch every penny that has gone in and out of the accounts, and I mean every single penny. I don’t waste, I don’t spend unnecessarily and I have a very good accountant and team of advisors.”

BUSINESS TIP FOUR: Use outside advisors and coaches

“I’m very fortunate that I have a lot of clients who have successful businesses, so I have had a lot of free advice from people who I really trust. I’ve also got a business coach, Simon Broome, who is incredible. Simon will often just help me look at the bigger picture and let me see for myself what I need to be doing, but it honestly is one of the best resources I have. There are times when I can’t see the wood for the trees and Simon just helps me get to the answers that I need quicker than if I were to try and figure them out myself. I guess we all know the answers to challenges that we face deep down, but having someone take a completely impartial look at your business is a huge help.”

BUSINESS TIP FIVE: Get involved in the local community and charities

“I strongly believe that you get out of life what you put into it, and it’s no difference with business. I have always supported local charities and organisations, volunteering whenever I can and donating prizes from the salon, and it has most definitely paid off. For example I was asked to get involved in the Runnymede Youth Conference, a local organisation that helps guide young people into their future careers and make the right decisions in life. As a result, last year I presented a talk with PR guru Max Clifford who is also involved in it, and we’ve built a great relationship. I also sponsor a local charity and football team, the Oxshott Royals. The club is run solely on volunteers and relies on sponsors to keep it afloat. It’s been great publicity for my business and I am happy to be part of the community here in Oxshott. We also have a very close bond with the Shooting Star Chase hospice for children where we are in regular contact and supporting the kids the best we can. Meanwhile we also pamper the mums and nurses that are often forgotten with the amount of dedication and hard work they put in.”

BUSINESS TIP SIX: Finally just because the media is telling us we’re in a recession, don’t talk yourself into it

“The reality is that we are of course in a recession, and I think the worst is yet to come. But I strongly believe you have to remain positive, start thinking outside the box, make sure that you are offering a great service and experience and watch the figures like you’ve never watched them before. If you know to the penny what you need to break even every week, and are aware of how much each staff member needs to be making, then you’re half way there. But don’t think that just because we are in a recession that your business has to suffer – it doesn’t. And if you’re on top of it, you can make it thrive, even in these hard times.”