Skip links

Beauty: Then and Now

Since joining the industry and the ISBN more than 30 years ago I’ve seen some huge changes and I’ve seen many trends come and go.

It’s very different in the industry than it was when I joined my brother Philip in 1985 to help grow his salon business. Then, we were in the midst of a major contraction. Women had started washing their hair at home and the numbers of those weekly visitors who came to have their hair washed and blow dried (under those huge wall-hung dryers) were in freefall. The unisex salon market was burgeoning; barbers were under assault, closing their doors in droves. Appointment patterns changed rapidly from weekly to monthly and then eight-weekly if unlucky. Now the pattern for most businesses is 25% of clients coming once a month, 50% once every three months and 25% every six months. To survive, prices had to rise, and the only way to justify charging more was to offer a better service, and to drive color.

But we weathered the storm, surviving because we changed with the times. Ironically, or rather thankfully, the decline in weekly visitor numbers coincided with a population boom. As the population has mushroomed, by as much as 30%, so has the industry. There are now many more operators in the field. But there has also been a polarization. There are more large chains; the accelerating growth in our association membership is a testament to this, with the big groups now accounting for around 15% of overall sales.

This emergence of big players brings with it increasing professionalism, emulated by some very important and impressive single or small salon groups. This has led to another change – the move to premiumization, with consumers demanding luxury services. Partly driven by a desire for experience over possession it has led to extremes in the industry in terms of prices, delivery of service and profitability.

Women’s position has changed, too. In the late 1980s, many women still left the industry after their children were born, but no longer. Now, as then, 90% of the industry is made up of women, but women now hold more prominent position; there are more in manufacturing, on stage or in education and owning their own salons. And I predict we’ll see that number continue to grow.

Training has also changed, but I’m not sure all these changes have been for the better. There has been a move to technology, to watching videos and filling in questionnaires rather than gaining hands-on experience. There is definitely room for interactive education but not at the expense of face-to-face training.

We’ve come full circle. Barbers are booming, with new and fabulous barbershops opening every week. We are also seeing a return of the regular visit to get a blow dry between appointments. It is small numbers still, but enough that established salons are introducing blow dry bars. And a new respect is obvious. The profile of the industry has improved, led by the role of Hollywood and fashion, which pays homage to their favorite stylists and make-up artists on a daily basis, but also driven by the visual interaction between professional and consumer on social media. Our industry is now vocal and cool.

Leave a comment