This issue, phil talks to hairdressing legend, Russell Eaton. As one of the most well-known and well-liked names in british hairdressing, russell has built a successful family business alongside his wife karen, award-winning son robert and daughter isobel. With a new city-centre salon opening in leeds this year, russell shows no signs of slowing down. Today, he tells phil why he’d rather be on a photoshoot than roaming around a national trust property…
RUSSELL, TELL ME ABOUT WHAT YOU THINK HAS BEEN YOUR BIGGEST CAREER CHALLENGE OR ‘FAILURE’ SO FAR… IN OTHER WORDS, WHAT’S BEEN YOUR BIGGEST MISTAKE?
Over the length of time I’ve spent in the industry, I have made many mistakes, but I prefer to think of these as little elements that have taken me in different directions. I suppose the biggest ‘failure’ though, would be when I opened my first shop in Doncaster. It was the mid 80s, when Doncaster was very up and coming and geographically ideal. We opened a hair salon with high-end ladies fashion on the floor below, however I was a real novice at fashion at the time, with a lot still to learn. We were buying and selling all of the stock, and chasing ourselves to make it pay the bills. We did it for three years, but we were running up quite an overdraft and realised we didn’t need the stress. Deciding to sell that premises was one of the hardest decisions I’ve made – let’s just say I’ve stuck to purely hair ever since!
WHAT WOULD YOU SAY ARE THE BIGGEST LESSONS YOU LEARNT FROM THIS?
It would be to stay in your lane; find what you’re good at and stick to it. I’m at a place now where I try to do things from the gut much more; I trust my own instincts.
HOW HAS THIS EXPERIENCE HELPED YOU MAKE BETTER DECISIONS IN THE FUTURE?
It’s made me realise success is all about the team you have around you. I’m so proud that Rob has won British Hairdresser of the Year twice, and Isobel has won North-Eastern Hairdresser of the Year too. It’s an amazing feeling – almost better than if I’d won it myself. These days, I’m much more focused on their successes than my own.
I REMEMBER SEEING YOUR FACE WHEN ROB WON FOR THE FIRST TIME, THAT’S DEFINITELY A FEELING I CAN RELATE TO. DO YOU MISS BEING AT THE FOREFRONT?
Not really, but if there’s a shoot or anything like that, I always go along. Thankfully, they still seem to want me there – in an advisory capacity at least!
IF YOU COULD START ALL OVER AGAIN, WHAT WOULD YOU DO DIFFERENTLY?
I’ve honestly enjoyed everything about my career, so it’s hard to pick out anything in particular. The thing is, I’m still working hard, just in a different way. 25-30 years ago, for example, I would have been on the salon floor much more than I am today. Right now, however, we’re working on the opening of our new salon in Leeds, so it’s safe to say I’m still very happy with where I am.
WHAT CHARACTER TRAITS WOULD YOU SAY HARD TIMES HAVE TAUGHT YOU?
Drive and determination – those traits have never left me. You’ve got to be resilient too – over the years, one of the hardest things I’ve dealt with is people moving on from the teams I’ve built. I’ve gradually learnt that dealing with this requires a lot of resilience.
HOW DOES SOMEONE CREATE SUCCESS IN THEIR CAREER?
It’s all about the correct foundations. Whether we’re talking artistically or business wise, you have to get the foundations right and then you can build on them. For every ten trainees we take on, there’s maybe one or two that will make it to the top level. It’s all about attitude, and I think you can spot that from day one.
WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR MOST SUCCESSFUL MOMENT RECENTLY?
On a personal level, I was hugely honoured a couple of years ago to be given the Fellowship Lifetime Achievement Award. It was a total surprise and Rob hadn’t breathed a word.
ARE YOU A PERSON WHO TAKES RISKS?
Yes. To do what we’re about to do and open a salon in a city-centre location with a 10-year lease is a huge risk. It will be a challenge, and the first couple of years will be scary, but I can’t imagine opening up in any other location.
OF COURSE, YOU CAN’T JUST STAND STILL. THE RIGHT THING TO DO IS TO KEEP GROWING, AND THAT WILL ALWAYS INVOLVE RISK.
It does. Funnily enough, creating this family business was never the grand plan, it just sort of happened. Both my children decided they wanted to come and help in the business, and now it’s become our way of life. One drawback of having a family business is that we never stop talking about it, but I always say: hairdressing is a lifestyle not just a job!
SUCCESS IS OBVIOUSLY DIFFERENT FOR EVERYONE, BUT WHAT DOES IT LOOK LIKE TO YOU?
The artistic side of the industry remains very important to me, and awards are of course a good benchmark for this. Ultimately though, staying in business after all these years is a real measure of success for me. It’s easy to open a salon, the hard part is keeping it from closing.
WHO IS A SUCCESSFUL PERSON YOU ADMIRE, AND WHAT LESSONS HAVE THEY TAUGHT YOU?
That’s a hard one to answer because there are so many people who inspire me. The two I’d have to mention would be Toni Mascolo and Vidal Sassoon. I’ve read both their memoirs and I have so much respect and admiration for them. They both came from very humble beginnings, which is something I can relate to. I grew up in South Yorkshire in a mining community, and my father was a miner. At the time I went into it, hairdressing was a highly unusual career choice, but it was the best decision I ever made.
WHAT THREE PIECES OF ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO ANYONE AT THE START OF THEIR CAREER?
1. Always get your foundations right,
regardless of where you want to end up.
2. Learn from as many people as you possibly
3. Be determined and always keep your focus.
FINALLY, RUSSELL, WHAT KEEPS YOU GOING? WHAT STILL MOTIVATES YOU TO GET UP AND OUT TO WORK?
It’s partly having my family in the business, I love working with young people. I don’t want to be visiting National Trust properties, I’d rather be out meeting people and going to events!
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