This month, Phil talks to Tim Avory, who he describes as ‘one of the industry’s biggest unsung heroes’. The owner of one of the most consistently successful hairdressing businesses in the company, Tim owned 24 salons at his peak and is still breaking financial records 35 years since first opening the doors to his flagship Toni&guy salon in Guildford. As well as launching the careers of many well-known names, Phil says he quite simply wouldn’t be where he was today without him. The two had quite a lot to chat about!
HI TIM. 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?
Probably not owning enough shares of each shop to have control. I had 24 salons at my peak, but I only had 24% shares in a lot of them. Looking back, what I wish I’d done is have 100% shares in fewer salons. There’s a lot of artistic temperaments – a lot of hairdressers think they’re worth a fortune, but don’t necessarily want to work for it. For instance, they open up a shop and when it starts making money they start working less and less, then the salon never really performs that well. So yes, I wish I’d always started out with 100%.
I AGREE ENTIRELY. I’M NOT SAYING THERE’S A PROBLEM WITH THE FRANCHISE MODEL, BUT PROBABLY MY BIGGEST CRITICISM IS THAT YOU ARE LIMITED TO THE AMOUNT OF CONTROL YOU HAVE WHILST STILL BEING RESPONSIBLE FOR ALL OF THE BORROWINGS OF THAT BUSINESS.
Yeah. Then you have to watch out for people playing the business, little fiddles. I mean, I had one director who didn’t drive so he went out and bought himself a company speedboat – not a company car – and put that through the business!
SAME. I REMEMBER GOING TO THE BUSINESS AWARDS THE YEAR I WON DIRECTOR OF THE YEAR, AND I ROCKED UP IN MY M&S SUIT BECAUSE I WAS LITERALLY UP TO MY EYEBALLS IN DEBT. ONE OF MY FRANCHISE PARTNERS HAD BEEN TO SLOANE STREET THAT DAY AND BOUGHT AN ARMANI SUIT TO WEAR – HE PUT THE RECEIPT THROUGH AS EXPENSES, SAYING IT WAS A BUSINESS EVENT! WE HAD NO CONTROL OVER THAT, IT WAS FRUSTRATING. SO, WHAT WOULD YOU SAY ARE THE BIGGEST LESSONS YOU’VE LEARNT?
The thing franchising teaches you is that, unlike when you have hairdressers who want to come off the floor and open their own salon with no idea how the business works, the franchise is good because it teaches you the skills for making profit.
DO YOU MAKE BETTER DECISIONS TODAY THAN YOU DID IN THE PAST?
Yes, 100%. When you’re younger, it’s all ego. I used to enter the British Hairdressing Awards, but I look back now and think how much it all used to cost – such a lot of money! And it’s all really just to fuel your ego. Your ego goes out the window when you get older, and then you start thinking about the money.
WHERE WOULD YOU SAY YOU ARE IN TERMS OF YOUR CAREER NOW?
When I started out, all I really cared about was opening my own salon. I’ve now just celebrated 35 years since opening my first TONI&GUY salon in Guildford, but I came into it completely blind. Toni Mascolo taught me everything I know about franchising, and I learnt the creative side from Anthony Mascolo, who is such an incredible image maker – that was why I went down the route of entering awards. Later in life, however, I reconnected with Toni and the commercial side. Toni was very, very business driven and I’m at that point of my life too. I’ve got good people around me who do the hair and I focus on the pennies. It hasn’t always been easy, but we’ve just hit our record month – we’ve got 42 staff and £170k worth of work booked in for this month alone.
CONGRATULATIONS ON STAYING OPEN FOR 35 YEARS! IN YOUR OPINION, WHAT IS THE SECRET TO GOOD LEADERSHIP?
It’s all about the kind of person you are. I’ve had several managers over the years who get a bit of success and then try to lead like dictators; people don’t want to work for people like that. You have to find out what drives people. Some people are motivated by creative opportunities, like getting into the art team or working on shows, and you have to show them the path to go down that route; others want to get into more financial gain, you can show them that path too.
WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME YOU DOUBTED YOURSELF? HOW DO YOU OVERCOME THOSE FEELINGS?
Well, I was actually in that situation recently. I’m just about to open a new salon and I was really questioning whether it was the right decision. We won’t have a receptionist – all the phone bookings will go through to our Guildford reception desk – so we’ve got no reception cost. There are also only certain days of the week where we’ll need juniors, so we can get the payroll down to about 40 per cent. Plus, anyone else in there is going to be productive, which means the bottom line is going to be really, really good. And the rent is very affordable too. Ultimately, I know it doesn’t have to do much to make profit and that’s why I did it. Did I really want to do it? Part of me thinks, not really, I’m looking for an easy life!
WHAT WAS THE HARDEST PROFESSIONAL DECISION YOU EVER HAD TO MAKE?
I’d say opening up on my own for the very first time. Me and Darren Brewer were the very first TONI&GUY franchisees, so we had no one else to look at as an established business model. There was a lot of naivety. I mean, if I knew then what I know now,
don’t think I would have opened in Guildford. Fortunately, we opened up and it was busy straightaway!
ABSOLUTELY, BUT YOU’RE NOT FAZED AT THAT AGE THOUGH! WHEN I OPENED MY FIRST SHOP, I WAS LOOKING UP TO SUCCESSFUL PEOPLE LIKE YOU, BUT YOU DIDN’T HAVE THAT.
No, we saw about three local banks and none of them wanted to lend me the money; in their words, ‘Guildford has got too many hair salons’. I had to go to Toni’s personal bank and put my personal guarantee down – if it was a flop or a disaster, then yeah, I’d be paying it off for the next 10-15 years. The thing is, when you start off on your own, you can do something much cheaper, much smaller and build it. But with TONI&GUY, they wanted the high-end shops, so the gamble was much, much bigger.
ARE YOU STILL A PERSON WHO TAKES RISKS?
Not now. I tend to be much more cautious. I’ve made some big financial mistakes like we all do. Now I’m 61 and I want to start looking at retirement, which is only five years or so away.
SUCCESS IS OBVIOUSLY DIFFERENT FOR EVERYONE, BUT WHAT DOES IT LOOK LIKE TO YOU?
Probably now, money is what drives me. You know, having a nicer house, a nicer car, nicer holidays. If that question was asked to me in my 20s, however, it would have been creative success – winning awards and things like that.
WHO IS A SUCCESSFUL PERSON YOU ADMIRE?
I admire what you’ve done Phil, with your career and product line. Mark Woolley is another good example of someone who has done well on the property side of things, buying up freeholds and making money by renting out upstairs. Hairdressing has taken him into a different business now – he’s done really well.
WHAT THREE PIECES OF ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO ANYONE AT THE START OF THEIR CAREER?
1. If you can, buy a salon freehold with a flat above it – somewhere you can live while you build that business so that you’re paying off your mortgage and not paying somebody else’s rent. Then when you reach my age, you’re not only making money in the business, but you’re also making money on the property.
2. Learn every skill you can; go on every course. Don’t be a hairdresser who can only do one thing.
3. One final thing – just be a nice person.
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