Stephen Kee, known affectionately in the industry as Skee, is kind of a big deal. As managing director of hair and beauty franchise salon chain Saks, Kee is the driving force of the business empire, which now has 110 sites.
His role involves interacting with every department – marketing, education, finance – to ensure the company remains an innovative player in its respective fields, although he jokes that “some people would say I’m too involved with everything”.
But his hands-on approach seems to be working, with revenue up 2.5% year on year by the end of May, when we speak, and predicted to reach around 6% by the end of 2017. “I think there’s a feel-good factor out there now and people are coming in more often for treatments,” says Kee.
Despite the healthy figures, Kee isn’t slowing down and is intent on making the chain a power player in the beauty industry. However, he admits that clients struggle at times to see the predominantly hair chain as a beauty brand.
Crossing the divide
“When we first started with beauty back in 1995, we put it into hair salons, but the hair side of the business was always more prominent,” says Kee. “Even when we had it in a salon for a long time we still used to get people saying, ‘Oh, I didn’t know you did beauty. I thought you just did hair’.”
The issue has already been tackled in many ways, such as with the growing number of Saks Beauty standalone salons – site number 41 opened in Bristol in December 2016 and “many more are coming”, says Kee – and the launch of the company’s Beauty Squad this May, which involves five successful Saks salon owners now acting as the group’s beauty experts.
But Kee believes more can be done to make clients aware of Saks’s beauty services, especially in the hair salon environment. “If we put beauty into hair salon it needs to be more prominent – not just three treatment rooms at the back where no one can see them,” says Kee.
The big idea
Enter the company’s latest concept Beauty Compact – express seats in hair salons offering brow, lash and nail treatments. “It’s a dedicated space with a funky design that will be situated at the front of the salon offering express treatments. It’s not just a chair or a nail desk, it’s a branded experience space.” The concept is only being trialled at two hair salons – Saks Kenilworth a nd Saks Lytham – for now but will be evaluated after six months with hopes to roll it out further.
“Beauty Compact is a dedicated space with a funky design that will be situated at the front of the salon offering express treatments
There are two reasons why Kee finally decided to commit to the concept, which he first started alluding to back in 2015. Firstly, a survey of Saks customers revealed that 90% of female clients have these express treatments done, “so, if we don’t do them they will go somewhere else,” says Kee. Secondly, the company is hoping to extend its appeal to a younger audience.
At the moment, Saks’s target market is 25 to 55, with the majority of clientelearound the 35-year-old mark. “These fast treatments appeal to people from 20 years upwards, so a slightly younger market. Beauty Compact has been designed with this in mind,” adds Kee.
Land of opportunity
If the trial period goes well, the concept will be rolled out to other hair salons as well as being trialled in shopping centres as a smaller, freestanding unit. “There are at least 20 other hair salons that I can think of who want to be testers but we have to assess the pros and cons of it,” says Kee.
“Purely hair-focused salons are very successful at what they do but to take on Beauty Concept they would have to show a real commitment. You can’t just put a new zone in a hair business and expect it to work. They have to understand that beauty clients have different needs,” he adds. Kee thinks the concept will also help clients be more aware of the diversity of treatments Saks Beauty salons offer.
“Different salons provide different services – some are smaller and focused on express services, others offer traditional face and body rituals, and others do results-driven, machinebased treatments,” says Kee. “What we don’t want to say is that X machine or X treatment will be in every salon – every site offers a different experience.”
New school of thought
Education on the beauty side of the business is also a big focus for Kee this year. “There’s a lot more training required in beauty than there is in hair,” he says. “Hair stylists and colourists do their education at college then just learn new collections, whereas for beauty therapists there’s continually new treatments and methods to learn.”
And with results-driven treatments growing in popularity, Kee wants Saks therapists to be confident in prescribing to clients, so he has developed a progressive Advanced Education programme for Level 3 therapists.
“When therapists come out of college, the only advanced education they usually get after that is from manufacturers, so it’s specific to a particular product. Our programme will help therapists underst and anatomy and what’s going on with the skin at a deeper level, no matter which brand they use.”
The six-day programme, set to be rolled out in July or August, will be hosted by in-house educators and international skin experts, and the idea is that once therapists have achieved an agreed amount of training on the programme they can then start doing advanced treatments. “Clients are so in the know about skincare now that we want our therapists to be educated to the highest level,” says Kee.
Kee joins Saks’s first salon as a junior and is quickly promoted to management
Saks salon franchising model launches
Kee progresses to managing director and part-owner
First Saks Beauty standalone salon launches
First Saks training academy opens in Darlington
Saks Apprenticeships launch, offering education in hair, beauty and management
Saks now has 69 hair salons and 41 beauty salons
Kee launches the Beauty Compact and Saks Beauty Squad