Nikki Smith, owner of The Waxing Station in Stalybridge, Cheshire, knows a thing or two about running a beauty business. Known by clients as “Nikki Wax”, the intimate waxing queen, Smith has run her beauty salon successfully for 25 years and has experienced every business challenge going, from the intricacies of upsizing to dealing with staffing issues and, of course, navigating the coronavirus pandemic.
“I stand out from the competition because I’m a waxing specialist. I’m male and female intimate waxing trained and there’s nobody else in the area that does what I do,” says Smith. “Also, because of my background in medicine –I was a cardiac exercise physiologist for the NHS for nine years – people get a rapport with me from the health side and note the high standards of my treatments and hygiene. Hygiene-wise my salon is hospital-like.”
The salon is split across two floors and boasts four pedicure stations, four manicure stations, three treatment rooms and a beautiful spa area. Smith also has a doctor and dermatology nurse team onsite, which offer more invasive aesthetic procedures such as anti-wrinkle injections and fillers. It’s an impressive space and Smith feels proud, but she admits that moving to this site four years ago was no easy feat.
Lesson one: salon expansion
“It’s easy to go too big for what you need. I grew too quickly; it’s about finding the right level of expansion,” she says. “I moved from a salon with one pedicure area, one manicure area and one treatment room to more than double that in size. I did it all up to a very high spec, and to go from not being VAT-registered to being VAT-registered within six months crucified me really. I couldn’t pay myself a wage for two years and the cost of heating the space is extortionate.”
Another reason for the expansion was so Smith could train staff up to take over, allowing her step back and enjoy what she’s achieved, but there have been challenges in this arena too. “I’m a workaholic, so I wanted to pull away and reduce my hours –I usually do 12-hour days,” she says. “I’ve always wanted to take on a manager but it’s very hard to find anyone who wants to work full-time now.
Also, my standards are very high, and I find that some staff can’t maintain that.”
The coronavirus pandemic has also thrown a few spanners in the works. Before the first lockdown in March 2020, Smith had five staff working for her. During this time, two therapists left of their own accord, and then in July 2020, one week before the salon was due to reopen, two more staff handed in their notice. In essence, Smith’s business went from a team of six down to two in a very short space of time.
“I had spent thousands of pounds on PPE for six staff and I ended up doing sevenday weeks to begin with, so clients weren’t disappointed. It was very stressful,” she says. “The unfortunate thing is the loyalty in the beauty profession has changed in the past eight years because the industry is so competitive now.”
Lesson two: staff management
The valuable lesson Smith has learned from this experience is how to draw the line between business and friendship. “I’ve been stung by this before. I’ve become too familiar with staff, inviting them to personal parties or meals with my friends, because at work you become like a family as you spend so much time together,” she says.
“However, you’ve got a business to run, so you can’t really be their friend. You can be supportive, but at the end of the day, you’re the boss and you have to say what you want for the business. For example, staff can’t just take time off when they feel like it and if their time management is poor then you need them to work on that. Mistakes happen, but you learn from that.”
The good news is that the business is already bouncing back after coronavirus lockdown 3.0, with the salon fully booked up until the end of June. However, Smith states that the salon isn’t at the capacity it would usually be at this time of year, with only two columns fully booked when usually there would be six staff with back-to-back client appointments.
“Once everything is fully reopen, I think that will make a huge difference to the economy. At the beginning of June, I’ll look at building the team back up. I think there are still some clients who are nervous about coming back or are waiting for their second vaccination.”
Lesson three: finding the right partner
Smith says that using professional waxing brand Australian Bodycare has really helped her business stand apart from the competition. “I love the brand. I’m really into hygiene because of my medical background, so when Australian Bodycare came out with the disposable wax applicator heads, I just knew that was for me. Plus, the product remains sticky even if you’ve left it on for a couple of minutes, it really is that good,” she says.
“The range has been rebranded too and it’s so beautiful. Clients walk into the salon, see it on the shelves and it just looks so inviting that they buy it. The brand also does the best aftercare products and the team have been so supportive with helping me return to business post-Covid-19, especially Fiona Peerless [Australian Bodycare’s UK director].”
Looking to the future, Smith will be expanding her business’s services, aiming to have a GP on site in June to offer IV vitamin drips. “I’m very lucky that my business is still here and surviving,” she says. “I think 2022 will be the year when there’s no masks or social distancing, and once that happens, more things will be introduced.”