Lessons in how not to build a brand
Studioseven50 really was born out of a desire to create an engaging hair extension brand that provides genuine cuticle correct hair. Having started my hair career co-founding hair extension brand Weave Got Style, the seeds were sewn to eventually produce my own line of hair. However, only by seeing an empire rise and fall, could I really appreciate the autonomy I have now to make the right decisions.
Back in October 2009 when Weave Got Style was born, there were high hopes for what could be achieved with such an innovative concept. We set up shop first in Bromley, then after getting kicked out of there by Hot Hair, Bluewater became home. But doing hair extensions in a middle of a shopping centre? It was positively unheard of! People literally could not believe their eyes. The rents there were high but so was the interest in the service so the gamble paid off and we made money; a lot of it.
Now I can’t take credit for the idea. The founder, Bee London came up with the concept watching an episode of The Apprentice and pushed it through despite the cynical views of those around us. And I’ve got to say, she really did have some great ideas; it was the core values and execution of them that eventually lead to the company imploding.
If there’s one thing Bee had, it was the gift of the gab. She could talk herself into and out of almost anything and her forceful nature got her foot in the door with all the major department stores. The buyers would come down to our modest little stall and she would put on a big show, with me doing hair extensions and the inevitable crowd of spectators gawking at my work. She would schmooze the unsuspecting buyer and greatly exaggerate our sales until she saw pound signs in their eyes. Then I would meet the respective store manager to give them confidence in a strong sales manager leading the brand and the concessions were born.
And of course I didn’t disappoint. In our first Selfridges store (Manchester, Trafford), I sold so aggressively that we regularly took three times our weekly target. They were delighted and green-lighted Weave Got Style concessions across all four of their stores. Little did they know that behind the sales was an incredibly weak infrastructure that would slowly but surely seep out.
It should have been a very successful brand and on the surface it was. We were in prestigious department stores and we were getting great press from beauty editors. However, there were grave problems that would quickly escalate into a full scale crisis. The number one issue was the product; it was quite frankly rubbish and not in line with what we proclaimed to be selling.
This lead to many, many complaints and was extremely stressful. People were angry and felt understandably ripped off when their hair matted up after washing. However, Bee had little sympathy after we’d already taken their money and she insisted that the client must do more to look after their hair extensions. But many people had used hair extensions in the past and felt fobbed off and patronised. Only those who threatened court action would eventually get their money back.
Then there was the staff. They were very poorly paid and received absolutely no benefits, perks or appreciation for their hard work. Our retention was shockingly low which made my job very difficult as I needed to look after all of the stores across the country so leaving newly trained college students in charge of entire concessions was a constant worry for me. They were expected to work very long hours and getting time off for themselves was nightmare. She just didn’t believe in respite and she just couldn’t understand why people wouldn’t work as hard as her.
But it was after an appearance of Dragons Den that would expose everything as the true shambles it was. I’ll never really know why she decided to apply for it as I know how tight she is and would never ever have contemplated giving away a percentage of her company. God knows I was promised a piece of it as without me she would never have been able to launch it; or at least have the short success that it did.
I remember her being in there for two hours being grilled by the Dragons. They were clearly digging very deep and she came out visibly shaken. As the television show aired, it was clear they had absolutely ripped her to shreds. She was stumped when they asked her what a balance sheet was and Theo Paphitis summed her up perfectly. “You’re just winging it aren’t you?” I’m sure Hilary Devey breathed a sigh of relief when Bee subsequently backed out of the partnership.
By this time, I’d had enough and wanted out. I’d been working seven days a week for the past four years and I was worn out and tired of going in the wrong direction. I was tired of being under-appreciated, tired of the countless phone calls from first thing in the morning until last thing at night. Tired of selling substandard products and tired of yet another staff member quitting because they can’t work for her.
So I left. And I rested and I reflected. I knew that I would build a brand with the right core values in place with emphasis on the quality of the product, customer engagement and an excellent service. I know the rise of my empire won’t be as quick as it was with Weave Got Style but I do know it’ll be far more stable. In this age of Social Media, people are very vocal about their experiences with poor quality products and I will make sure that Studioseven50 stands the test of time, consistently delivering high quality hair extensions.