GIRL BOSS EXTRAORDINAIRE – DANIELLE KENNEDY OF LLOYD’S SALON IN CONVERSATION WITH MARY CATE SMITH
It’s hard to believe that Danielle Kennedy of Lloyd’s salon is only in the industry for six short years. Prior to taking over the busy hair salons in Waterford and Wexford, she worked in the retail sector, in both management and visual merchandising. It was during the recession when redunancies in retail were becoming the norm that Danielle set her sights further afield. A chance encounter walking past the already established Lloyd’s salon in Waterford was Danielle’s entrance into the world of hair. Little did she know at the time it would lead to such longevity and prowess. ‘I saw a manager’s job for Lloyd’s and it didn’t say anything about being a hairdresser on it, so I filled out an application and six months later I ended up buying the business. Danielle’s experience in the retail sector served her well as she brought the training ethos she had learned there into her new career in the world of hairdressing. She places a huge emphasis on team building in her salons and it shows.
‘I’m really into team building and bonding. In the place I’d previously worked in, everyone gave out about each other all the time. As soon as I got in the door here, I valued all that stuff so much more and I just got everyone on board with that.’ She cites her focus on training as contributing to a huge part of her success.
‘I look at the training programme from a different perspective. When we came into salons, it was a very airy fairy programme. You just worked for years and at the end of that [time period], you qualified. We developed a systematic programme that was very methodical. Year one, step one, you do this and this; year two, the same and so on. We grow our own standards.’
So, how does Danielle keep her team motivated? Incentives play a part.
‘The way we look at it is once you look after the team, all the rest filters down naturally to the clients. It is funny because when we moved in here everyone was asking if we were going to do a big open night with Prosecco and bites. We said no because you could spend a couple of thousand euros on a big opening night and why do that when we could [sic] spend that money throughout the year? We do an employee of the year competition. Everyone meets at the salon in the morning and we all go off for the day doing activities. Then during the day, we announce the winner and they get to go to New York.’
How does she pick the winner, I ask?
‘We [Danielle and her husband] would pick them and then narrow it down to a shortlist but then we would let everyone vote as well – it’s a mix of the two. There’s never any bitterness because it’s based on your performance throughout the year and what we call your Lloyd’s-headedness. That just means how dedicated you are to the company and what we believe in and what we want for the clients. You don’t have to be the top performer in the company to win – you just have to be into us and what we do.’
Danielle’s holistic approach
I’m really impressed by this ethos. Danielle insists that the team as a whole is in focus as opposed to the hierarchy created in most salons consisting of junior and senior stylists and colourists. ‘Most salons rely on one person. There is a name over the door that carries the salon and that’s the one person that everyone goes to.’ Interestingly enough, the people behind the name Lloyd’s sold the business to Danielle so there are no Lloyds left in the business but the name still remains. This is a positive thing, according to Danielle because even though the name has a long-standing reputation attached to it, customers will soon learn that this isn’t a one-man show.
‘It’s all about the team. There would be a lot of salons that have one or two superstars and everyone else just works underneath them. We’re kind of different.’
They certainly are and I have witnessed this ‘difference’ first hand. A week after our interview, I attend the walk-in salon for a blowdry – I’m going away for a few days and want a curly blow-out that will last a couple of days. Danielle is not there but I am directed to sit down and relax with a magazine and hot drink. I’m told the wait will be 45 minutes but actually, it is closer to 15. Danielle had already mentioned to me that there is a perception that walk-in salons are for people who have time to sit around all day but she is eager to break down that misperception. She tells me that the walk-in salon is to suit the customer whereas the appointment-based salons are restricted in the fact that the customer has to fit in with the availability of the stylists. During my blowdry, I mention to my stylist that it is my birthday and at the end of my visit, I’m gifted a lovely card and box of chocolates. For €30, that’s quite the service.
It seems as if all this success has come quite naturally to Danielle but it wasn’t always so rosy in the garden, she tells me.
‘When we first took over the business, we had no money in our bank account. I had to sell my car and we literally only had enough money for the first week’s wages. If we didn’t make money in our second week, we were going to be in serious trouble. We totally winged it and it worked out.’
I wonder if she got into debt but the banks weren’t lending at the time, or taking houses as collateral. On top of that, Danielle and her partner were getting married a few months after they bought the salon – just to add to the hecticness. But the previous owners were a huge help, she says. ‘The owners really believed in us and our vision. They were quite happy to take a small down payment and leave us pay it off over a year and a half. We did have a tough few years at the start though because we had 7 staff and within the first 9 months, all of them bar two emigrated.’
Contingency planning and coping with change
How did she cope with this? With a lot of help, she claims. Not having any sort of contingency plan in place, Danielle struggled initially because she had to hire and train a whole new team when in the first year she found herself dealing with the aforementioned pregnancies and emigration. But she sought advice and found an unlikely mentor in her colour supplier.
‘When the chat came about that we would be taking over the salon, we spoke to him and said obviously we’ll be keeping the same colour company and he told us he would do anything he could to help us out. I found out afterwards that he had helped a very famous hairdresser, Paul Stafford, based in Belfast. He was on the verge of bankruptcy and almost lost his salon and David [the colour supplier] went to him and helped him through the bad times. We’d be very loyal to him.’
Who else does she look up to in business, I wonder? Tony Robbins and Simon Sinek are on the list, as are various positive thinking podcasts and Ted Talks. Danielle listens to audiobooks while she is walking her dog. She never switches off and she tells me that there are a lot of work-related conversations around the dinner table because the business is her life. She lives and breathes it and it shows. She has managed to build the business from 7 staff to 50 between the three salons in Waterford and Wexford in just six years – a feat to be lauded. She established the appointment-based salon on the quay at year 3 and the Wexford salon at the 5 year mark. Danielle was recently recognised at a national level, receiving a nomination in the Image Business of Beauty Awards and she has won the prestigious accolade of National Salon of The Year two years in a row.
The wow factor
Although there are 30 salons within a half mile radius of Lloyd’s, the salon seems to be consistently packed and has a huge following on social media. All the little details are what sets the salon apart – the stylists have a ‘wow budget’ every month to spend on the customers, whether it’s providing a free treatment at the basin or giving a gift on birthdays etc. The walk-in salon is certainly an experience and there are so many things that set it apart from its competitors: ponchos for customers to keep their hair intact when it’s raining, a tea and coffee bar with a huge selection where clients can help themselves to an unlimited supply of hot beverages and second-to-none service at the sink without being pushy. Exactly how I like it.
Both business savvy and personable, Danielle Kennedy is most definitely one to watch.