It is 2020 and this year heralds ten years in business for one of the best colour specialist salons in London, and where I have been going to fix my hair! FOUR London.
Salon founders: Denise Arnold, Brooke Bohan, Charlie Double and Maleeka Robb, have been working – and playing – together for over 20 years. It was when they were employed by another of London’s top salons, where they were in a comfortable and financially sound situation, that they decided to up sticks and open their own salon, as you do! A big risk then, but even more so now, when Covid-19 has chosen to challenge everyone’s perception of life and business as we know it, and the two lockdowns proving disastrous for many a small business. We chatted to the salon directors to find out how much has changed in the ten years they have been open and what the future holds for them all.
What prompted you to open FOUR London?
We were working at a top salon In Mayfair for more than 10 years each, which is where we all met and did our training. I guess the time came when we felt we had achieved as much as we could in that particular situation. We craved a new challenge, to stretch ourselves further. We had loads of ideas which we couldn’t implement in the salon we were in, plus the time just felt right for breaking away. We started discussing it as something for the future, but the more we talked the more the idea started to become a real possibility, and ultimately into reality. Almost before we knew it, we had made the decision collectively, that our future careers lie in owning our own business. So we starting gathering information and researching the possibilities, looking at the pros and cons. It was a very scary proposition. There we were in our comfort zone with clients who had been coming to us for years, in an environment that felt safe and secure. We knew that leaving that behind was going to be difficult, for many reasons, not least because it was a time of recession – and as our plan was to be self-funded, we were taking quite a big gamble.
We started looking for premises in the area that we wanted to be. But there were lots of shocks in store not least the fact that corporate estate agents didn’t want to know, they didn’t take us seriously (whether that was because we were four young women, or four female hairdressers, we have no idea. Maybe a combination of both!). We then started talking to the banks about a business loan – that yielded much the same response! One bank actually said that once we have opened and proved that we could attract a clientele, come back and they would consider it! We started to get very frustrated. We had managed to raise most of the money ourselves but definitely needed a little more help! That was when a client of ours called and suggested we speak to a business development company. So we did and things really started to move then, they helped us put a business plan together and talked to the Estate Agents on our behalf, as well as the banks.
The four of us knew exactly what we wanted the salon design to be (or so we thought) and we had a design company draw up plans to our specifications. We wanted lots of colour, because as colour specialists ourselves, the salon was always going to be about colour diagnosis, colour correction, highlighting techniques and so on. We therefore felt the salon needed to reflect this by having lots of splashes of colour… that is until we saw some of the designs and then we decided ‘no colour’ and went completely the other way and opted for muted, fresh, relaxing neutrals. The poor girl, who had created some brilliant story boards, must have been tearing her hair out! Our vision was that clients would walk into the salon and feel they were walking more into a home from home type atmosphere rather than a hair salon. It had to have a great vibe and ambience and, most importantly it had to be un-intimidating and friendly.
We knew we had to start attracting a clientele pretty much immediately and had our PR at the ready for when we opened. Now, 10 years down the line, we look back and see how lucky we have been. We were amazed and flattered by how many of our former clients came looking for us. I guess as women, we find a good colourist or stylist and build a friendship over time – so when you lose them it really is like losing a good friend. The hair is almost (not quite, but almost) a secondary consideration! We were so pleased that our reputation was such that the clients wanted to follow us – and most are still with us.
What are you most proud of achieving over the last 10 years?
Simply surviving ten years! On a day to day basis there is always something to be dealt with on the business side (accountants, electrical problems, plumbing problems, the fire alarm kept going off and had to be dealt with, there were loads of building problems too) but we are all savvy enough not to let anyone take advantage of us because we are women – and believe me they try! We come from working class backgrounds ourselves and have dads, uncles, brothers, cousins who have been in the various service industries so are not novices when dealing with these people. But it’s hard when all we really want to be doing is what we love – making our clients look fantastic. We have to make sure we mark ourselves time out for management meetings. As you might imagine with four female heads, all with different, but equally strong, personalities – there have been some disagreements, but we are great friends and we thrash it out together. We are not backward in coming forward with each other and that is a good thing We each bring different strengths to the business, and our roles fell into place organically.
To what do you attribute your success?
The fact that we are a colour specialist salon, are passionate and love what we do: problem-solving, colour correction, complete colour changes, highlight placement and creative colouring techniques. That is our strength. All four of us are colourists first and foremost. We also have a great team of stylists as well of course. Colour and cut work hand in hand to bring out the beauty of the hair and of the client. The salon has exactly the atmosphere we wanted to achieve, being friendly and warm is key to us, clients sitting alongside each other, chatting away like old friends, even though they would only have just met. We have a fabulous team behind us and we love going out together and having a good time. Most of the team have been with us since we opened, which is a real achievement, considering we work in such a transient industry.
How does the partnership work as a four-female business?
We have a partnership strategy, four different business heads, four different roles, but all with one focus: the salon, client service and client care. As a group we are mainly all lateral thinkers, innovative and creative. In our weekly meetings, we brainstorm our ideas and discuss the viability of them. Some ideas make it to the next stage, some don’t. We’ve known each other for so long, it just works.
Where do your clients come from, has that customer base changed over the years?
No, not really. We still get recommendations by existing clients, journalist recommendations, media coverage, local promotional activity i.e. the neighbouring hotels and businesses. Our customer base is ever evolving, and we like to think that, after ten years our name is now ‘on the map’ for anyone looking for fabulous colour, great styling, in a relaxed and fun environment in the heart of Mayfair. We have clients who have been with us for many years, and others who have just discovered us. We even have clients who travel from all over the world to see us and have their hair done (pre-Covid of course).
Does FOUR London have any celebrity clients?
Yes we do. It’s not something we like to focus on though, because every client that comes into our salon gets treated the FOUR way! They are all in the salon for one reason, to have fabulous colour, cut and style, and to experience our customer care.
Could you share with us just a couple of names?
Amanda Redman, Yasmin le Bon, Nigella Lawson, Tess Daly, Lorraine Kelly and Zoe Ball are just a few of our regulars.
Do they sit in a VIP room?
Not at all, they would hate that. They sit in the salon like any other client. We do have a VIP room and occasionally if they want to make a private call, we offer the room to them, but in general they enjoy the vibe going on around them, as much as our other clients.
Major turning points for FOUR London – and how has it affected the business ?
As you might imagine a lot has changed in ten years. Three of our number have had babies. Brooke now has two, Denise has two and so does Charlie. Maleeka and her husband love to travel and have visited some amazing places. We all have different lives now, to that of ten years ago, and as such our dynamic has changed also. As a group we have had to adapt and adjust along the way. From a business perspective we were excited to open the FOUR Life online shop in 2019, however, six months later, Covid hit everyone’s lives, and we have had to put that on hold for the time being. We were also looking to move premises; this has also had to be shelved for the moment. With the climate we are presently in, as a country, we have absolutely no idea what the next three months looks like, never mind a three-year forecast. We always had plans in the offing for the business, but it’s virtually impossible to think that far ahead now. We just count our blessings and hope for the best.
Will you be celebrating FOUR London’s TENTH anniversary?
We will, at some point, but it will have to wait for the time being, whilst we are in lockdown, nothing can be planned or celebrated. But we will allow ourselves a pat on the back, and a celebratory lockdown glass of champagne.
For more information on FOUR London see online.