Mobile salon, douce, is taking the concept of flexible working to the next level. Never in one place for too long, this Square seller is setting the bar for a more nomadic approach to business.
Let’s kick off with the story behind douce — what was the founding vision?
It was to suit my lifestyle. I didn’t want to be in a salon with the restrictions I had previously experienced. I wanted the convenience for me and my clients, to have the weekends free, to play football and to be able to travel to different locations.
Did you have an “aha” moment, realising that this was the idea? Or is that concept just a fallacy?
There was a moment when I knew it was possible. I was having a difficult patch with my girlfriend, and I sat looking at the future thinking “Anything’s possible!” I reflected on my idea, and knew that with the support of my girlfriend, family (uncles included) and friends I could work through any difficulty that appeared. I talked it through with everyone, and it became clear they were all on my side.
You got involved in extensive work and training opportunities before douce — the Vidal Sassoon Academy, Toni & Guy and Elle Magazine to name just a few. How has this varied experience defined your approach today?
I made sure I soaked up all the education and learning from people in different salons both in the UK and U.S. However, it was when I was cutting hair at home in my bedroom that I got to experiment and construct the approach and style that’s stuck with me to this day.
Lots of young entrepreneurs will relate to your flexible and free lifestyle. Can you go into the mechanics of how to start and run a nomadic business which supports that need? For example, how do you build and lead a successful team when there’s no fixed HQ?
I was determined to make it work around my lifestyle. I saw that there was a cultural move towards flexible working in all professional lines of work, in all sectors. This inspired me to take hairdressing into that nomadic realm.
I made it work by trusting my gut instinct. I only hired people who I had a history with and knew I could trust. I put my everything into the business, so I only work with others who respect that, and bring their own passion, hard work and commitment to douce.
How much did cost affect your choice to be mobile? Do you know how your running costs compare to a brick and mortar salon?
It wasn’t only the rent that put me off, it was the risk of building and fitting out a shop that worried me — what if didn’t go to plan? I’d potentially have nothing to show for it at the end.
The mobile airstream trailer was still expensive to buy though, and I needed to have a business plan and seek investment to help finance the launch of the first douce. But I’ll always have the trailer now.
What kind of opportunities have opened up to you being able to travel and work on a global scale?
No opportunities as of yet, but I do feel that we can make our own opportunities. I dream of douce on a global scale. It’s hard to visualise and describe, because it’ll be us, the team, who grow and expand douce salons around the world. I’ve been in talks about douce doing a collaboration with a ski brand soon, so maybe expect to see us on the slopes next winter.
I want each stylist to be able to travel and move their own trailer, or visit other trailers around the globe — it’s in the spirit of douce to be constantly on the move.
You’ve got a great brand, but how do you build its presence when you’re always moving into new competitors’ territories, having to attract new clients and so on?
The trailer itself is an attraction. We want clients to have that sense of wonder as they discover us. They often say that they’d like to share their good experiences with friends, so word of mouth promotion has been important to our success.
We’re also not working in the “ordinary” scenario where we’d have to compete with competitors through big advertising. If one site doesn’t work, then we can just pack up and move on.
Have you discovered any other positives or negatives of having a mobile business that you didn’t expect when you started?
The positives outweigh the negatives. The only negative is the logistics of setting up and packing down every day in the winter months. But in summer it’s great to be outdoors, and I won’t go back to working at a salon that isn’t.
How much do live events play a part in your marketing strategy?
To benefit from live events, we try to stick to local festivals and pop-ups around London and Cambridge. We know we can retain some of the clients from those, so it isn’t too much of a hassle. And we actually enjoy showing off the trailer and having different experiences.
How does Square enable you to make money wherever you are?
To be able to make money wherever we are is so important. All we need is a mobile phone and our Square Reader — it’s genius, we all love it. Even the stylists who aren’t tech-savvy never have difficulty with it, and our accountant loves the other features, like reports. It really has changed the way we monitor and understand our transactions.
Do you think the future of business is mobile rather than fixed?
We like the idea that douce can do both. Economically, I think there will need to be a balance of both mobile commerce and fixed establishments that act as pillars in their community. As for douce’s future, we’ll always ride the path that supports our passions — hair, fashion, fitness and wellbeing are all on the cards.
Find out more about douce