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Interview with Antony Whitaker

Antony Whitaker is the ultimate educator and motivator, with a worldwide reputation based on more than 30 years’ experience in the hairdressing industry. He is internationally acclaimed as a gifted, multi award-winning stylist-turned-educator, seminar presenter, motivator, business coach and best-selling author.

From being a former creative director of Sassoon Salons and schools in the UK to being a multiple salon and school owner in Sydney and twice being named Australian hairdresser of the year.

Antony is now recognised and respected worldwide as one of the industry’s leading motivational speakers, having taken his message on management, money, marketing, team-building and retailing to hairdressers in more than 50 countries.

In your role as an educator and salon business consultant, what are the three main issues you constantly see that salons struggle with?

I often start my management seminars by saying “I know the three biggest challenges that you struggle with, in reverse order at #3 it’s your people, at #2 it’s your people and at #1 You guessed it, it’s your people! It might be finding them, motivating them, training them, getting them to be productive; it might be loyalty or honesty or communicating with them… But our people are our product and it’s the biggest challenge that salon owners face everywhere. 

The global industry is in a staffing crisis, with numbers of young people seeking hairdressing apprenticeships dropping. How do you think salons / the industry can connect with this next generation and showcase hairdressing as a positive career path? What are we missing?

If I had the answer to that question I would be a rich man! If you are ambitious, prepared to work hard and never stop learning, a hairdressing career can be a very lucrative and positive career choice. But for the majority it is a poorly paid job with limited prospects. However, hairdressing like everything is subject to the laws of supply and demand, I have long said that there is no shortage of hairdressers; there are too many salons trying to attract a limited supply of candidates. Because there are too many salons they compete on price and because they compete on price, the average price is probably too low and therefore the levels of productivity are too low, which then impacts on the level of pay… a self perpetuating problem caught in a cycle of it’s own making.    

Fast track 10 years…where do you see the hairdressing industry evolving and how will it differ to today?

We live in a perfect storm of new technology, new generational attitudes, and new consumer demands. When you combine that with what is in many cases a broken business model, then change is inevitable. There are new business models appearing in this industry, many of which ultimately revolve around the rise of 'The Business Unit of 1'. Whether that is called Salon Suites, booth rental or rent a chair, we will see more independent contractors.

Why is it important for salon owners to be members of associations such as the AHC?

I constantly marvel at the sense of community that associations such as the AHC have enabled. Before social media, the life of the salon owner could be a lonely place. Being members of associations give salon owners the opportunity to share, to communicate and protect what is working and under threat, as well as marshal resources to bring about change where necessary.  

What is your take on life as a salon owner in Australia?

In many ways I think that the life of the small business owner in Australia is made more difficult through excessive legislation and prohibitive employment laws…On the other hand I think that compared to most countries there is a great sense of unity, structure and community in the Australian hairdressing industry that is envied by other countries.