During the middle of the noughties a reality check became obvious to most people. We’d got used to a fairly buoyant economy, the price of residential properties kept rising & the world looked rosy, at least to me. By 2008, Edward had given us our first grand-child, business was ok & I was over-seeing a change in the direction our business.

The Education side of the business grew fairly quickly due to government policy emphasising the need for further education for all. As the funded side grew, the private side dwindled. At first we didn’t notice it too much as the barbering side was still growing but now, what Mums & Dads used to pay for was available under funded schemes. Interest rates started to drop as the property market dried up due to what is now fondly known as “the banking crisis” & the general public, us included, realised that the economic forecast for the next few years was going to be tough.

In terms of our education business, we concentrated on the UK market rather than chase the dream of becoming a world super power. The UK Border Agency made it so difficult for potential students coming to study from outside the European Union to get visas that we started to think about a network of training schools around the South & East of England.

With the help of BDO Stoy Hayward, a worldwide accountancy & business advisory company, we worked on a franchise document that could be applied to our education program. This coincided with us being approached by one of our salon owners whose staff we’d been training for some years. He, together with his business partner, expressed an interest in becoming our first franchisee. In fact, at the time they had a small group of salons but one of the partners had already decided that property development was his way forward leaving the other to develop his interest in training.

On a personal note, I had already been recognised by the Industry in becoming a Fellow with Honours, awarded to me back in ’98 by the Fellowship for British Hairdressing. In 2009 I was awarded the honour of Fellow with Distinction & in 2010 I got the best ever recognition for my 50 years involvement in our beloved industry. I was awarded the honour of a Lifetime Achievement award. To be recognised by your peers is the best feeling in the world. What an honour!

In 2010, with our planned expansion of the education business firmly in mind, we set about looking for a site. Together with our potential franchise partners we looked at towns in Essex & Suffolk but with specific criteria in mind. We had done quite a lot of research in to the requests we got for training & the areas that the enquiries came from. East Anglia seemed to be the right place, but of course, if you don’t know the towns & villages in those areas, you could make a huge mistake. We had to make sure that travel for our young trainees was fairly easy, both public transport & car parking was available & the facilities we were going to offer would be every bit as good as in our London school.

Finally we hit upon Ipswich. The properties we looked at in the town were moderately priced & the town seemed to be just what we were looking for. There were competitors, but at the time we had our potential franchisees on board & it would be their responsibility to market the new business whilst the premises we chose were being built. Then, of course, things went slightly awry! By the time we’d signed the lease on our new premises, our franchisees backed out.

So there we were. A town we didn’t know, premises being built & kitted out like our Central London Academy & no one to run it, staff it etc. Typical of my entire business career. Talk about a “seat of the pants” job. This was it in a nut-shell. In the next chapter I’ll tell you about our start-up in Ipswich & the re-location of our London school.