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  • Lynda Dugdale
    Smarter Writer

    Lynda Dugdale is deputy editor of INTHEBLACK and has over two decades of journalism experience

    Lynda Dugdale
    Smarter Writer

    Lynda Dugdale is deputy editor of INTHEBLACK and has over two decades of journalism experience

    Craig Withers overcame a serious injury to open his village feel, custom-designed salon.

    Multi-award winning hairdresser Craig Withers is one of those amazingly enthusiastic people you could easily feel inadequate around. He speaks with such passion and energy about his career, his business and his clients you wonder if he’s ever had a down day, or at least a bad hair day, in his life.

    Craig Withers from Urban Escape

    Triumph against adversity

    But of course he has. Craig stared down adversity 18 years ago, when he was an elite rollerblader. Doctors recommended amputation after a risky trick saw him crash at the equivalent of 80 kilometres an hour from a serious height and shatter his shoulder, destroying the nerves in his arm.Craig says he was thinking like “an invincible 23-year-old male” and amputation was not an option. He urged the doctors to look at alternatives, and was in surgery preparing to have nerves transplanted from his leg to his arm when the surgeon noticed “a shimmer” from a single nerve ending.A year of extensive rehab and Craig was back, not just at work, but back at his driven best, being named hairdressing and beauty industry association apprentice of the year.“I always believed in the power of positive thinking and I suppose that was a test for myself,” he says. “I battled to get back and it still drives me today, to push myself the way I do.”

    Sustainability meets hairdressing

    Craig, who turned 41 in October, is founder and director of Urban Escape salon in East Prahran, Melbourne. He has received numerous accolades for the salon being built and furnished, in part with renewable and recycled resources, operating in an environmentally friendly way and for using products free of synthetic ingredients and petrochemicals.

    “It’s always been a passion of mine to see things that are old being made new again. And I felt, while I absolutely love and adore my craft and the people that do it, I just felt it needed to be done better,” he says. “It could be done better in our delivery of service and in our commitment to care for the environment and care for each other.”

    One of Craig’s most difficult obstacles is surrounding himself with the right people. “It’s not easy. If anything, the thing that can impede growth is getting the right people. Particularly in the hair industry, there’s only one superstar in here and the superstar is the person in the chair, not behind it,” he says. “There is no ego, we don’t have time for ego. Everything is about our guest. I’ve managed to get a team that genuinely care.”

    Building a team

    He may put his “guests” as number one but Craig also has a keen eye on his staff, and how he can develop them. He is very enthusiastic about them opening their own salons under his Urban Escape umbrella.“I would help them find a place, we would if necessary move some of the team over to help them get started, make sure they can deal with the challenges and become capable and successful in their own right.”

    Putting the work in

    Craig learned the value of hard work from his parents, who encouraged him and his siblings to compete in sports at an elite level.

    “We were taught that you’ve got to put in hard work to get the results,” he says. “It’s not about dollars and cents to me, it’s about the culture of care and doing things right. The rest will take care of itself. I’m proud. I’m overwhelmed. I’m really humbled.”

    The night he won the Telstra Business Award for Micro-Business Craig said he was excited and overwhelmed with emotion. “It validates a lot of the hard work you put in, knowing you’re on the right path.”

    Judges' comments

    Judges praised the owner’s passion for his staff, his ‘guests’ (customers) and the salon environment, saying that it’s impressive he focuses on the complete customer experience, integrated service delivery and re-conception of what a great hairdressing business can be.

    This salon has built a base of satisfied clients to ensure repeat visits and to attract new customers through positive word of mouth. Because of this, Urban Escape bucks the perception by some that hairdressing is a cottage industry – when it is actually a scalable business.

    Winning Ways
     

    Marketing:

    “We have had incredible success with social media, last year running a six week campaign at Christmas that engaged salon guests to enter give-away competitions by liking the page. It was promoted in an email blast and through a dedicated Facebook email push. We saw a dramatic increase in fans for our page and people engaging in the pages’ activities. This was coupled with a huge spike in salon bookings and new client referrals.”

    Management:

    “I have learnt not to be reactive. I had a staff member who was arriving late. My approach was to sit down with her and discuss the importance of being on time. She did not have a key to the salon, so at this stage I ‘rewarded’ her by giving her a key, but on the proviso that she arrive on time each day to open up for the team. The staff member totally transformed her behaviour and began arriving early each and every day.

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