Retail guru Mary Portas doesn’t feel right unless her hair
is looking good. She knows that hair salons are a vital part
of our High Street services. Times may be tougher than ever,
but Mary believes that small salon owners willing and able
to adapt can still thrive.
Mary in her popular “Mary Queen of Shops” series took on an
80s hairdressing legend whose business was facing the chop.
She went to Rochdale, one of the cities worst hit during the
recession, and on the edge of town is the once-great John
Peers hair salon, was teetering on the edge of oblivion.
Peers used to set the trends and he has trained up some creative
stylists, but was facing competition from his former apprentices
who had moved on and set up around the corner. Mary believed
John had still got what it takes and enlisted the help of
the fashion crowd when she took him into Harper’s Bazaar and
then slashed John’s prices to turn his salon into the hair
equivalent of fast-value fashion.
pick up the story from last year, when UKHairdressers featured
an appeal on our Noticeboard for the BBC2 series “Mary Queen
of Shops”. The production team were looking for a struggling
hair salon that needed a retail makeover from the ‘tour de
force’ known as Mary Portas.
The John Peers salon in Rochdale was chosen and true to form,
Mary arrived at the salon demanding to know why the receptionist
wasn’t there to greet her?
During her impatient wait for attention – she proceeded to
complain about the dead flowers on the front desk.
That was just the beginning of her critique! The owner John
Peers, twice winner of the Midlands Hairdresser of the Year
award in the early nineties, was in for a bumpy ride, Mary
had no intentions of cutting him any slack! ...... the complaints
kept coming.... she was left too long in the back wash and
so was another client, she was moved through the salon without
a towel around her wet hair, John blow dried her hair, but
it was not dry when he began styling and the overall result
fell short of her expectations.
Things went from bad to worse when she met John’s wife Nikki,
who revealed the salon was £40,000 in debt. John’s comment
was, “! Didn’t know it was that bad!”
What followed during the course of the next few weeks was
like a clash of the Titans – the irresistible force of Mary
Portas versus the immoveable object... John Peers!
quickly challenged John about his apparent inability to listen
to what his clients wanted. Hair maestro Trevor Sorbie was
drafted in and watched John in action with a customer, who
had very long hair (for 23 years) and now wanted a shorter
style. John and Trevor knew each other from many years ago,
and while Trevor’s career had flourished, John had been struggling
to make his business work. Mary revealed a soft spot for John,
saying she found that quite sad.
a brief discussion with the client about the sort of style
she would like – John failed to act on her reference to Cheryl
Cole’s hair ( mid-length choppy waves with lots of movement),
and instead, cut through the long tresses for a feathered,
radically short look, that wouldn’t budge in a force 9!
Trevor swallowed hard and the lady left admitting it had been
a shock and would take some getting used to.
“What happened to the Cheryl Cole look that the client wanted?”
demanded Mary incredulously.
“I thought that style would suit her”
“Do you even know what Cheryl Cole’s hair looks like?” demanded
it’s longish isn’t it?” said John
Before and after, the long,
the short and the shock!
picked up on John’s failure to listen to what the client was
telling him. He also noted John had made up his mind he wanted
to do a feathered short look – the cut was good, but it was
too much of a change for someone who had had long hair for
Trevor looks on anxiously as the client's
long tresses lie on the salon floor!
Cue lecture from Mary about being out of touch with current
“Where were John’s signature styles/cuts?”
“Why was he charging silly prices in a town where businesses
were closing down?
“Why wasn’t he motivating and listening to his staff?”
Someone muttered, “What did Mary know about hairdressing anyway?”
Well quite a lot actually, her brother has several salons
and Mary herself had worked in one. Mary’s record for turning
the fortunes of failing businesses around was impressive.
Hopefully, John would grasp that fact before they came to
Mary outlined her plan for recovery... she wanted John and
his team to create five ‘Fashion Hair’ looks for the revamped
salon. Their first attempt only furrowed Mary’s brow further,
she complained the looks were messy, indistinct from one other.
The breakthrough finally came when Mary took John to mix with
the fashionista crowd at the Harpers Bazaar office. Studying
the magazine front covers signature styles, they agreed on
5 key looks.
The season's hottest style, one cut, wear it 5 ways
Luxe and glamour steals the limelight
The John Peers take on the relaxed rock chick
Sleek, straight and sexy.
Add flaming red for extra intensity
Then it was time for John and his team to do the styling and
Mary arranged for a top photographer to take some pictures
of the signature looks with real attitude. The aim was to
deliver 5 key looks that John’s salon would market as ‘Fashion
Hair’ for £25 a cut and style.
A brilliant new shape, keep it
short and sweet
John rediscovered his old spark and enthusiasm for the job,
he came alive again and he finally felt like they were a salon
team working together. The photographs were amazing and went
up in the salon and out on flyers, advertising John Peers
‘Fashion Hair’ relaunch party at the newly decorated salon.
Since then, John had turned things around and is once again
giving customers what they want, great looking hair and his
salon is back on track. Business is buzzing again and since
the Mary Queen of Shops programme went out on BBC2 in July,
another wave of eager clients have been booking in for a ‘Fashion
John knows that you really do have to move with the times,
aiming to at best create new trends and at least keep up with
current ones. Giving the customers what they, great hair!
He’s still making improvements in the salon and has now added
a great new Barbers section and changed the colour scheme
to a warmer shade.
UKHairdressers caught up with John recently
for a chat........
Q: What was the best piece of advice
that Mary gave you?
A: When Mary said I’d got my ‘mojo’ back again…. she
hit the nail on the head….setting up that photoshoot just
got all my creative juices flowing. It was like I’d started
to see the possibilities opening up all over again – the feeling
of excitement and creativity I’d had back in the award winning
Q: Things were
a bit ‘hairy’ with Mary from time to time - did you ever consider
giving up on the business makeover?
A: No never, I’m a stayer I knew I wanted to see it
through and take whatever was asked of me and the salon. There
was no going back, it was something I felt I had to do…. Tap
into Mary’s experience of turning businesses around and make
it work for us. To be honest, it probably needed someone with
Mary’s strengths and personality to push me into action.
Q: Your Fashion Hair shots looked
fabulous – how well have they worked for you in the salon?
A: They’ve been great, though it was quite stressful
getting everything right for the shots, but it was so worth
it. Trevor Leighton’s a top photographer, and he did such
a fantastic job with the models. We were delighted and I’d
recommend his work to any salon who wants to create a statement
collection. The looks appeal to clients of all ages and certainly
got people talking about our salon.
Q: Are you back in profit at the
A: We’re doing well and everyone’s pleased with the
way it’s going. We had some big hurdles to get over; including
paying off an electricity bill for £28,000. It had built up
over a period of estimated bills and then our supplier Eon
hit us with the big one. They wanted it clearing and because
we were a business, there was no easy pay by instalment plan.
We took our eye off the ball and didn’t spot each bill was
working on estimated readings for consecutive years. It’s
things like this that can easily squeeze a business out of
existence, but we’ve bounced back, thank goodness!
Q: What was it like meeting up with
Trevor Sorbie after all these years?
A: We knew each other years ago and I thought he could
have been a bit more constructive. I felt I’d been put in
a bit of an awkward position, but you have to deal with it
and try and take the positives out of a situation.
Q: Have you kept in touch with Mary,
since the filming of the programme?
A: Yeah, we keep in contact through Fiona, her secretary.
Next time we’re all in London at the same time, my wife Nikki
and I want to take Mary out for a nice meal, to thank her
for all her help. So hope you’re reading this Mary, a Yorkshire
man doesn’t make that sort of offer every day of the week!
Q: What’s in the future for the all
new ‘John Peers’?
A: Well we’re still innovating and improving, there’s
no stopping us now! We’re just opening a barber’s section
in the salon and we’ve redecorated the main salon again since
Mary’s visit. We wanted warmer, brighter tones and now the
salon is red and cream, with gorgeous leather chairs.
We’ve given further thought to customer comfort and are installing
2 shiny wood-burning stoves, to keep the salon nice and warm
through the colder days.
We’ve got 15 staff to look after our clients and now that
things are going well, Nikki and I are enjoying the business
a lot more. It’s good to come to work again and that’s what
it’s all about.
I still like to get involved in hair shows, competitions and
training exhibitions. I’ll be down at Salon International
later in the year, so if anyone wants to come along and say
hello, they can find me on the Wahl Professional stand working
alongside Kate Moss’ stylist James Brown. See you there or
back in Rochdale!
Article by Heather Bell