In today’s episode, Craig interviews Charlotte Ward, the owner of Silk Spa, an award winning beauty therapy clinic in New Plymouth, New Zealand. Awarded New Zealand’s Top Salon in 2014 and a finalist for New Zealand’s Best Clinic/Spa for 2013, Westpac Business Excellence Award winners for Employer of Choice and Service Excellence. Silk was also the regional winner of the North Taranaki Supreme Top Shop Awards for 2012/2013.
Charlotte has an interesting story to tell as a business owner. She started out working part-time because she was a mother. She had a skill set she knew she could use and she went for it. Her awards didn’t come immediately. She strived towards them. She never rested on her laurels.
Among her biggest challenges and learnings was trying to juggle her time in between her baby’s needs. She worked on the floor and had someone assist her with her baby. She also woke up at 4am to do some work. In the last couple of years, she has been able to pull out of giving treatments herself and focusing more on running the business. She is now concentrate of the marketing of the business.
Charlotte has an interesting take on her own transition from being a mum to being a business owner. She describes running a business and a household to be similar, except that her staff was more reasonable than her children. However, she was constantly faced with juggling her time between her children and her business.
The Silk Team is composed of women who have a strong passion for what they do and for Silk. Working in a fast-paced industry, Charlotte says that she and her staff focus on keeping up with the latest developments. Being in the beauty industry no longer means that painting nails is enough. She says that there are new treatments out and it’s constantly evolving.
Silk has won several awards, and Charlotte credits her team for these. She explains how awards highlight the need for processes and systems in the business, and that this even related to the service awards. It is all about the client receiving a consistent experience. Saying this the winning of the awards didn’t come overnight for Charlotte and her team, there was a lot of trial and error to find the best solution.
For Charlotte, many business owners need to have structure in the way they run their businesses. Charlotte was told, “Great story, great vision. But you’ve never really told us how you’re going to get there.”
AS a result, Charlotte signed up for the New Zealand Business Mentor program and asked for help. According to her, this has helped her keep her focus. She has also learned how to write her thoughts and plans down. AS a result, her bottom line improved as well. She also suggests that they go through the exercise of asking themselves why they’re in business.
Charlotte stressed the importance of letting her team know what her goals are. She says that it is the owner’s responsibility to them that they know where she wants to be. By herself, Charlotte mentioned winging it and loving it. However, having a team has changed her perspective. She believes in giving them security.
A tip Charlotte gives is not to be a spend thrift. Don’t try to grow your business too fast. When she first started, she only decided to hire somebody when she and her partner could no longer handle the work load. As a result, her growth was done slowly but surely.
When asked about her industry, Charlotte believes that her business is not affected by economic downturns because people need treatment and will find money to get it.
FULL INTERVIEW WITH CHARLOTTE WARD OF SILK SPA
Charlotte Ward has brought her business, Silk Spa to the next level in the last 6 to 7 years. Her business has won several awards like The Best Spa in New Zealand, The Best Business Model in New Zealand, and the New Zealand Beauty Therapy Industry Awards. Charlotte doesn’t rest on her laurels. She continuously looks for ways to improve her processes as well as her knowledge about the latest beauty treatments.
How did you end up where you are today?
I was born and bred in Taranaki. I’ve gone and done quite a bit of travelling, so I came back to my roots. I’m a farmer’s daughter at heart, so I’m a practical person. I came back had my family and started working for somebody else doing a few hours a week and that the juggle started with children, working. I had a pretty good idea of what to do and I’d like to think I did [have an idea of starting her own business]. I learned very quickly that I didn’t. So, I decided to give it a go and started a very small beauty therapy clinic. Basically, I just really wanted to get into business. So then, I could be a little bit more flexible with the hours I worked and as a mum.
How long ago was that?
Six or seven years!
How is it being a business owner? Was it what you expected?
I think they’re quite similar things. Running a business is very similar to running a household and a family. Having staff is similar to having children. [However] I can reason with my staff a lot better than I can with my children [laughs]. My team is just a phenomenal group of ladies and everybody has a strong passion for what they do and for Silk. I’ve also worked quite hard. I’m quick picky with who I pick.
I think what I didn’t realize with owning a business is how it’s ongoing. You might be successful, make enough money to pay the bills, or win an award but tomorrow, you have to wake up and you have to better than the one down the road. There’s just no time to relax.
You’ve won The Top Shelf Awards and other business awards.
Yes. It’s really nice. Because we’re in the service industry, we deal with the public all the time. When they have expectations, you’ve got to exceed them. When you’ve won awards, those expectations are pretty high. So you’re always on your toes and you’re always looking for the next best thing and trying to decide what’s the next best thing and what is actually just a clinic. In my industry, there’s a lot of gimmicks and a lot of time is spent researching and learning in addition to being a taxi driver for my children.
Over the 7 years, what were the biggest challenges and learning that you’ve had during the early years?
Probably, it was the challenge of fitting in. My children were very little and so I was getting up at 4 o’clock in the morning, often to try to get work done before they woke up. Once my youngest got off to the kindy, at least I had a few hours to myself during the day. Initially, there was no time during the day by myself and so, you know, I just do it when my baby’s sleeping. It didn’t actually work.
Did you have staff at that stage?
I didn’t. It was just myself and I did work on the floor as well. While I was working, I just couldn’t justify working on the business while I had a hungry child. That is something I would do different. I would put more importance at the beginning when working on the business and just have more time and focus and think and get it done, instead of having to get up at 4 o’clock in the morning.
Nine times out of ten, every business owner, at the start, think they can do it themselves, rightly or wrongly. It’s wrong. The don’t ask for help because of Kiwi pride.
So now, what are some challenges and learnings over the last couple of years?
I’ve pulled right out of treatments and I think that’s where I’m lucky. I think that’s where some small business owners [have problems] because we all know, most of us set up a business in an industry that we love and we might not necessarily enjoy the business side of it. Luckily, I really like the business side of it. So for me to pull out of treatments was quite easy and I don’t really miss them. I miss that connections I had with my clients but I don’t miss the day-to-day grind in the treatment rooms. I love doing the marketing and I quite like doing book work. So I think that’s where a lot of small businesses struggle because they don’t particularly enjoy the business side of the business and they still wanna work on it as much as they can.
So you’ve had a mind shift change. When did you figure out that you needed to slip away and let my staff do stuff?
I think it was kind of luck. I moved to London and worked as a beauty therapist for three years. I really didn’t enjoy working in London as a beauty therapist. It’s quite different and quite a different job there. I sort of stayed in different industries in London and just learned as much as I could. So, I got out of there and worked in different industries. Way back then, I started to hone my business skills. Initially [when I started my business], I still had to work in the rooms until I could actually afford to pay somebody. I was already thinking of what I can do with having kids and wanting to be a mum as well. It was a natural progression. Once we were earning enough money, I could start pulling out.
That’s a massive tip in itself. It says to stop and think about why you got into business.
I hadn’t really thought about it before. I didn’t know if I had a plan either. I was happy to lead the change in the industry but I wasn’t prepared to train from scratch. So I was like, “Well, what can I do to get the best of both worlds?” So I thought, “Well, if I stay within my industry and what my skill set is, that actually means all my actions should work.”
So what do you enjoy about being in business or what do you enjoy about being in this industry?
It’s a really fast paced industry so when I joined the industry in the nineties, it was more superficial. It was more about beauty and it was more about the fashion lipstick color and all of it. It was very fluffy industry, not overly scientific. Nowadays, the industry is insane! You know about the skincare that’s available. when I did my training, we used to work with a modern machine with the new products for the skin and all that. We don’t need to use anything now because the products should do it on their own. They’re so sophisticated and just the knowledge we have now on skin health is so determined by what you’re born with, with your DNA and what you eat. Nutrition is such a big word at the moment and you know, at the end of the day, our skin is just an organ, so we eat for our heart. We eat for our liver. Why aren’t we eating for our skin? It actually does make a difference what you eat? So, on the beauty therapist side, if you spend a billion dollars on products, you still might not get your results, if you’re not actually eating properly. You’re always gonna be fighting. So you need to do both. And just that knowledge, you know, it’s just phenomenal. All the new treatments that are out and it’s a really fun industry to be in.
It’s constantly evolving.
Constantly evolving and now also too, women earn their own money. They’re very busy people and they’re the ultimate jugglers so they do spend their money and time on themselves. Now, it’s more about self-empowerment and self work and actually, just making people feel better about themselves.
So what frustrates you about the industry?
The beauty side of it. So when people ask me, “What do you do?” and I say, I’m a beauty therapist. They say, “Oh, so you paint fingernails!” I’ve got nothing against against people who paint fingernails. They are now technicians. Their talent is phenomenal. What they can paint on that tiny little nail is actually amazing. We do the equivalent of seeking the health of your nails and the anatomy side of it. Beauty therapists are actually quite intelligent people to pass and we’re not known as such and I think that’s something I enjoy being in business on here as well. When you say you’re a business owner as well. I feel like you have more respect from the general being. When you say you’re a beauty therapist, it conjures up all the wrong images for our industry cause the industry is more about making people feel better about themselves. Not so much necessarily looking better. You’re just making them feel like a person. So at Silk, we try to make people feel comfortable when they walk out. It can be quite an intimidating place. It’s like me trying to go into a tire shop or a mechanic shop. I’m just out of my comfort zone. It’s a bit more real. It’s more just real and our girls are all gorgeous and beautifully made up but they’re not…they’re not fake. There’s nothing fake about it.
What does it mean for your business to win these awards? And what’s the one that’s the most important to you and why?
Well, the business. The award means something for the business. But for me, personally, I suppose you know, when we won the top shop, it was…I’ve always said the top shop award is my team. People are saying the Taranaki award comes from the top and so be it but at the end of the day, I’m not the one who is here at eight o’clock in the morning and still smiling at the clients at eight o’clock at night. So the team works really, really hard and so it was just a really nice recognition for the team to show that they actually won…they won that themselves and then one year, I won the Service Industry awards at the Taranaki Business Awards and so that was also the paperwork or the background work. I had to show our customer policies and all of those sort of thing, and so I said to the girls, “That’s my award.” So, the Customer Service Excellence awards, quite a long title, was about all the processes and then the Top Shop was putting those processes into place. So winning the two on the same night was super. I’ve got two favourites to win. One is the Best Business Model and the Spa because that’s the biggest you can get in New Zealand. Because it is our industry that judges itself, an association is the New Zealand Industry Awards, they only give that once every two years and I don’t know how long they’ve been going on. They’ve been going on for a long time because I know as a young therapist that is something I always thought, “Just imagine! Just imagine if I would be able to do it.”
What was it that made you win in 2015? What stood out in the judges’ eyes that gave you that win? What was the key to your success each year?
They were awesome! So I think it’s just where my business was just to young to actually really win. We didn’t have the procedure manuals. Now, a phenomenal piece of work, we tick all the boxes, for a small business, sort of don’t do it very often. They think “Oh, I’m just a small business. I don’t need a Health and Safety Policy.” and “We don’t need this and we don’t need that.” You probably can get away with it sometimes but and sometimes, you do get inundated by the paperwork. I do think the paperwork is ridiculous in this day and age for what you have to do as a general rule but I learned along the way, because I’ve always had big dreams as you know, I’ve always known we were gonna be big but I’ve never quite known how to get there. So one of the comments from the judges three years ago was, “Great story, great this, what you’ve promoted. Great vision, but you’ve never really told us how you’re gonna get there, that’s why I actually you’re probably quite right. So I actually revisited the New Zealand Business Mentor Program and got myself a mentor and said “Help! This is where I wanna be, how am I gonna get there?” And he was great. Awesome. And he just helped direct and just teach me structure and get some. And I think what was missing was that real structure because I’m a wing it girl and I just deal with what was documented on paper, how I’m gonna do something. To me, it feels like I’m limiting myself.
It’s boring but what I had learned is that structure doesn’t limit you at all. But what it does is it just keeps you focused and you can change. My business plan has all these structures and plans and I change it quite often. But I write it down instead of keeping it in my head. And so I think the structure. So where we wanna be hasn’t really changed but there was a lot more depth on how I was actually gonna get there.
You think by having that structures, those policies and procedures, have they helped your business financially?
Hundred percent, yes! Because also, when you have a team, you have a responsibility to them that they know where you want to be. They want to be in the same place. You’re all gonna try to hit the same goals and everybody who knows me knows that that is not my strength and so you know, for the girls, my team, we go like, “How are we gonna do that?” “Oh, I know, let’s work it out.” It’s just not fair on them to have them in a workplace where it’s all a bit windy. Give it a go! If it was just me? I’d be still winging it and I’d be loving it but I think when you do have a team, it’s just a responsibility you have to take to give them security.
It’s the culture and the team not necessarily having the best members of the team. It’s having people who share their vision and becoming successful.
When I employ somebody, the first greeting is for coffee. So, I’ve already seen their CV, obviously. They’ve sent it to me but the CVs don’t come out in the meeting at all and that literally is a personality catchup and it’s very hard for them to relax. Poor people, I always feel sorry for them. But it’s really in a small team, especially, you do have to. But in the first half, you get a good idea. When you say, “That’s the right personality,” you get them back in and we do the skill set and all that sort of stuff.
How do you feel about getting recognition in your industry for what you’ve done?
It’s more of a pat on your own back. But it’s quite a competitive industry, so it’s more about self-pat on the back. Know that you’ve done it. I do like the shiny trophy, I have to say. Because of what it’s done for me too. I really believe in my industry and our industry is going through a lot of changes at the moment with all the qualification as New Zealand, you know the whole of New Zealand qualification process is changing. And so what it’s done for me is open up doors for me to be on some advisory groups. And so just to make a bit of a difference in the whole industry as a whole has been really exciting. I’m enjoying that part of it.
From your experiences, what are some of the mistakes you see others in your own industry making or even business owners in general?
All businesses are run similar, right? I think people start off too big. And I think people want the fancy car to start off with. So for example, I started Silk with me and one other therapist. Between the two of us, we worked thirty hours a week. On the floor, there was thirty hours a week available between the two of us and so I part timed and Shelly part timed. Now, we’ve got a hundred and fifty hours a week. Every time we couldn’t fit everybody in, we would employ somebody else. We didn’t have the make up range back then. Once we had enough money and we had enough savings, I bought new equipment. So I slowly but surely…whether or not this is right or wrong. It’s really old school and I’m not saying it’s right or wrong but personally, it’s what works for me. So, it does mean, it’s a little bit slowly but surely. They put all their money and energy into everything and they rise really quickly or they’re gonna fall really quick.
So your advice would be just to slow down.
You don’t have to have everything now. And I know somebody who has to go on quite a few business trips, which they do. They often go business class because I can just charge it up. To me, it’s just ludicrous. It’s just money. When you can afford it, go first class. Don’t even go business class when you can afford it but I think too much money is spent of perks before you’ve actually earned your perks.
What about somebody who’s been in business for 7 to 9 years? What advise would you give them?
I don’t think there is advise. I think advise is at the beginning to say you’re still trying to build your business and you’re still trying to compete and you’re still trying to just find your way until you know where you’re going.
Where do you see your industry going in the next five to ten years?
Crikey! It’s a crazy industry. Who would know? I think the industry is going to hold back in a way but get more sophisticated. Now what I mean by that is I think all the things…the knowledge on all the products/ingredients these days. Customers are very aware and with the internet, what’s good and what’s not good for them I mean there’s so much information out there. It’s the person using the Google. It depends what they’re looking for. People come in and ask about this ingredient and this product. They see levels of that ingredient.
You think it may be becoming more niched?
I think the products are gonna get more organic. That’s what I mean by pulling back, so there are already perfumes and colorants and all of those things are slowly but surely disappearing and I think the organic movement…you don’t get results from them because you are limited to what you can put into them but with science, now that I’m discovering that different plants can actually do what other ones didn’t and ends what they didn’t know two years ago.
So, I think it’s going to get more and more about holistic health and anti aging. It’s always going to be that. That’s never going to change. New Zealand and the world went through a crisis and money crisis and New Zealand a bit but Taranaki, everybody has their own opinion about our world in Taranaki. But Taranaki, at the moment is struggling a little bit. We’re not. People will always spend money on themselves and they will find the money for it and it’s good. I don’t think it’s selfish because we’re busy. We need to spend money on ourselves or we need to spend time on ourselves so be in our beauty service salon or be it at least take time to sit on the beach. Whatever works for you. So we’re quite lucky in that one.
If you would like to get a hold of Charlotte Ward of the Silk Spa, you can find her on her website at www.silkspa.nz. If you would like to email her, you can do so at firstname.lastname@example.org.