Hampshire dads Nic Hopkins and Steve Johnson don’t do things by halves. In two years they’ve built up a chain of seven men’s and children’s hairdressing salons, and their aim is to make sure there’s a His and Kids near everybody in Hampshire.
“One day we’re working out the long term strategy of the business, and the next we’re working out which shops are running low on lollipops.” Laughs Nic.
It’s a far cry from the daily commute to the city jobs where Nic and Steve first forged their friendship. Ten years ago, they were both working in London, and spending three hours together on the train each day.
“We discovered that we shared a lot of core values,” says Steve, “and we had plenty of time to chat. Often the ‘what would you do if you weren’t doing this?’ conversation came up.” In 2005 Nic decided that he’d had enough of working so far from home and left his London job. A year later Steve followed suit. “I was looking for a change – I wanted to improve my quality of life and spend more time with my family.”
Steve and Nic kept in touch, and together they hatched a plan to create a new kind of hairdressing salon. “We felt that there wasn’t a chain out there which focused on providing a high standard of hairdressing for men, at an affordable price,” says Steve. “We’d also noticed mothers at barbers shops, trying to keep their children occupied in what is a very male and grown up environment.”
From that, His and Kids was born. All their shops have a men’s hairdressing salon and a dedicated salon for boys and girls, with toys, themed chairs and DVDs to help keep the kids entertained, as well as coffee and magazines for waiting mums. “We wanted to create a mum-friendly and a family-friendly environment.” Explains Steve.
Although it’s always hard work growing a new business from scratch, Steve and Nic seem to be enjoying themselves. “Our biggest challenges are self-imposed, because we set ourselves high standards.” Says Nic. “For instance, we have lots of criteria to meet when we’re recruiting staff – they need to have both barbering and hairdressing qualifications, as well as being good with children. It can make it harder to identify the right candidates.”
“We also need to make sure that all our shops have parking facilities, and space inside for pushchairs and for kids to run around. Often the whole family will come along, so there can be quite a crowd in the salon.”
Both Steve and Nic are driven by a desire make sure that kids and parents have the best experience possible. “I remember taking my son for his first haircut,” says Steve, “my wife felt nervous and the place wasn’t very child friendly, so in the end it wasn’t a very positive experience. We want to make sure that doesn’t happen to our customers.”
Nic explains further: “When we’re designing shops, we try to look at it through the eyes of all our customers: men without children, dads and mums, and the kids themselves. We’re lucky to have a great team around us now – people who can calm children, as well as relating to the parents, and can cut hair with a moving target!”
So, has setting up a business near home in Hampshire given Steve and Nic the lifestyle change they were looking for? “In some ways it doesn’t feel like we’re working for ourselves.” Says Nic, “We have 28 staff and we feel a tremendous sense of responsibility towards them.”
“However, we do have a strong understanding with each other,” says Steve, “We provide cover so we can both work around our home lives. It’s definitely a full time job, but we can design working days around the school runs – it just means we’ll have to work in the evening.”
“We’ve had tremendous support on the home front. Our wives were very much involved in the process of developing ideas, and it’s fun for the kids to come in to the shops.”
Steve and Nic are also grateful to their friends, who use their shops and provide invaluable feedback. “Our friends are excellent. They bring their kids in for haircuts, and then tell us what they think at dinner parties. We get frank feedback from people we trust.”
With all this good advice to work with, as well as their own hard work and business experience, it looks like Nic and Steve are succeeding in their aim to turn something that might once have been a chore into a fun outing for the whole family. “Traditionally kids used to scream on the way in to the hairdressers,“ Says Nic, “but we get kids screaming because they don’t want to leave!”
His and Kids in:
Alton: 3 Westbrook Walk, 01420 83115
Basingstoke: 5 Mayfair House, Festival Place, 01256 355600
Chandlers Ford: 13 Bournemouth Road, 02380 275110
Christchurch: 5 Castle Street, 01202 477550
Fareham: 101 Highlands Road, 01329 849374
Lymington: 25 St Thomas Street, 01590 679111
Romsey: 4 Latimer Walk, 01794 515333