For 50 years Kay has been at the forefront of hair design, owning and operating hair salons and beauty clinics in Hastings, Taradale and Havelock North.
As she passionately rolls out MèCHE (pronounced Mesh), the latest brand reincarnation of what started back in 1968 as Kay’s Salon, there’s no way she’s standing still or looking at retiring – just yet. Not many superannuants can say they’re still a trendsetter who is constantly striving to improve the business.
“It won’t be another 50! It’s a bit of a standing joke about when I will retire but realistically, maybe five years at the most, but you never know.
“I love the hair industry and I’m a hairdresser through and through. I can still see that we can do things better, improve and change things. There’s always room to grow, whether that’s around the business model or the customer’s experience.
“I get bored, you can’t do the same things forever; my motto is, if you don’t continue to look into the future and change you will die in business.”
As a 19-year-old, and not fully qualified, Kay bought her first hair salon in Mayfair. She had started her apprenticeship with Sandra
Fox before heading across the ditch for some overseas experience. Upon her return, she started working for Marcia Walden, who would become a lifelong friend, in Warwick Street before being thrust into ownership.
“I worked for Sandra Fox at La Femme Couture in Karamu Road. It was a very busy salon and I did most of my apprenticeship with Sandra before going to Australia for a short time. I then came back and worked for Marcia before buying her salon at the age of 19.”
That was the beginning of the journey. Kay built up the salon over the next six years before selling it in the lead up to having her second child. However, maternity didn’t last too long and she was quickly back working for Marcia, who had set up her next salon, again in Mayfair.
“I didn’t have much time off, I think it may have been about six weeks, and I went and worked for Marcia in the new Mayfair Shopping Centre.”
Having already had one stint of ownership, Kay was keen to set up again and she found a small salon in Mahora that she quickly established and then bought her second, again off Marcia who was moving to Auckland.
“I worked between the two salons while also getting into competing in hairstyling competitions.
“I had the Mahora salon for about a few years before selling it and opening in Kings Street while also retaining the Mayfair salon.
“I changed the names of the salons every five minutes; the Mahora salon was called Ginger Brown, Mayfair was called Mayfair Hair Design when I bought it and I changed it to Dabblers Hair Company and then Pizazz Hair Works, while King Street was also branded as Pizazz.”
Kay sold Mayfair and King Street to have a well-deserved break, which she says only lasted about two weeks, before she took up a manager’s job at Mode Salon in Taradale and no sooner was she there, she was scoping out her next ownership move.
“There was a bit of a gap in the market for another hair salon in Taradale, so I opened up a new salon named Visage Hair Design in 1996.”
Word spread quickly that Kay was back in business and to cope with growth, she bought the premises of a beauty clinic next door in 1999, with plans of expanding the salon’s footprint.
However, she decided to delve into the world of skincare, make-up and cosmetics and operate both businesses until she was eventually forced to look for new premises for the beauty clinic.
“We had so many people in a small space we just couldn’t cope so I decided to split the two up and increase the size of the salon.”
The move didn’t stop the businesses’ growth and in 2007 the businesses were split in two again, with Visage Hair Design moving to a large new premises and the beauty clinic moving back to its original home.
Kay then set up Visage Hair & Beauty in Havelock North’s Joll Road in 2011 in what is and still remains a highly competitive and well saturated market.
Although both are small and compact retail areas there are noticeable differences. Taradale is more of a localised precinct serving its close surroundings while Havelock North is more destination shopping.
“It’s almost like working in two different countries. In Taradale, people come and do their business and go, whereas in Havelock North you come and shop for half a day and potter around and there’s some lovely shops to visit.”
However, to get customers in the door Kay says it’s ultimately about giving clients great service and value.
“You have got to continually try and improve what you do as well as have staff who are highly knowledgeable.”
Last year Kay was on the move again. She sold the Visage beauty clinic in Taradale to the store manager, who had been with her for 13 years, and she commenced another rebrand as well as moving the hair salon to a new location in Gloucester Street.
The rebrand was also motivated by a plan to use more digital media and marketing as well as a desire to continue to be progressive.
“I felt we needed to have a brand that was going to take us into the future. It gave us an opportunity to look at the direction that we wanted to go in.
“I’ve done it plenty of times before so I knew I could do it again. I’m always looking for where the industry is going next; we want to be innovative and ready to change with it and that’s probably why I am still here.”
To come up with the new name, brand identity and the instore experience, Kay started to put together Pinterest boards with images of other salons, names and suitable type fonts.
“I just go through everything, Pinterest boards and I search Google. It takes months and months and constant enquiry as to whether the potential names match the brand that I am trying to create.”
For support she confides in her marketing and brand specialist of over a decade, Stefan Olsen from Ed, who provides some cohesiveness to the process.
Stefan picked Kay’s brain on the vision for her business then got to work crafting a strategy that covered all aspects of advertising, marketing and communications.
Stefan’s top-down approach to marketing Kay’s businesses has been to understand how the business operates, from clientele and staff to environment and systems.
“Stefan is always present, efficient and attentive to my vision, which he turns into an effective strategy. He gets things done, and the things he does work,” says Kay.
Over the years Kay has employed many hair designers and beauticians and is particularly proud of employing and training many apprentices. Currently MèCHE employs 7 of the 19 apprentices in Hawke’s Bay and 25 staff in total.
“A big focus for me has been about growing and developing young people and that is what I have always done. It’s always been about bringing young people through with skills to a high level.
“When I was learning, you could never get enough knowledge and usually there’s not enough people who want to teach and pass on their skills, so we always employ people who are willing to share and pass on their skills and knowledge.”
It’s this hands-on approach and love of the industry that has kept Kay youthful, motivated and inspiring to others.