When you go to get a haircut, you may not realise the dedication and effort that goes into running your local barber’s or hairdresser’s. I was fortunate enough to talk to local hairdresser, Poi Willment, who has been doing this for the past 17 years.

During lockdown, when hair salons and barbers were forced to close, we quickly realised how much we relied on local hairdressers. From completely failed attempts at cutting our own hair to sporting long, shaggy hair, we began to sorely miss our own local hairdressers and barbers – and we learnt why these unsung heroes deserve more attention.

I spoke to Poi, who currently runs her own Hairdresser shop in Long Ditton, Surbiton and works 6 days per week, which amounts to approximately 54 hours of work per week. Poi, prior to opening her own Hairdresser’s on 8th May 2008, tells me that she previously had many other jobs. ‘In Thailand, I worked as a Seamstress, Sales Assistant and helped on my Family’s Farm. In England, I also worked as a Housewife, Cleaner and Childminder.’ Poi, however, describes that she ultimately wanted to pursue a career which related to styling hair. ‘I had a passion for hairdressing as a child and I always knew that if I became a hairdresser, I would be good at the job.’

The majority of people may not be aware about how challenging it is to break into this specific industry. Firstly, the job itself requires a large amount of skill from a good eye for detail to symmetry and precision when using scissors and clippers, as well as having great social skills. There are still other factors to consider - Poi comments that ‘running a business as a hairdresser is not always easy, as you always have competition nearby.’ This inevitably makes it difficult to get number high of customers, who consistently visit the shop.

On an average day at the Hairdresser’s, Poi must work extremely hard to get many tasks and jobs done, in addition to completing the regular haircuts. ‘I have to carry out other tasks, including consultancy, working at the reception (bookings, welcoming, cashing up), management, stock control, cleaning, sales and health & safety.’ However, it is clear that the thing Poi cares about the most is developing the relationships between her and the customers. ‘You have to ensure that every customer who walks out of the shop is happy. The challenge is to ensure that every customer is pleased with their service at all times because different people have different temperaments.’

Poi’s hairdresser shop, like many other local businesses, has been affected by the outbreak of coronavirus. Many small businesses, shops and restaurants have struggled to stay open or have been forced to completely shut down. Subsequently, millions of individual workers have lost their jobs or experienced a huge pay cut. Despite these undeniably difficult times, Poi has persevered and managed to successfully keep her business open. She explains that, ‘The shop has been quieter during this pandemic. However, we have been coping well but we hope that the business will soon return back to normal.’

Poi, like many other shops and restaurants, has had to follow the government guidance and place safety regulations in the shop in order to minimize the spread of the virus. I ask her to elaborate on whether it was tricky to adapt to the covid-19 restrictions and how she did it. ‘Adapting the business from a Health & Safety perspective was relatively easy, since I followed government guidelines with regards to social distancing and collecting customer information and relevant signage was placed where necessary, with regards to distances and wearing masks.

‘When clients entered the salon their temperature was taken and they were allowed to stay as long as it was below 37.4. All clients are asked to apply the sanitizer that I provide and each client is provided with a disposable gown during their haircut. Obviously all these measures are time consuming and come with extra costs to running a business - but the safety of my clients is paramount.’ Poi does admit that unfortunately communication with clients when wearing masks is ‘sometimes difficult and doesn’t help the client experience.’ 

Although running this business is obviously demanding, Poi, nevertheless, finds gratification and enjoyment from the work that she does every week. ‘My favourite thing about the job is the joy I find from witnessing the gratitude on my customer’s faces after they have had their hair done - because it is evident that they feel good about themselves when they leave the shop.’

I believe Poi’s insight of being a hairdresser is quite eye-opening, because it provides us all with an alternative view - which we don’t often get - of what really goes behind the scenes when running a shop. So the next time you get your haircut, take a moment to appreciate the dedication and effort that goes into running a business like Poi’s.