Hari Salem has been part of London’s hairdressing scene since 1976 when he set up his first salon at 30 Sydney Street. There are now 4 Hari's, in Fulham Road, King’s Road, Parson’s Green and Notting Hill.
Hari, what path had you taken in life before opening 30 Sydney St.?
I'd arrived in London from Iran, aged 12, and was sent to boarding school where I was completely lost in the system. At 16 I ran away and signed up for an apprenticeship at Leonard's (a top Mayfair salon of the time) and after that went on to work in various other London salons.
Even in these early days, I knew that one day I'd have my own salon. When I was twenty six I thought the time was right and I was ready. I certainly wasn’t. But once I'd started my entrepreneurial journey, I was committed to making a success of it. My biggest asset was my ignorance!
The evolution of 30 Sydney Street
Were you taking a gamble, or were you confident of success?
It was definitely a gamble, but one I was willing to take because I was passionate about making it work.
Did you have big ambitions?
My daily ambition was just to make enough money to pay off the start-up loan, but the ultimate ambition was to produce a top salon where passionate hairdressers would come together to work and create a buzzy atmosphere for the clients. A space where the clients feel they are the most important people in the salon.
You’ve now got 4 London branches. Do you have a favourite?
My favourite – because of the memories – is Sydney Street. It's where everything started. We have a large number of clients who visited us there forty years ago and have stayed loyal ever since.
Are you a better hairdresser or businessman?
Both. You have to be.
If you are an amazing hairdresser with no business acumen, then more than likely you will do amazing work but not make a profit.
On the other hand, if you are a good businessman only, you won’t have the passion or understanding of hair and therefore won’t attract a good team or clients and won’t survive. A lot of salons come and go and it is for this reason exactly.
Balance is the key!
Brompton Road and its art deco design
What’s the best business decision you ever made?
Training my own staff.
I have spent a significant amount of time over the years training my staff to the extent that all of our team today I have trained. If a stylist joins us from another salon, I require them to go through HARI’s training programme before they serve our clients. This has given us very strong foundations to grow. Even though the training is time-consuming and costly, it is worth investing in.
And your biggest mistake?
Ten years ago I opened the King's Road branch, our second salon. It was my dream to make it quirky and 'outside-the-box', with a bar and live music – something you see in East London today. Each workstation was designed by a different artist. For example, we had a station made out a 1960s Mini, another made out of an old red telephone box, another was a Union Jack flag made from crystals – all at huge expense.
Unfortunately, although it looked amazing we attracted youngsters who were very transient. It was the wrong time and place to create a salon like that. Although it got us great publicity, after a few years we had to re-do the whole look.
What in your 44 year business history is special to you?
The most special thing is that I have built up a successful business which all of my immediate family are working together in today. Having my family work together has been a great experience for all of us.
Another significant moment was creating the HARI’s training school, which I ran personally after I stopped running a column ten years ago. I have spent a lot of time sharing my skillset with our apprentices, some of whom are the most successful hairdressers in the business today. In fact the whole of our team today I have personally trained.
Another significant memory was being invited to write a weekly article in The Times about hair makeovers. It was a great experience and great exposure for the business.
Outside the hairdressing business, what gives you pleasure in life?
My family and my garden. I now have three grandchildren all of whom were born in the last 18 months. I wish to spend as much time as possible with them now I have retired from the business.
Thank you Hari!
Watch the brilliant 50-second video!