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Keeping it in the family: Jo Hansford & daughter on running a haircare empire

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The old adage of never working with family isn’t one you’ll find haircare empress Jo Hansford MBE agreeing with. The everywomanClub member, whose eponymous London Mayfair salon is now in its 21st year, puts her success down in large part to the formidable partnership she’s fostered with her only daughter and Managing Director, Joanna.

And as the salon comes of age - complete with celebrity and Royal clients, premium product range and a clutch of awards, it’s clear that the team – both on salon floor and behind the office door – are as much a part of the Hansford family business as the two women at its helm.

We caught up with Jo and Joanna to discuss the secret to their business’s evolution, keeping it in the family, and what they’ve learned from one another along the way.

How did working together first come about?

Joanna: When I left school I wanted to go travelling. I was working multiple jobs – mucking out stables and all sorts - to make as much money as possible. Then Mum’s receptionist went on maternity leave and with the business still getting off the ground, I think I was cheap labour!

Jo: I think the ‘light bulb’ moment came later. Joanna would go off travelling, then come back, then go off again. Whenever she went away, everything stopped working. Staff weren’t happy, clients weren’t happy, and I was getting hassle. I realised that she wasn’t just answering phones; she was really managing that side of the business.

Do you think Joanna had to work harder to prove herself in the family business?

Joanna: Yes, I was always worried about being perceived as ‘my mother’s daughter’. But that aside, when your parents are always first in and last out at night, there’s no question that you’re going to be there with them. There was no hiding from the fact my parents were my bosses; I remember being delayed on the way back from a crazy week in Ayia Napa. When I arrived home at 5am I wanted to call in sick. Dad said: “Get in the shower. You’re going to work!” But I think that was the best training.

Jo: I think Joanna probably had confidence issues in the early days because all her career experience fell within the family business. After my husband died, our former bank manager stepped in to help with the business side of things. It became obvious that Joanna could take all that over, but it was a huge undertaking. She invested in a weekend course at Cranfield School Of Management, where she found likeminded peers, and after that there was no question she was going to take over.

You’ve both carved out very different roles in the business. Has that been a factor in its success?

Joanna: Absolutely, yes. Originally I toyed with getting involved with colour, but it didn’t float my boat at all. I found my creative output in running the website, creating PR, and eventually launching our product range. But the main thrust of my role is people management. There’s no way Mum could be managing performance or dealing with staff issues while working alongside the team in the colour room.

Jo: I did get involved in the office to start with, but Joanna banned me! I don’t have any patience and I’m old school. I used to get into terrible trouble in meetings so now I don’t go – which is fine by me because I’m happiest on the salon floor.

How do you keep your work and family life separate?

Joanna: We live around the corner from one another and that’s probably harder for my brother and husband, because naturally we do sometimes end up talking shop when we get together. But the plus side is that we have a strong connection not just as mother and daughter but from sharing this business we feel so passionately about. That said, because we’ve worked so hard to put the right structures and teams in place, the last couple of years have given us more downtime. That helps, now that I’m a mother too and need a bit more flexibility.

Jo: For me I need the adrenaline of being conscious of the business around the clock. I need those ups and downs and dramas. Being able to talk about things whenever I need to and with someone I trust so implicitly is worth its weight in gold.

What’s been the biggest challenge you’ve faced together?

Joanna: Launching the product range was a huge undertaking. We’re in a good place now though. We’re in Harvey Nichols in the UK, have a fantastic distributor in Spain and Portugal, and we’re about to expand into Scandinavia. I’m finally happy with the product too. It’s formulated specifically for coloured hair, is free of sulphates and parables and is manufactured exclusively in the UK. We’re still evolving, with new products about to be added to the range. Our staff are happy using it on clients and the clients want to buy it. That’s exactly where we wanted to be

Jo: We’ve gone backwards and forwards, had to find new chemists, laboratories, label providers; it’s been relentless. I’m happy that Joanna’s now in charge of all of that!

What’s it like for your team, working for a mother and daughter?

Joanna: I think they like the fact our roles are so distinguishable; that Mum’s hands-on on the salon floor, and that I’m here as someone they can come and talk to confidentially if they need to. Communication is a big thing for us; we have a fortnightly staff newsletter rounding up any PR we’ve generated, and client feedback good and bad. We want them to feel like they’re part of the business. We also take time to discover them as individuals and what motivates them. Whether it’s salary, flexibility, being able to go off and do shows or photo-shoots or even teach at our foundation in India, we ensure the rewards, when due, are personal.

Jo: I am very honest with clients, sometimes telling them things they don’t want to hear; they’re paying me to be an expert. I’m the same with the team, and that works two ways – we encourage them to share ideas and we always feedback constructively. Along with that, I’d never ask anyone here to do anything I wouldn’t do.

Jo, you’ve said in the past that in business ‘you should never stop learning’. What’s the biggest lesson you’ve taken from your daughter?

Jo: To be more patient, logical, and to look for the grey areas. Also to stay clear of things outside my expertise.

And Joanna, what have you learned from your Mum?

Joanna: The big things are self-belief and confidence. Her work ethic too – nothing comes to you, you have to make it happen. That’s something I hope I instill in my children. Also, to get over your mistakes and quickly; tomorrow is always another day, and the older I get the more I’m realising that Mum was right – the glass really is half full!

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