It’s Wednesday 22nd October and after a mini road trip over to the other side of Buckinghamshire, I find myself standing in front of The Beauty and Blow Dry Studio; Bourne End’s equivalent to some of London’s most luxurious salons. With its blush pink seating and copper furnishings, the traffic en route becomes a distant memory and on entering I’m transported instantly into interior heaven (I’ve always been a bit of a magpie for copper).
Yet there are some subtle add-ons that make this studio slightly different from the rest…
From the tailor made front door that opens at the click of a button, to the raised toilet seat and handrails in the ladies bathroom, the studio accommodates for the fact that 35 year old Rachel Fox – the incredible mastermind behind this beautiful place – has muscular dystrophy; an inherited condition that gradually causes her muscles to weaken over time.
However, whilst the condition means she’s now unable to walk, Rachel refuses to let it limit her ambition too…
Rachel Fox. Right, let me just turn the Nina Simone down!
She can. She did. Such a good song! Right, shall we start with what this is all about?!
RF. All the pressure! Right so The Beauty and Blow Dry Studio is basically a place where women can come in and get everything done to make them feel good! We offer a range of maintenance treatments here so all the things that women would have on a regular basis; manis, pedis, NEOM wellbeing treatments and we also have a ‘blowdry bar’ here which is available Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays… this isn’t London so people don’t come in on Mondays and Tuesday for blow-drys- only special occasions!
There are so many establishments in London that offer this but round here it’s either a hair salon or a nail salon or a spa so I thought let’s just make a place for women to come in and get everything done to make them feel good!
SC.SD. And it’s classy!
RF. Why thank you!
SC.SD. You mentioned London a lot… what is it about London salons that you found so inspiring?
RF. I think London just know how to do it well. There’s an attitude and mentality where they’re always pushing themselves and learning new techniques whereas in some other areas outside of London, people learn the art of hairdressing and then think they’re set for life. They might say they can do balayage but that doesn’t mean that they necessarily can properly!
SC.SD. So it’s a case of staying ahead of the trends…
RF. They’re always ahead of the trends, always trying to better themselves and train and that idea is what I wanted for here. It wasn’t a case of getting two qualified therapists and then setting them to work. Even though my team are amazing and still highly qualified I still like sending them on new training courses. It boosts their confidence but it also means that I have the confidence now too that when clients come in, I know and they know that they’re going to get the best from us. We’re not just winging it!
SC.SD. I feel like you can tell when you walk into a place what kind of treatment you’ll receive and it’s clear that you’ve really thought about all the extra details…
RF. Customer service is so important though. That’s why we have our complimentary drinks menu for example. I did the exam, got a drinks license, and went to that trouble because I knew I wanted this to be that bit more special. Even now, when you say “glass of prosecco?” customers are like “ooo really!” They just like it and feel like they’re being treated.
Because we look a bit different from the outside, I can see that some people have been quite nervous coming in so we always try and make them feel welcome the minute they come through the door!
We’ve all had a dodgy blow dry or walked out thinking that’s not what I wanted which is another reason why I invest in training the girls so much; just so that they do exude that confidence which then makes the clients confident!
SC.SD. Absolutely! Let’s talk about where the idea came from…
Though The Beauty and Blowdry Studio celebrated its first birthday on November 4th, the idea behind the business popped into Rachel’s head a few years ago. Originally the plan was to go into business with her older sister, Nikki Fox, but when Nikki landed her dream career as the disability correspondent for the BBC and a presenter on Watchdog, Rachel shelved the idea for a few more years.
RF. When she got that job, it was clear that it wasn’t going to happen but I’m so proud of her for getting that role! Anyway, the idea came from visiting other salons and always getting something that wasn’t right. It was either getting crappy nails done or a wax where they missed hair… I just think – especially if you’re getting a Hollywood – if you’re going to get all your bits out you want them to do it properly so you don’t have to re-get your bits out..!
I think I was just getting a bit peeved off! Don’t get me wrong, no one can be perfect all the time but I was giving these places a fair few chances and it was happening time and time again- over promising and under delivering.
Unlike so many salon owners, Rachel’s background is not in the beauty industry…
RF. Because my body is weak from top to two, I’d love to do the treatments myself but I physically can’t! I think people would freak out if I wheeled towards them in my chair like “I’m doing your waxing today…!”
So I’m coming at this all from a customer experience and just thought ‘I want to create a place that’s welcoming for clients, gives a little bit of that London vibe, uses the very best brands but also if customers come in for a Hollywood wax, they will leave here with not one hair left.
SC.SD. That’s the way it should be though isn’t it! You mentioned that Nikki landing that job put this all on hold so what prompted you to eventually go for it?
RF. The idea always stayed with me really but then you get scared and think ‘no I’m fine as I am, I’m earning money, why am I complaining?’ I think I just got… bored isn’t the right word… probably stagnant… I was seeing people on social media doing stuff all the time and I just thought, I’m just the lazy lump at home with a hot water bottle watching TV!
For ten years, Rachel had worked from her family home as a virtual PA; a role that she established in 2005 after an appalling experience working for another company. Knowing from a young age that she didn’t want to go to university, she joined an American pharmaceutical company aged 18 who looked after her needs; yet when she moved to a new job aged 21, the company that followed did anything but…
RF. Because I have muscular dystrophy, I’ve been disabled since birth so I went from working for an American company who were amazing… When I joined them they got me a disabled bay, they got me a different entrance into the building that didn’t have stairs, they put some handrails in the bathroom… all the things I needed they did.
When I moved, the new company were shit! I explained what I needed in my interview and I went in on my first day and they just said “we haven’t been able to get a loo seat” so I couldn’t go to the toilet on my first day which was awful. Also, none of the managers wanted to move their car from the car park so I had to get up so early to find a space to park on the main road where the pavements were so uneven… Basically, one day I fell over and I fractured my foot, I was in a cast for five months and I couldn’t use crutches because my arms are weak and so I was just sat in a wheelchair…
Long story short, I’ve always had muscular dystrophy but before then I could do a bit of walking unaided but my quad muscles basically died. It was one of those situations where if you don’t use it, you lose it so when I came out the cast and tried walking unaided I kept falling over. I’d only actually been in that job for a week and a half but when I got injured, I just realised how shit a company they were…
SC.SD. Did you get an apology from them?
RF. Nothing. I remember in my old job I found a way to stand on my own. I know this sounds really random but I used to pile loads of books up to make a little shelf and climb up to standing but I couldn’t do it at this new job. I just remember on my first day I went to get up, it probably took ten minutes and no one around me helped. I was clinging on for dear life, my backside was probably sticking out, everyone was just staring at me and I just thought ‘oh Jesus Christ, this place is horrible!”
Anyway, I realised I wasn’t going to go back so I just wrote a letter to them basically saying how shit they were and then I went through a phase of being unemployed.
SC.SD. How long were you unemployed for?
RF. Probably about two years… I went through all my savings, I spent a bit too much on my credit cards (because when you get a bit depressed you over spend on stuff I wasn’t even wearing!) and looking back I do feel a bit resentful… I know that’s not good but I do about how it all happened.
I try and think ‘oh it got me here’ and I would have always ended up in a scooter but it wouldn’t have happened so soon. I was only 21, it really impacted my social life and I just turned into a bit of a hermit!
SC.SD. I think that you have every right to feel that way though. What prompted you to start working again?
RF. I got so depressed that I just felt I needed to do something and work is so important for your self-worth and confidence. I thought I’ve always done Dad’s book keeping, I’m good with a computer, I’ll just utilise those skills and virtual PA’s were becoming a thing back then… Don’t get me wrong, I never loved book keeping but sometimes you have to take what’s there and having something that was mine definitely helped.
SC.SD. It gave you a purpose?
RF. Yes, otherwise I just felt like a big fat loser!
Working with various client basis’, Rachel had that business for ten years but with no colleagues around her on a daily basis, it started to take its toll.
RF. Because being self-employed and working from home is quite isolating, weeks would go past and I hadn’t left the house, my social life wasn’t that great because when you work in an office that adds so much to your social life and obviously my sister’s job is based in media city so she was away in Manchester most weeks. I just got to a point where I though ‘oh god! Time is passing me by!’ It was last January on a Sunday and I was randomly watching War and Peace…
SC.SD. I watched the first episode of that- it was so intense!
RF. So intense! But I did get into it! Anyway I was on Instagram, as everyone is on a Sunday…
SC.SD. When I was single, Sunday was the day I joined Tinder because you’re sat there like…
RF. “Woe is me!”
SC.SD. “It’s time Fi!” Anyway, carry on!
RF. I was looking at my phone and I saw a blow-dry place in London and I don’t know, it sounds really random but something just came over me and I thought to myself ‘imagine creating a space like that!’ I felt so inspired and I just thought, ‘do you know what? I’m actually going to do it.’ It was January, it was depressing, it was a Sunday and I was watching War and Peace…
SC.SD. Bloody hell… that’s quite a combination!
RF. I know! Mum and Dad came downstairs and ordinarily I’d keep things like that close to my chest – I don’t` tend to come out with random shit about what I want to do – but I remember saying “Mum, I’m going to set up a beauty salon” and my parents were amazing! They were like “ok!”
SC.SD. Surprised at all?
RF. My Mum wasn’t, she was like “Good on you!” Dad was a bit more “you’ve got to save up a lot of money Rachel, it’s going to cost a lot of money Rachel..!”
SC.SD. The sensible one then?!
RF. Basically! It was bizarre though because I kind of just knew that it would happen soon if that makes sense?
SC.SD. Are you like that naturally? Once you’ve set your mind to something it has to happen right away…
RF. I need it now! Even that night, I was researching stuff straight away- on it like a car bonnet! Then a few weeks later, I was off to get a blow dry and this place had a ‘To Let’ sign up. I was on my scooter and was like ‘shit, if that’s not a sign I don’t know what is!’
Knowing that anything over £20,000 a year would be off limits because she’d “have to hit the ground running”, the advertised price of £16,000 per year encouraged Rachel to view the property with her Dad in tow.
RF. Because it was a jewellers, it looked completely different so I think Dad’s first concern was where I was going to fit everything (!) but I really liked it so I put in my offer! There was no room for manoeuvre though as others were willing to pay the full rent so then we had to explain what I was going to turn it into…
Though she put her offer down at the end of February, it wasn’t until May that Rachel was informed it was hers…
RF. It was a nightmare! I couldn’t do anything, I couldn’t make any plans, I couldn’t put anything out there until I knew for sure…
SC.SD. And once you have that idea, it’s hard to focus on much else…
RF. It was so, so hard! This occupied my mind to the point where I kept calling the agent like “have you heard anything? Have you heard anything? Can you chase, can you chase?” and he was like, “we can’t come across to desperate Rachel..!”
I didn’t end up getting the keys until the 12th September so from putting my offer in at the end of February it was such a long wait!
Luckily, Rachel’s Dad has his own building business so renovated the whole building to suit the studios requirements. From its new oak floors, kitchen and bathroom to the bespoke door that allows Rachel to buzz clients in when she’s there alone, the end result is flawless whilst still being scooter friendly.
RF. I spent too long on Instagram getting inspiration and screen grabbing things. The benefit of that long wait was that I had the time to really find the bits I wanted. If I had to do it in a rush it probably wouldn’t look like this!
I couldn’t have done it without Dad though and Mum and Nikki were with me every step. It was a real team effort! I’m so lucky because I imagine that if you come up with an idea and your family and friends poo poo it, it might make you question what you’re doing. When they come on board it gives you so much impetus and positivity and you really believe in what you’re doing!
SC.SD. I couldn’t agree more. I made my mind up about this when I was in Boston for one of my old conferences… Mum picked me up from Heathrow and I remember telling her about my idea and she was like “go for it” and I remember just thinking, ‘sorry what?!’
RF. Parents know you though don’t they? They know your personality and I’d never done anything like this before so I think they were thinking ‘if Rachel has said this, that probably means she means it’. Not having any negative Nigel’s around you really helps!
SC.SD. Going from a job where you’re hiding behind a screen to owning a salon is such a huge leap given how social this place is…
RF. Yes, and that’s what I love about it. It’s basically like getting a job and a social life together! I just love coming in to this place every morning! Getting it ready for Christmas, the clients are so lovely- I’ve actually gained new friends from it. The jewellers that used to own it have become such good friends – they’ve been so supportive – and the team… Lauren, Fran and Rachel and Paris who’s my PA are just amazing!
SC.SD. That’s so good to hear! Let’s talk a bit more about your disability because I know so many women will find your story so inspiring… How do you think growing up with muscular dystrophy has impacted your attitude towards running this business?
RF. I’ve never really felt like I’ve got a point to prove but I do think it makes you stronger. Some people come into contact with disabled people and they’re immediately like “oh my goodness, you poor thing” and they couldn’t even imagine having to deal with it but it’s really not a big deal for me. I’m still working, I’m still living my life, there’s really no need to feel sorry for me! I’m probably luckier than most!
When I was younger people would take the piss and that really hurt but then every child gets bullied at some point. Yes people look but you just learn to not give a shit. It’s just made me tougher and maybe a bit ballsier- I think when you set up your own business you do need balls! It’s not for the faint hearted!
My parents have always helped us though; they’ve always pushed us and never treated us any differently so yes being disabled has helped make me tougher but I suppose everyone’s life experiences help to shape them in some way.
SC.SD. Absolutely. Looking back on the past year, what’s been your proudest moment?
RF. I think probably just seeing it right through from the idea to completion… seeing it on opening day too, it was honestly finished at the tenth hour the day before…
SC.SD. Always the case!
RF. My Dad’s lads were decorating here until 4 in the morning before we launched! But yeh, the launch was so busy. All I did was put it on Instagram, Twitter and the website; I didn’t have time to think ‘shit, what if no one comes!’
When you live in a small village though, people talk and obviously it was all papered up for so long that people were interested! Everyone was so lovely though! On all the local forums they were so many comments saying ‘why can’t all shops look like this?’ They liked that we put the effort in. It’s their high street and they’re proud of it. Over 100 people came…
Rachel hired a prosecco van to draw in the crowds, offered mini tester treatments throughout the afternoon and soon enough the diary started filling with appointments…
RF. Eleni, from Fall into London who did all the company branding also offered to come down and do live illustrations which was amazing! She’s illustrated for Aspinal of London, Harrods .. and she just got my ideas- the studio wouldn’t be the same if it didn’t have her input! But yes, everyone was so positive and obviously I started with a zero client base so it was nice seeing the diary fill up!
SC.SD. That’s why it’s so impressive though because most people that set up salons have contacts in the industry already, have regular clients that follow them etc…
RF. Exactly, no one knew me!
Despite not having any previous experience in the industry, Rachel’s passion and knowledge for the luxury products that she stocks is clear to see…
RF. I did a lot of research around brands whilst I was waiting for the keys because I didn’t want to stock OPI or Jessica for nails for example and that’s not crapping on those brands because they’re good but I wanted to be different and I love the brands that we use now!
For instance, we stock Kure Bazaar which is non-toxic with an 85% natural formula based on wood pulp, wheat, cotton, potatoes and corn, pregnant women can use it and it’s long lasting… I had to sell the idea of the studio to them though because they don’t go with everyone. They’re stocked in Fortnum and Mason and a few other high-end places but I put across the concept for this place and explained the brands that I want to stock… Liz, the UK Business Development Manager, was just amazing. I basically try and get brands in that people have to travel in to London for usually!
SC.SD. Were you ever tempted to make sacrifices along the way or was it a case of if you were going to do it, you were going to do it properly?
RF. I was going to do it properly! I think most people just think ‘what do other salon’s offer? I’ll offer that!’ but I didn’t want to be just any other salon. Do you know of the Bamford Haybarn Spa?
SC.SD. I’m not very good at the whole pampering thing…
RF. Well it’s a spa…! And they use Kure Bazaar nail polishes in their manicure and pedicure rituals, which incorporate their organic products, and as soon as I knew they did that, I contacted them and just said “look, I stock Kure Bazaar products here, I’d love to have yours too and incorporate them into the manicures and pedicures here too…” They don’t collaborate with any other beauty salons; we’re the only one so we get to use them in our rituals, which I’m really proud about!
I just think if people are going to come and spend their money, why would you use shit on them!? Don’t get me wrong, I am a business woman and it’s about profit but I don’t think it’s about going down to the very last penny where you rinse them out….
SC.SD. And customers, I’m sure, will respect you for that. Let’s move on to low points- what’s been the biggest hurdle along the way?
RF. There were major staff issues at the beginning that I could have pulled my hair out with…
SC.SD. Go on…
RF. It’s just finding people that are reliable. Dad said from day one “staff will be your biggest problem” and I thought ‘don’t be silly’ but it’s true. In the first two weeks I had to get rid of someone even though I’d spent quite a lot of money training her…
The thing is though, I couldn’t keep her on because I knew that every bit of work that left the studio, had to be and has to be 100% and don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t awful but it wasn’t the level I wanted it to be… even though I knew it was going to be a pain in the arse getting someone else in, I had to do it. At the end of the day you want to keep your customers happy; I don’t want to be responsible for bad work.
SC.SD. Did you have to build yourself up for the conversation where you let her go?
RF. It didn’t come naturally to me but there were a few chats in those two weeks and I just knew I couldn’t work with her so I had to. I don’t like doing it though; I was scared, nervous, shaky but I could just see that this is what happens in other salons; they keep people on because they’re busy even though they’re not delivering good results.
I’ve also had staff cancel at the last minute which meant I’ve had to cancel reservations last minute… I had someone quit just before Christmas when we had back-to-back appointments which was just awful- I burst into tears! I just thought ‘well that’s the end of my business, if she goes I have to cancel sixty appointments next week’…
SC.SD. How did you deal with that?
RF. I just sat her down and talked it through and she ended up staying for that period which got us through… When you’re in that position though, you don’t have the time to look for someone to properly replace them and you end up doing things on a bit of a whim that you wouldn’t normally do. It can be so stressful!
SC.SD. What’ve you learnt from that experience then?
RF. I think when I set up the studio, it didn’t exist in anybody’s mind but mine so when I put out that I was looking for staff, it was a theoretical studio which is difficult for a lot for people to invest in…
SC.SD. And you know your vision but they don’t?
RF. Exactly, it’s not their baby. I was probably a bit of a rabbit in the head lights at the beginning because of the staff problems and I probably took more shit than I should have done where I then exploded and was like jjhalsdhalksjd…
SC.SD. I’m going to have to write “and she pulls a face” for that bit!
RF. “Weird face emoji” No but in all seriousness, I probably had zero management style at the beginning but you learn so quickly and the thing is, when you have good staff, good management comes easy. I’ve got a really great team now. Lauren, Fran and Rachel have been the best thing to happen to the studio, they just get it!
SC.SD. How would you describe your management style now?
RF. I guess I try and make it that we’re all even. They know I’m the boss at the end of the day but we all get along so well. We chat, I treat them when I can, and I give them leeway where I hope that they make the right decisions and do the right things and for now it’s working! I really do appreciate them and I trust that they trust and respect me enough to do the right thing if I’m not in.
Looking back, it really was shite at some points but it’s all learning curves isn’t it?!
SC.SD. Absolutely! You’re obviously around women all the time so are there any women that particularly inspire you?
RF. My Mum and my sister for sure! But also, some of the bloggers that have done incredibly well too! Laura Byrnes from Laura’s Little Locket has been a huge support to me, she’s recently taken the leap to go full time with her blog and I admire her so much for it! They get so much stick but the work that goes in to that is ridiculous.
SC.SD. Absolutely! There’s so much more work that goes on behind the scenes – especially with vloggers- that people don’t appreciate!
We go off on a slight tangent as we discuss everything from favourite influencers to the impact of trolls… in short, hats off to all the vloggers out there!
SC.SD. Moving on then (!) what’s the threat landscape like for your business? Is there anything that you’re concerned about going forward?
RF. You always have to think about the economic climate and people having less money to spend… treating themselves might be the first thing to go but at the same time, I’d like to think that a lot of women realise the importance of taking time out for themselves nowadays.
SC.SD. Would you just offer discounted rates to combat that?
RF. To be honest, I’d rather ride out the quietness than start offering severely discounted rates because that’s when you devalue yourself in what you do. There are some places where they have set days with special rates and people hold out for them so they’re quiet for the rest of the week, whereas I’d like to think we’re consistent all year round.
SC.SD. I’ve never really thought of it like that but that makes a lot of sense! What about your long term goals for this? Can you see yourself running this until you’re old and grey!?
RF. I can! I suppose the dream would be to open another one or maybe launch ‘The Beauty & Blow Dry Studio At Home’ where we bring treatments to the home… I’m always on the look out for new brands to stock but I just think as long as we keep doing what we’re doing, keep our client retention the way it is, keep tapping into new clients etc… then I’ll be happy!
At the end of the day, when you cultivate something from the ground up, you get so much from it! You never get that sense of satisfaction working for someone else and that’s not to say it will suit everyone but if you’re this way inclined, it really does feel incredible. I don’t think I’ve ever really had the time to sit and realise what I’ve done here though. I’m not very good at that…
SC.SD. Maybe this interview will help when you read it back?! Last question then, what’s your favourite quote?
RF. Oooo what’s that Audrey one? “Nothing’s impossible. Even the word itself says ‘I’m possible’”
I feel like that quote speaks volumes for this story…
As someone that splits my time between the Home Counties and our capital, what Rachel has created in The Beauty & Blow Dry Studio is so desperately needed; as that extra special service so expected in London, can be hard to come across beyond the city’s walls.
Treating 16 year old girls right through to 94 year old ladies, Rachel has mastered the art of proper customer service; and judging from the de-stress NEOM treatment that worked wonders on me post-interview, she’s hired a talented team that share her vision too.
Admittedly, it hasn’t been the easiest of rides. With no previous management experience or experience in the industry full stop for that matter, a lot of lessons have been learnt en route but their lessons I’m certain won’t be forgotten anytime soon.
Ultimately, by refusing to let her disability hold her back, she did the research, dared to take a chance and because of that, now leads a life that she’s proud of.
It’s a story that I will be recalling anytime anyone tells me, “I can’t!”
Rachel did and the results speak for themselves.
Fancy a pamper? Visit The Beauty & Blow Dry Studio website here or find them on Instagram: @thebeautyblowdrystudio