After a COVID-built hiatus that hit just after REALTalk’s successful inaugural event in 2019, the acclaimed education forum was back for 2022, headlining the first day of Hair Festival on June 12 and taking over the upper levels of Carriageworks to get back to the important things – creating conversations that matter for the salon industry.
Packing the room full of our industry leaders, salon owners and managers and inspiring speakers, those conversations turned out to largely focus on innovation, customer service, leadership and sustainability – all core tenets of the hair industry and all spoken about from deep personal experience.
These vast insights took up a full day, kicking off in the morning with a welcome from INSTYLE Editorial and Creative Director Cameron Pine, who shared these REALTalk values that both permeate and drive the event.
REALTalk MC and Keynote Speaker Terry Hawkins took it from there, travelling all the way from the US to share her knowledge on leadership as it pertains to generational gaps, and speaking about truly listening to and empathising with clients and staff, while leading with compassion. Importantly, Terry offered her six-step process around her titular tough conversations, which involve creating a safe space, defining the issue clearly, passive empathy to genuine empathy and active listening, then setting clear outcomes. Terry delivered these directives with emotional familial storytelling, humour and bold energy that sustained her MC duties all day.
The first panel of the day was centred on Salon Culture and Leadership, with an all-star group of true trailblazers – Sharlene Lee of Circles of Hair, Tom Donato of Xiang Hair, Chris Hunter of Willomina, Rita Marcon of Kao Salon Group and Ash Croker of The Salon by Ash Croker, as compered by Cameron. Sharlene spoke to her own personal experiences of working through a full-salon renovation and her Western Australian perspective of salon life through the pandemic, while Ash’s experience was anchored by her position as primarily a floor hairdresser and how that informs her leadership style. Her key insights were in specifying leadership to each unique culture and accommodating staff. Tom spoke to salon schedules around changing client routines that now facilitate working from home more. From his new business coaching venture he discussed the mindful minute and the importance of first reconnecting to yourself as a leader. Chris added on to this to discuss his own journey as a leader and what he values in this role – treating employees as individuals and hearing them, consistent communication and flexibility. Rita spoke from more of a brand perspective on significant parts of the industry, delving into brand versus culture and saying that our industry is never successful alone, we crave engagement and connection and must take from this group knowledge.
After morning tea, Australian Hairdressing Council CEO Sandy Chong presented on the current state of the hair industry, focusing on the skills shortage and advising attendees to think differently in working with diverse groups to fill this gap. Sandy also discussed the pertinent issue of hairdressers leaving salons to become sole traders, and the need to accommodate flexibility and promote a culture and message that fosters salon communities. She extended this to placing ads for staff and making the core focus what’s in it for them. Lastly, she outlined what the AHC is progressing around the skills migration list, black economy task force, VET reform and more.
Next, a panel on consumer consumption and these evolving practices around servicing clients was compered by INSTYLE National Sales Director Jo Cowan. It delved into the personal business stories of Karl Margrain, managing director of Payleadr, which is changing the game around memberships and direct debit payments for salons and beyond, and Joel Fierze of Mr. Fierze, which is leading the way in luxury men’s suit hire and expanding into beauty as well. The duo discussed websites, and the need to allow consumers a secure, efficient experience online so they can buy with confidence. Karl explained the subscription economy and the way it’s changing purchasing patterns and permeating all industries, while Joel explained his views from a fashion perspective of business being about reading trends and the needs of your clients to stay ahead.
After lunch a panel on Climate Change Conversations focused the energy fully on a major theme of the day – environmental awareness. Natalie Isaacs, who founded 1 Million Women to address climate change, spoke about the sobering universal facts and stats on the current danger for the planet, while she and the other panel guests – pioneering hairdressers Paloma Rose Garcia from Paloma, Maria Unali from Salon Kiin and colour specialist Michael Kelly – all talked about their own journeys with environmental consciousness. The group each discussed their timelines in recognising our own individual power and responsibility to be pushed to make a difference in this space. The panel discussed having climate conversations – perfectly illustrated in Paloma’s own education of the other hairdressers on the panel – and using our role as communicators in the salon to transfer conversations to discuss sustainability. Most people are open to doing more in sustainability but are unsure of what to do. By showing our own actions, being vulnerable and actively listening we can widen the scope of change.
The next panel focused on Salons of The Future as compered by Cameron, congregating innovators Simone Abaron of Apotecari, Paul Frasca of Sustainable Salons, Lance Kalish of Salon Lane and Richard Kavanagh of piiq Digital, to discuss their own unique areas of futurism – ingestible products, sustainability, Salon Lane’s independent salon suite model from the US and smart salon technology, respectively. These futuristic salon components speak to the evolving needs of the industry, for greater flexibility and work life balance, health and wellness as a focus, new and exciting technology and the growing need for sustainable practices. As Paul said, younger staff and consumers are pushing older generations to care about sustainability, and these progressing focuses across the board showcase why these futuristic salon facets are so pivotal, with a broader industry culture and community always anchoring them at the centre.
After lunch, the final panel examined Technology and the Salon Experience as compered by Jo, with Damien Rinaldo, James Shale and Eoin McCarthy for Dyson, Kristy Hines for Aveda and Brooke Jones of BeauTex. James discussed the background process of perfecting Dyson technology, and working with hairdressing experts to gain ideas and develop the tools. Damien gave his perspective on this from the other side, where the development team will watch him work and ask questions to deliver relevant tools. In discussing these shared progressive values between the brand and ambassadors, Eoin also explained his role as Dyson’s first barber ambassador, and what men are looking for in styling tools – that is, great aesthetics and cool gadgets that prioritise new technology. Addressing her own side of new and fascinating technologies, Brooke discussed BeauTex’s amazing work in creating fashion and salon uniforms from plastic bottles to try improve fashion’s impact on the environment. Kristy talked about selling product online and Aveda’s A-commerce platform. A sense of moving forward to match consumer habits and journeys, embracing communication technology and evolving software and offering greater transparency was paramount.
In the final session of the day Phill Nosworthy took to the middle of the room for an interactive presentation made to solve this key question – “is it worth it?” If it sometimes feels like it isn’t worth it as a business leader, it’s because you haven’t worked out what you’re getting for the price that you’re paying. He drew up a Point A to Point B plan to get from our current state to our desired state by asking key questions, such as, in five years what am I seeing and doing, what do people say about me and how do I feel about myself? It’s not meant to be a clear target or plan, it’s energy for the trajectory of that goal, as built towards with these essential components – knowledge and skills, behavioural intent and self-efficacy. Another important question was “what is the thing that I know to do that I’m not currently doing?” – a deeply personal question we can all find an answer to. Phill explained that knowledge is potential but application is power and encouraged attendees to take these conversations back to their teams and put these ideas into motion.
With that final inspiring call to action, it was the end of the day and off to Wonderland with a long list of new ideas and perspectives and the motivation to really grow. Whether it’s about your leadership style, how we cater to adapting consumers, our own environmental power or both the current and future state of hair, we hope the meaningful conversations at REALTalk 2022 helped you see yourself and your business a little differently and take that necessary next step. Until next time.
For more information visit www.hairfestival.com.au/realtalk/
Photography credit: Natalie Page – Oneill Photographics
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