Bringing a like-minded arsenal of salon owners together for the first time in the city that inspired the very birth of the brand. ANTI collective Assembly was the first of its kind marking a new breed of business conference that’s all about the salon owner, writes Cameron Pine.

Being able to unleash and speak the mind in an intimate and collaborative environment is a powerful thing, and cultivating this power of connection was the ANTI Assembly – a business conference with a difference, one where leading salons owners were put on a pedestal and not a guest speaker with little or no real understanding of the hairdressing industry. A coming together where a culture of inclusivity and acceptance reigns supreme, where individuals feel free to be themselves and grow in the process, that’s the key cornerstone of the ANTI brand and Assembly is how this movement is facing the world.

From entrepreneurship to emotive intelligence in business and beyond, Ian Shrager’s Public hotel in the raw and authentic Lower East Side  -arguably the sexiest place to stay in New York became the playground  some of these ANTI business ally’s and right before fashion week,  each and every salon owner became more engaged with their business while witnessing some true creativity inspired by the zeitgeist that is fashion on the street, all in none other than the most dynamic city in the world. What are you ANTI and what really drives you? If you weren’t willing to share, you weren’t at Assembly.  Much like the brand itself, ANTI Assembly brought a ‘no filter policy’ to conversations that had to relate back to the salon – and if they didn’t, Franc was quick to meander the focus back towards, “So in knowing this what are you going to do in your business? How are you going to use this power as a leader to change your relationship with your salon culture?”

As the ANTI collective Founder and Director Francesco Ruggerino had to have the first word on what Assembly means to him.  It’s doing things a little bit differently (naturally), undoing what product companies have traditionally done to dictate and empower the salon to embrace an individual’s true power as the heart for a really successful salon. Salon owners exhaled a sigh of relief, fed up of being given ideas outside of their daily life challenges, instead Assembly was all about tapping into their own power to really drive their salon business.

“I want to start by saying let’s give up what we know,” Franc said. He wanted the audience to unlearn their limiting beliefs and experiences and reset in order to uncover some new truths about business and to go home with an ability to quickly correct things that aren’t working. Across vision, leadership, communication, self-mastery and culture Franc addressed guests with the reality that if you can by being the best you can be as an individual, all the other elements fall into place.

“It’s been my dream for the last few years to get all of us together as salon owners and the most important thing is that we activate everything we talk about over breakfast, lunch and dinner in the next few days – to not only talk about problems, but come up with a better plan for the future,” Franc said.

As Franc said in his welcome letter to attendees – he’s always been fascinated with New York – the energy of a city that continually offers more, “It’s the most inspiring place for a business owner.”

“I would always have a strong feeling and motivation when landing back home in Sydney after a dose of New York perspective. Just its energy alone, I have always been invigorated and inspired to get back and re-approach my life, my art and my business to push things to a whole new level. It’s a place of true connection and consciousness – the hallmark of the ANTI brand,” he said.

“We don’t know our exact path, we don’t know what is going to happen tomorrow but having a clear vision promotes action – why do we do what we do? We leave a legacy but how do we leave people feeling after interacting with them? These are all things salon owners question about doing better.

In the first moments, guests really got to know each other – going around the room with a 5 minute introduction from each salon owner, so often overlooked at conferences, this created an instant connection, a platform for empathy, to challenge and to better understand ourselves in the process. Assembly’s mission became innately clear on day one – with a second day of business to affirm it, a 3rd day of creativity to elevate it and a fourth day of fashion week to really showcase ANTI’s power of collaboration.

“You learn things from travel. Travel is the best form of education. You learn so much because it forces you to go back to basics and really review your business.

Ultimately with salon business I’m not a hairdresser I’m a salon receptionist and the learnings have been constant,” Franc said.

As attendee Nathan Cherrington from Salon Zephyr said, “I’m a true believer that the universe gives us what we need and not what we want and while it might be hard to swallow at the time, if it doesn’t kill you it makes you stronger.”

Following a challenging time from his transition from a franchise group salon owner to single unit salon, Nathan talked about the disbelief and negativity from others he pushed past to create his successful brand. Everyone spoke about what struggles also revealed some of the best turning points in life and business.

“If you don’t find the love for what you do you won’t find the action. When you are brilliant you are in your higher consciousness,” Franc said.

Quotes from everyone in the room were as powerful as any motivational speaker, confirming that  not being emotionally aware and develop this into your strength you can’t grow. It also became strong that after learning about each salon owner’s biggest achievements, it was also the catalyst for real emotion – the conversations became raw the emotions were high and everyone developed an understanding for what their next 12 months should look like in business – based on what’s really right for them. That was the true essence of Assembly.

Prema salon manager Johnny Ruggerino considers the CEO title to stand for (Chief Energy Officer) and Assembly very much aligned with this knocking down of ego in business to put everyone at the same level of accountability. Understanding people from a place of compassion and empathy will always create a more cohesive team environment.

For the collective group it was all about unblocking some limiting behaviours or blockages and forging a better path for the future and not letting the ego get in the way of change. Incidentally the first day was all about each other and learn about ourselves we certainly did.

The day two of the business agenda was all about how do we evolve the ‘me’ to become and ‘us’.

“Be careful what words you use and how you articulate things – it’s the little things that make people feel a little more special – that’s where you use your influence over authority,” Franc said.

Truthfully nobody is going to care for your business as much as you and as Mel Corthine said, “The only constant in our business is Stevie and I. People will always come and go.”

“We do collection to get people to see us the way we want and to attract staff – we are a suburban salon in Brisbane and everyone wants to work for the best city salons,” William Webb said.

“I’m not the world’s best hairdresser but I do everything with my people. I’m good with people,” said Agatha Christie.

Ultimately, just about every issue always came down to people – how do we do people better to do business better.

This lead to strong conversations around culture – being comfortable in a room full of salon leaders is the same parallel as in the salon – when staff are comfortable, respected and empowered the culture remains strong.

“Unfortunately we often give 80 per cent of our attention to the problems in our business and only 20 per cent to the star performers and not the other way around. It’s the stars that carry the culture and vision of our brand when we are not there,” Francesco said.

Off the back of this new level of connection, the importance of active listening rather than thinking about what we are going to say back develops a much more open forum for business growth and the growth of culture – and each and every person in the room were checked into this. Assembly focused on the fact that a true leader will always understand their intent, actively listen and empower an army of leaders to join them and do the same. This was the notion of a true brand partner that the ANTI collective continues to harness across all levels of business and creativity. Shooting in New York at Blank Space studio, salon owners had the chance to see how brand Creative Director Nick Irwin cast a shoot of extreme diversity – off the street and a network of friends that infiltrated a level of drama and diversity into a studio that’s so often about ‘beauty’ as one dimensional. For ANTI beauty is about love and acceptance to a level that as brief should be constantly moved to account for real individuality in hairdressing.

From a dinner at Beauty and Essex – famous downtown restaurant Tao, a local night at lower east side institution Spaghetti incident, a rooftop shoot, a dinner at the uber cool Public Kitchen, a fashion week show with Duncan on the last day, the ANTI Assembly confirmed that we all  just want to talk. In such a disconnected world – full of judgement, expectation and things to challenge our confidence, the ANTI collective left the focus for what it really means to activate a strong salon business.

It’s little wonder why more salons are continuing to jump on board one of our industry’s newest brands. As inclusive as it is inspirational, ANTI is pushing hard for the industry to grow together in collective consciousness.

What some of the Assembly guests say:

“The first day was all about us and developing me and the second day was all about leadership and developing our team and to tie the two together was an amazing experience – especially being able to share openly with other salon owners,” Alannah Read, Ella and Jade.

“For me the most valuable part was being able to share my ideas and learn from other salon owners with a different perspective – others that are doing the same thing we are every day is the best way to learn. Francesco’s education and program is so different to any other program out there in the industry,” Nicole Dwight, Axis Hair.

It was great to sit on the second day of business conference with an intimate group of 12-15 salon owners and hear their TED style talk on the secrets of their success,” Mel Corthine, Stevie English Hair.