In 2013, Amy Philippios started Just Hair, an online hair extension specialist and beauty salon wholesaler, keeping stock in a closet in his office at the University of Kent. Amy, a seasoned hairdresser with a background in marketing, digital, and customer service, decided to improve the service that independent stylists and salon owners received from wholesalers, as well as provide commercial advice to help grow their business. This approach has led to SimplyHair’s business success, with a growing team of digital and hair professionals and newly expanded warehouse and office space in Canterbury, Kent.
Thanks to Amy for taking the time out of her busy day to answer the Prowess How Did You Do It Q&A.
Tell us about your past
You often hear how entrepreneurs first tried their hand at business when they were young, selling sweets to their classmates or washing cars on the weekends, but that’s not the case for me. Instead of having typical entrepreneurial personality traits, I describe myself as outgoing introvert. Outwardly, I appear confident and outgoing, however, after a long time in society, I am definitely looking for comfort to recharge and regroup.
I have always been driven, especially by academic success, but it came from a survival instinct rather than an entrepreneurial instinct. Throughout my tumultuous childhood, academic success gave me a sense of dignity and purpose and pushed me to go to university. Unfortunately, I graduated during the recession and had little chance of finding a job and took the job with limited career opportunities. The desire to control my career led me to start working for myself in my spare time.
Tell us about the business and why did you start it?
I have always been interested in hairdressing and have taken evening and weekend courses to learn how to do hair extensions, cut and style hair so I can run my own business on the weekends.
I really enjoyed the process of setting up my business, and soon I was so busy that I was able to quit my job and work full time for myself. I worked as a mobile hair extension specialist for two years, but when I was constantly filling up my appointments, I felt like I had reached the limits of business growth and was looking for further career opportunities.
Having worked in several customer service positions as a teenager, I have always felt that the service I receive from vendors could be much better. I also stocked my own products and knew that there are hair extension specialists who would benefit from the quality product I have. In an effort to offer quality products and services, I decided to create Just Hair. As we grew, we hired a customer service representative, then another, then another, and today I am very proud of the team that helps me grow the business further.
What are your values and what role do they play in the business?
Our clients have always been at the center of our business and we have been based on good customer service. It doesn’t end with them getting quality products on time at a good price. Supporting them in running their own successful business is integral to our own success, so we also help them grow by providing access to specialized resources and advice.
From a personal point of view, I am focused on making my children proud of me and creating something that they will be proud of. I would like to develop a business that they one day want to run themselves or that inspires them to achieve their own goals, whatever they may be.
What are the high points?
We experienced so many highlights in our SimplyHair journey. Hiring additional team members and moving to larger offices was a particularly important achievement for us. It’s great to see how far we’ve come from holding stock in a closet to taking over two warehouses.
Working with Dancing on Ice was also a moment of great pride for us. Going to live shows to showcase the business we’ve built and see our products being worn by celebrities was something I could only dream of when we first launched.
What were the most difficult challenges and how did you overcome them?
Any business owner will tell you that there are many challenges to running a business, but there were two standouts. The first was the birth of my children. SimplyHair was only four years old when I had my first child. The transition from being able to work 24/7 to being at home with a baby, insomnia and postpartum depression has taken a huge toll on businesses. I then quickly got pregnant again, so my maternity leave lasted 18 months before I returned to work part-time. Learning to trust my team to get by without me was a valuable lesson, but a bitter pill to swallow.
The second big problem was Covid-19. Running a business that predominantly caters to hairdressers who were forced to close during two lockdowns has put a lot of pressure on us. This meant laying off employees, refocusing and prioritizing projects, and making sure the business can get through these very difficult times. I am very proud of how the team has adapted and the work we have continued to do. This is especially true of our free business workshop, which was launched for free during the second lockdown to help inspire and energize hair industry professionals.
Money – if you needed funding for a startup or growth, where did you get it from and how was the process?
SimplyHair was launched on a very small budget. My boyfriend (now husband) and I had some money in savings and the bank gave us an overdraft facility for a very small business. We also had a family friend who kindly lent us a small amount of money, which we repaid with interest, to buy our first stock order. It was a tiny order and we could fit the whole range on one shelf in the closet, but it was enough to get us off the ground.
We reinvested the profits back into the business and didn’t take a dime for years to focus on growth. This approach ensured that we did not invest too much in the business until we were convinced that it worked.
Marketing – tell us about a marketing tactic that really works well for your business? What are your main sales channels?
Our website generates the majority of our sales, which is why most of our marketing is focused on driving traffic to our website. We primarily use Facebook and Instagram ads and provide stylists and salon owners with new and interesting content to help them and their businesses.
Technology – how does technology fit into the business?
As an e-commerce business, digital is fundamental. Our website must work well, load quickly and be user friendly. We are constantly investing time and money in technology to improve our customer experience.
Earlier this year, we introduced a personal assistant that helps our customers manage their orders and save them time. Customers can assign their customers’ names to each of the items they order, and the warehouse team can package and label them; making it easy for our customers to sort their shipments according to each customer’s assignment. It also allows our customers to maintain digital records for each customer and quickly re-order the right products. We have received such a positive response, which we are very proud of.
Where do you get support from?
I definitely rely on my husband and friends for emotional support. I’ve never been lucky enough to get support from my direct family, but I think it’s important to acknowledge that you need the people around you when you’re running a business, but it doesn’t have to be a traditional support network. It can be friends, business networking, online communities, there are a lot of like-minded people, you just need to find them.
They don’t realize it now because they are so small, but I also get a lot of support from my children. They are only two and three years old, however, when I have a hard day, coming home and snuggling up next to them on the couch or watching them play helps me remember what is important to me. The time spent with them fulfills me more than any academic or business achievement.
Who inspired you and why?
It’s such a difficult question because I think we’re inspired by so many different things for so many different reasons. While there has not been a single person who has had a profound impact on my entrepreneurial aspirations, there have certainly been moments in my life that have had a lasting impact. When I was twenty I read Dr. Caryl McBride Will I ever be good enough?which had a significant impact on my life. It helped me understand a lot about my upbringing and why I am the way I am, and I can honestly say that this book has changed my life.
Watching my children grow inspires me to keep working on myself so that I can be the best mother to them, as well as the best version of myself for my business and employees.