Your biggest enemy is yourself

  • Columns
  • Monday, 25 May 2015

Professional hairstylist Billy Lim at work, doing what he does best...hairstyling.

For Billy Lim, hairstylists should worry about themselves rather than the competition. Update your skills and treat your customers right, and things will work out, he tells ZIEMAN.

Professional hairstylist Billy Lim Soon Sin has 30 years of experience in the hair-styling business and is the author of Malaysia Small-Medium Salon Management. The book, published in 1998, became something of a handbook for local hairdressers.

He is also the president of the Malaysian Hair Association (MHA) and is the Malaysia president of the prestigious Organisation Mondiale Coiffure (OMC), the world’s largest hairdressing and beauty organisation with over 60 member countries.

Lim, who believes you should never stop learning, estimates that the local hairdressing industry has a turnover of approximately RM10bil a year.

What is the future of the hair salon business?

The future of the hair salon business is very good. But it must change and keep changing. The best salon will remain but not the cheap ones.

To be competitive, your set-up should be impressive, fresh, classy, clean and tidy. The way of promoting the business also will change. It depends a lot on social media these days, with up-to-date communication being important.

Today’s hair industry is very dynamic with major changes in trends, products and technology every three months. Hairdressers must be up to date. Every single service will be held to a higher standard, instead of just being about basic needs. A haircut is not just a haircut – you should strive towards a five-star kind of service and deco. Hairdressers must build a better professional profile to compete, not engage in price war.

Is it difficult to choose which brands of hair product to use?

Hairdressers practising hairdressing is just like a driver driving. We need a lot of practice and to do tests. The R&D work, especially on brands, is important. All the latest information can easily be accessed from the Internet. We should take the initiative to try the many brands out there.

It doesn’t matter if it’s not the right choice. As long as it can be used, we can learn to make good use of it. Sometimes a particular way of using a hair product is unique to a hairstylist or a salon, and this impresses people. Salon operators are like a Formula One champion. You must know how to drive differently or use a different strategy, otherwise you would not be No 1.

What is the key to your success? Do you compromise for the sake of clients?

I’m learning all the time. I learn from all the masters I know, and I even learn from the juniors and those who make mistakes. I learn from the complaints I get from my customers and from other people. I don’t feel offended when people criticise me, although it is definitely not a good feeling.

I try to prove to them that I can learn and am still learning. With my clients, I look at it as a “free-trade” compromise. If I want more from them, I appease them, and if they want more from me, then they need to pay me more. Of course, I always do my best. But I will not go to their house to do their hair colour if they only pay me RM1,200.

How competitive is the hair salon business in Malaysia?

We have approximately 40,000 hairdressers and over 8,000 hair salons. It seems like there’s a lot of competition. But for me, your biggest enemy is yourself.

I know many salons open and then close within months, or change ownerships or change location. There aren’t many established salons. I don’t compete with any salon because I only have a pair of hands. If I have a chance to service a client, I will always do my best. If they like it, they will keep coming. From there on, I try to develop a good relationship with them. Our close friendship is the bond that will keep us together.

Hair, hair: Billy Lim lives, breathes and dreams hair.
Hair, hair: Billy Lim lives, breathes and dreams hair.

I have 80% regular clients, some of whom have been with me for more than 15 years. But I don’t treat the regulars any differently from my new clients. When I raise the price, the old clients need to pay up just like any new client. I explain to them everything that I intend to do to their hair and what I am going to do for them. My relationship with my customers has nothing to do with other salons. It’s like a husband-and-wife relationship. I will not worry if my wife is out with someone just because he is more handsome or rich.

Do you share new trends in hair salon with others?

I talk about hair with everyone. I try the new hair things like it’s a new game you’re playing. I feel happy when doing hair. I enjoy seeing hairstyles, doing people’s hair and talking about hair every day. Hair is my profession, hair is my business and hair is my hobby.

It is a kind of habit where there is no need to remind or remember it. I’ve brushed and blown my own hair in different styles every day for 30 years, except when I’m not free.

How would you define a progressive hair salon?

I think the salon people must be active and make their salon look modern. A salon should be lively, with many repeat clients instead of depending on new walk-in clients. Bigger chain salons must able to expand or enlarge their outlets. Salons can also do with improvement in quality instead of just physical looks – better service, better quality products, better skills and knowledgeable staff.

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