I was always quite creative and often messed with hair. I started perming my mams hair when I was 13 and I still have my first box of perm rollers in the loft in a jelly sweet tub, before moving on to highlighting her hair with a cap. Family friends then approached me to help with their foster daughter to braid her hair. She was of West Indian origin and I would braid her hair every Sunday before school and to last all week. Word got around and a Nigerian girl, whose hair was coarser, got in touch and brought some hair with her that relatives in London had sent for me to braid that in too. After a day thinking through how to do this, and no google or YouTube, I had a go and she was overjoyed with the results.
Friends and family were next in line for their hair being done too and by the time I left school, I was working at KP foods in the morning and then spent my afternoons doing hair. I had a 6-month waiting list and I changed the spare room into a salon at my mana and dad’s house. By 1992 I knew I had to get my own supply of hair extensions rather than everyone bringing me hair they had bought, and so a family friend took me over to her family in Bradford who knew a shop that could help. They were Fresh Fayre Food Store on Little Horton Lane and I worked with them for years and built up a great business relationship with them. I had tried other brands too but the quality wasn't there and after being sent some "wood glue" to apply the weft with, I knew I wanted more and that hair extensions were becoming even more popular, so after 10 years of hairdressing, I was starting to move into the supply side.
I had previously been in a road traffic accident and with a long-term injury, I had a compensation payout. So after buying myself a second-hand car and treating myself to a holiday, I used the remaining £5,000 to set up the business. I started to research my own supply and manufacturers, using all my savings on my first order of wefts. I got an interest free start-up loan from The Princes Trust too. The little salon became my office too and I created my packaging and flyers on my little PC in Word. Additional Lengths was born on 2nd June 2003 taking me just 6 months from having the idea to realising it.
Pre-social media and the internet, I headed to the library and used their Yellow Pages to get details of hair salons who might offer “new” services like extensions and I posted them a leaflet. I remember sitting at my desk on the first day of business waiting for the phone to ring. IT DIDN’T! I started telling clients that I was selling hair and knowing how people love to gossip, word soon got around on a local level. My first order was a local salon and I was over the moon, I even delivered it personally. I still remember what they ordered - a 14” human hair weft at £15.50 inclusive of VAT. A sale was a sale, regardless of value and looking back now it was nothing in comparison to what we do now, but it was priceless to me back then.
As time went on, the calls started coming and business was growing, slowly but surely. At the end of my final year, our first year’s turnover was £14,000. I did not take a wage from the business for the first 12-18 months and put every penny back into it to enable more stock to be purchased.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not been easy and I have been sent some really bad hair over the years, but you can’t let these setbacks get you down. In the early days, hair that did not meet the quality was used and sold as training hair so that we could regenerate some money to buy more stock. The relationship we have with our suppliers now is very strong and they know the quality we expect. We would rather delay hair delivery or have no stock, to get the quality right.
With the arrival of my son in 2005, I moved out of the office/salon/spare room from my parents and opened my first shop later that year. Passing trade really helped the business grow and 3 years on, we moved again to Maxwell’s Corner which is an iconic semicircular building in Stockton town centre. We now have over 20 staff and 3 sites.
I feel the benefit I have over others from the industry is my background. I did not create the business because I wanted to sell something just to make money, I created the business because it was part of my personal growth and development from something I had loved doing for so many years and I think this is a big advantage. The way I see it is when I choose the sell something or develop it, or consider what is going to work or not, my strength is the fact that I see things from a user point of view, not just as a money maker. The feedback and support we get for our products from customers is uplifting and makes all the stress, worry and sleepiness nights worthwhile.
What drives you?
I have just done hair and worked so hard on developing the products for so long that it's just embedded in me.
Anyone who runs a large, successful business they started from scratch, knows and understands the sacrifices that have to be made over to achieve what you have.
The continued success and love for the brand is what continues to drive me today and I have never forgotten where I started or where I come from.
I really should have given up working in the salon many years ago with my workload for the business' operations, but I am a face to face person and just can't bring myself to do this to my clients, and more so for those that need a specialist service like my hair loss clients who have been with me for 15 years. The hair replacement service is so specialised I have built up many years of sensitive experience that my clients simply won't have anyone else doing their hair.
One strapline I love thinking of from a personal level is DREAM, BELIEVE, ACHIEVE!
Love VL xx
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