It’s been amazing to connect with our hair community; to watch salon owners checking in with one another and sharing their experiences and advice. Sometimes we get stuck in the idea that we’re competing with each other, but we actually aren’t. I think this period has really cemented this – not only for myself, but so many other salon owners.

Ben Martin, Salon XVI Director

Enter Salon XVI: a bright and welcoming creative hub in the heart of Richmond, Melbourne.

Offering a unique and luxurious salon experience that priorities artistry, accessibility and authenticity above all else; Salon XVI is home to a roster of talented hair and beauty professionals, each of whom brings their own talents and bespoke service sets.

We caught up with Salon Director (and 2020 AHFA Victorian Hairdresser of the Year finalist) Ben Martin, for an insight into Salon XVI’s unique premise, his professional motivators and how he’s keeping creatively charged amid Covid-19.

TJ: You recently hit a mammoth milestone… tell us more?

BM: April marks 10 years of Salon XVI. I never had the chance to throw an opening party (or a moving party when we changed locations) so once it’s safe to do so, I would love to throw a big anniversary party!

A celebration of ten years – and a celebration of making it through this trying period.

TJ: Describe the Salon XVI vibe.

BM: Upbeat, positive and always welcoming. We make a conscious effort to interact with each other (and our clients) and to foster a fun, playful atmosphere. In this case, sharing is caring.

TJ: Tell us about the space. What inspired the salon’s aesthetic? Any unique features?

BM: I wanted the salon to feel as spacious as possible. The goal was for the design to utilise and reflect the spacial elements. The look is minimalist yet highly functional. A modern, warehouse vibe.

We’re lucky to have a 14ft high ceiling, which adds to the spacious feel. We created custom boxes for clients’ belongings. I didn’t want the ‘retail rack’ to stand out; we were able to blend this in with the space.

At present, all hair services (cut, colour, styling) are completed downstairs with beauty services (including makeup, eyebrows and eyelash maintenance) taking place upstairs.

We also have a dedicated social media studio that’s permanently set up for tutorials. With a white wall and beauty lighting, it’s not only great for content creation, but also client selfies.

TJ: Tell us about your decision to reopen (after a temporary hiatus); how you’ve navigated this pause in business and the insights you’ve acquired during this time.

BM: This was the first time in Salon XVI’s history that we’ve had to close shop. There’s no right or wrong way to handle a situation like this, but for us, temporarily closing doors felt like the right thing to do.

In the absence of the salon’s day-to-day, these past four weeks have allowed me to really meditate and focus; to peel back the layers and assess what’s at the core of the business.

It’s been a time to re-evaluate; to re-correct the course we began with. It can be hard to do this when you’re caught up with everything else. I’ve found a lot more passion for what I do in the salon.

I’ve also used this time to create more digital education content and focus on driving the online component of the business. Moving forward, I would like to continue growing my digital education.

I’m super keen to get back into editorial! I now have a greater clarity around my time allocation and want to spread this across editorial, education and salon. I’m excited to see how this pans out in the future.

Now more than ever, I’m so grateful for my clients and their support. At times like this, gratitude has to remain at the forefront of your thinking, and client support is invaluable right now.

It’s obviously such a terrible time for so many, but it’s important to find the good; the learnings. If we aren’t faced with challenges, we won’t acquire new learnings or emerge better than before.

There’s a lot to take away from this.

TJ: Any other new insights during this time?

BM: The professional networking during this time has been inspiring. As hairdressers, we tend to get caught up in our own bubbles, but during this time I’ve noticed a shift – specifically among salon owners.

It’s been amazing to connect with our hair community; to watch salon owners checking in with other salon owners and sharing their experiences and advice. It’s really keeping the dream alive.

The thing is: we all operate our dream differently. We may not be in the same boat, but we’re certainly in the same sh** storm. It’s hairdressers coming together as a community. The interaction has been amazing.

Sometimes we get stuck in the idea that we’re competing with each other, but we actually aren’t. I think this period has really cemented this – not only for myself, but so many other salon owners.

TJ: How have you maintained your mental and physical health during this time?

BM: Exercise. This is not only necessary for physical fitness, but also for your mental health. It’s a serotonin release. I’ve worked hard to keep active during this time. I’ve actually had time to exercise with the kids!

I didn’t want to get rusty during this time, so I’ve tried to keep my hands busy. Even if it’s just through creating hair videos and mannequin transformations. It helped me feel like I was still going.

Likewise, I’ve been really careful with the content I’ve consumed. The news is important, but (just like food) you need to consume healthy, positive content that’s conducive to growth.

Information that would keep me in a good headspace. I listened to a great interview with Guy Raz and James Dyson. Another top pick was the ‘Joe Rogan Experience’ podcast and youtube series.

TJ: Talk us through Salon XVI’s unique structure.

BM: Salon XVI operates as a shared, creative space, comprising a collective of professionals who operate their own independent businesses under the Salon XVI umbrella.

Each professional (whether hairdresser or eyelash technician) has their own respective brand and business. Each rents their chair and creates their art from that space.

Each manages their own payments and bookings, but when it comes to big decisions (such as the decision to close up shop temporarily), we all discuss and plan together.

It’s a structure that offers them a safety net, credibility and a chance to grow [without the overheads of running a salon business]. It’s businesses supporting businesses within one [physical space].

TJ: What made you choose this format?

BM: It’s where I saw hairdressing going. I believe it’s important for people to come together in an open, creative space; for professionals to be creatively collaborative and feed off one another.

I still think it’s important for certain salons to operate in a traditional sense, but with a move toward at-home service and garage salons, this format felt like a great way to [bridge the gap].

It gave [our hair and beauty professionals] a freedom to operate their own businesses, without having to open up their own salons. It was all about how I could innovate my business to suit this particular model.

It’s a format that works for us. Each professional takes responsibility for their own station and schedules. It also removes the stress associated with sourcing and securing permanent staff.

TJ: Is there a selection criteria?

BM: It begins with a few ‘get-to-know-you’ meetings in which we discuss goals, reasons for choosing a rent-a-chair format and what they’re looking for in a salon space.

Then it’s about determining how my space can help and work for them. If they’re busy, happy and feel as though their business is thriving, they are less likely to move to another site.

For my business, this creates a sense of calm. I needn’t be worried about staff coming and going. It also cuts out that tension you can find in some salon environments. None of us is in competition

If people enquire about a particular service, I can then direct clients towards a respective hairdresser or beauty service provider. We are all really close and friendly with one another – which is great!

There’s something to be said about a room in which everyone feels equal. This does great things for team moral. We all have something at stake, but also something to gain. Hard work reaps the rewards.

TJ: Who is the target Salon XVI client?

BM: Generally successful professionals who live in Melbourne’s CBD. Also, a younger demographic who learn of us through our instagram. Styling, cutting and colour work are our foundation.

TJ: What have been some of your biggest professional challenges as a salon owner? How were these overcome?

BM: The biggest challenge for me was finding the correct structure to support a shared salon environment; primarily determining whether to go for an employment, sub-contract or a rental structure.

Between all of my editorial and educational commitments, I needed to find a way that I could minimise (and optimise) the time needed to run a salon; to establish a setup that would suit both myself and the space.

It really is a case of trial and error. A lot of it came down to being open to change; realising that some avenues would work and others wouldn’t, evaluating the learnings and making things better.

TJ: Any professional highlights or triumphs?

BM: Over the last three years, my career has taken a turn for the positive. It was only after many years of hard, tireless work that things really started to kick off. Finding your own success takes time.

When people throw around the phrase ‘you’re so lucky’, they don’t take into account the sacrifice. From the outside in, things always look different, but the truth is… it’s not luck, it’s sacrifice.

So many hairdressers in their 30’s think they have to have made it by a certain age, but the truth is, it takes time. The lessons you learn in the decade from 30-40 are invaluable. When you know, you know.

Even something as simple as acknowledging that everyone is different and the ability to lead with compassion and empathy. To be a rational person, you have to do your best to understand others.

TJ: Your advice for individuals looking to enter into Salon ownership?

BM: Don’t be stubborn; that’s my advice! Do your best and you will get through the difficult times. You’ve got to be strong, because it’s going to be hard. You have to be malleable, and prepared to change course.

Be open and willing to learn from your experiences, good or bad. You can’t be stubborn or rigid. Times will change; you have to change with them. Otherwise things will change without you…