Nicky Hooper - Hairdresser

Nicky Hooper was recently chosen Business Person of the Year by the British Chamber of Commerce. She talked to Patrick Middleton

An expat, as some have learned to their cost, can never be sure of leaving the past behind and forgotten. Back in 1978 Nicky Hooper, aged 8, with her sister Sally, aged 11, along with their mother Rosemary, arrived in Antibes. “We’d been living in Torquay,” Nicky told me, “but we felt like a change and so we came here. I’ve still got memories of Torquay and, believe it or not, Torquay’s still got memories of me. One day a couple of years ago a chap was having his hair cut and he turned to my mother as I walked past and said, ‘I think I was in the same class as that girl at Elsham Primary School in Torquay’. And indeed he was.”

“A happy mix”

Nicky Hooper Nicky, like the rest of the family, has good memories of those far off days in Devonshire. But regrets? “Absolutely none. We’ve done well here and we’ve got a very good life.” That life centres on the Cutting Shop, the Hoopers’ hairdressing salon which Nicky runs on rue Thuret in Antibes. “Mum was in the business already, both Sally and I followed her. Of course, being a hairdresser in France is rather more complicated than in England. You’ve got to get a diploma that’s quite a tough proposition. Personally, I think that’s as it should be. To start with, there’s the technical side. You’re dealing with chemicals and you could cause harm if you didn’t know what you were doing, and then there are the basic skills involved in cutting and styling hair. It doesn’t come by instinct, you know. And then part of the preparation for the diploma involves the nuts and bolts of running a business. What’s good about this system is that it stops any cowboy – or cowgirl – coming here and setting up as a hairdresser. With some jobs that can happen.”

When I went to see Nicky one morning her salon was quickly filling up just after nine o’clock. “We’re doing well,” she told me. “A business has to grow and I can feel satisfied about how we’ve developed since we opened just twelve years ago. That was after I’d spent time working for other people. I learned a lot with Jacques Dessange and Jean-Louis David franchisees but I didn’t want to sign up myself. I wanted to do my own thing in my own way.” How has the Cutting Shop grown? “Well, we’ve extended the premises. We were very lucky to get another shop in the same street. At the same time the staff has increased. I’ve now got nineteen people working here.” What has also grown is the Cutting Shop’s reputation. “That’s true, I’m happy to say. I think people continue to come here and then recommend us for several reasons. We do a good job, we’re not cheap but our prices are fair and we’ve got a nice relaxed atmosphere. When people walk in we want them to feel immediately welcome and that’s not the case everywhere.” Nicky’s clientele is about sixty per cent French and forty per cent English-speaking. “It’s very Antibes. A happy mix of locals and expats.”

“Take the French system seriously”

Of course, Nicky’s award from the British Chamber of Commerce was for her achievements as a Business Person not directly as a hairdresser. “I was very pleased, I have to say. When you build something up like this you like to get some recognition.” How does she explain her success – and does she have any advice for people starting out in business here? “Luck always plays a part. We got good premises, then we were able to expand on site and this street went pedestrian which is a help. As to myself, I got most of my schooling here and so I’m bilingual and that’s a big plus. More generally, apart from really taking care of your clients and staff, you’ve got to take the French system seriously. There’s a lot of paperwork and you just have to face up to it. A great deal of it relates to staff matters and, as I said, I’ve got nineteen people on the payroll. I’d say to any newcomer that it’s not worth trying to cut corners with people like URSSAF and the Inspection du Travail. You can soon get into hot water. Finally, anyone running a business should be prepared for a lot of very hard work. But to be where I’ve got to is very satisfying.” 

 

From Reporter 108 - Apr/May 2005

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