Hair colourist Lisa Shepherd has become one of the best-known names in the business. Ros Dodd caught up with her.
When Lisa Shepherd used to colour Claire Sweeney’s hair, she would visit the former Brookside star at home and the two of them would share girlie gossip, open a bottle of wine and paint their nails.
It is this kind of ambience Lisa has built into her hugely successful salon group. Clients sit in relaxed surroundings, colour foils layered into their hair, flicking through magazines, sipping complimentary latte coffees or mini-bottles of wine, experimenting with different shades of blusher at free make-up bars or catching up on paperwork.
“It’s a business class lounge-cum-girls’ night out type of concept,” explains Lisa, winner of a clutch of top hairdressing awards and now resident hair-colour expert on Channel 4’s 10 Years Younger programme, which returned with a new series last night.
“There’s nothing more boring than just sitting around with colour on your hair, so we want to make it a useful and fun time. There is Wi-Fi, too, so that people can get on with some work on their laptops if they want to.”
Lisa’s newest salon opened in Birmingham last autumn. Its arrival, across the road from the cathedral in Temple Row West, not only takes her success in the cut-throat world of hairdressing up another notch, it has, in a sense, brought her full circle.
The ebullient mother-of-one started out 18 years ago as a trainee hairdresser at the Brindleyplace salon of the legendary Umberto Giannini, who died seven years ago from a rare viral disease at the age of 33.
She developed a close-working relationship with him, helping to found an empire of nine salons across the Midlands and London. Lisa also helped to develop his hugely popular range of hair products. In the process, she appeared on stage and television, at magazine photo shoots and at trade shows all over the world.
Today, she has her own growing empire, with clients from all over the Midlands, London and even overseas. She has coloured the hair of pop singer Rachel Stevens and the Sugar Babes and it was Lisa who was responsible for “confirmed blonde” GMTV presenter Kate Garraway becoming brunette last year.
Lisa’s success is due not only to her wizardry with hair colour, it’s also down to the savvy business sense she’s honed over the years. Within 12 months of opening her first salon, she won the Salon Business Newcomer award and was a finalist for the Marketing and Salon Design categories in the British Hairdressing Business Awards. She has since won British Colourist of the Year no fewer than three times and, in 2005, bagged the most prestigious title – British Hairdresser of the Year.
It is perhaps surprising, then, to discover that Lisa fell into hairdressing almost by accident. “From the age of three, I ate, slept and breathed horses,” she recalls. “I entered all kinds of competitions, including eventing. I’d muck out at the local stables every weekend for 50p chip money and a free ride.
“Then I fancied a guy called Nick who was training to be a hairdresser, so I joined him on the course at Kidderminster College. It was pure graft at first, but then I fell in love with hairdressing and from then on, everything else came second – even horses!”
It was through Nick that Lisa was introduced to Umberto. She went to work for him as a junior colourist and rose through the ranks to become technical director of the group.
“After Umberto died, I stayed with the company for another year but you reach a time when you’ve got to stand on your own two feet,” she said. “I had to leave to see if I could do it. Early into my career with Umberto, I realised I needed to cut hair and, most importantly, be able to finish hair – to be able to do everything to totally ‘get hair’, not just colour. So I sent myself back on to the floor as a cutter and retrained. I ate a lot of humble pie but when I started winning awards, I thought ‘I must be doing it right’.”
Lisa considered opening her first salon in London but, in the end, chose Kidderminster, where she grew up and where she first met Umberto.
“There was a property in Shepherd Street in Shepherd’s Market in London – it seemed like it was meant to be but at the same time, it felt totally wrong and I’ve always gone with my gut instinct.
“I was visiting my parents when I bumped into the person who was to become the landlord of my very first salon. London never frightened me but now, I thank the Lord I opened in Kidderminster first, because it gave me the chance to progress as a business person.
“I had six years there, which I value dearly as, although I’d run many salons before, there is nothing like the stress of running one of your own. Kidderminster gave me great practice and to make sure the core of the business was solid enough to expand successfully.”
She opened the Birmingham outlet last August. “Birmingham has always been in my DNA and I wanted to open here. I could have gone to Brindleyplace, where I first worked with Umberto, but I love it around Colmore Row and I have a lot of clients in this area.”
The salon is a stunning mix of traditional architecture and original features – such as the glass ceiling in the main salon – cleverly combined with 21st century chic. A particular feature is the “ceremony” or spa room, where clients go to have their hair washed.
“Kidderminster took off so fast – we had a footfall of 200 a day – and sometimes that level of busy-ness takes away from the experience for the client. In Birmingham, I wanted clients to feel the excitement and bustle of the salon, but I also to have the second part of their treatment in relaxing, quiet surroundings, where there’s soft music playing.”
Lisa finds little time to relax herself. She works in London two days a week, catches up on office work one day and is on the salon floor for two days. “Then, at the weekends, I’m a wife and mother.”
As well as her salons, Lisa also has a franchise in Sutton Coldfield and is looking to expand that side of the business. Her long-term ambition is to create her own product range. “Developing my own brand has always been on the horizon but I want to own it and you need a lot of money to do that,” she says.
Hairdressing has “changed so much” since she started, says Lisa. “There was something a bit secretive about it. People didn’t admit to having colour on their hair. Nowadays, it’s their crowning glory – I want people to leave my salon and be told their hair looks incredible.
“I don’t think there’s any other profession where, in 50 minutes and for £50, you can make a woman feel like a goddess when she walks out of the door.”