Colour specialist Jo Hansford is a legend. American Vogue, no less, crowned her “the best tinter on the planet”. She’s also a trailblazer: 25-years-ago, she set up her Mayfair salon in the notoriously male-dominated hairdressing business. Now, it would be easier to list the celebrities whose hair she hasn’t coloured; suffice to say her client list includes Angelina Jolie, Claire Danes, Yasmin Le Bon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Erin O’Connor, Joanna Lumley… She even has an HRH on her books (Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall). Her daughter, Joanna, initially resisted the call of the family business, but was lured in and is now the Managing Director. Here, the duo talk shop and family-matters…
Mother-Daughter Duos: Jo and Joanna Hansford
Jo, tell us a little about what it was like starting out? What made you sure that opening a salon was the right move?
Jo: When we started the salon with eight staff ago we had no idea what it would become! It was incredibly hard work at the beginning, and my husband and I lived and breathed it for a very long time. We couldn’t afford for it to fail, but although it was very stressful, I knew in my heart that we could make it work. Being a colour specialist gave me the self belief as there were very few salons at that time where hair colour was at the forefront. Had I been a stylist I probably wouldn’t have taken the step but I had a strong loyal client base and really felt I could make an impact.
Did you have any ‘eeek! What have I done?’ moments – and, conversely, when did you think ‘this is going to be a success’?
Jo: Yes, I was quite often terrified as we were in a comfortable stage of life, but in the middle of a recession with a huge bank loan to our name and re-mortgaging our house! However, I knew from the start that PR was essential and I made sure I got the best people on board and that the budget for that was in the cash flow. Achieving some fabulous press and a host of high profile clients in the first couple of years really made a difference. By year two we had broken even, and at that point I knew we could make it work.
Did you feel like a trailblazer for women?
Jo: At the time, I didn’t think about what I was doing for women, but I knew it would be harder being a woman in a man’s world, and I heard rumours that no one expected me to survive more than three months! However, that made me more determined to succeed. Although I knew I couldn’t flirt with my clients like the men, I knew I could use my skill set and be relatable and honest, and this is where I have built my reputation over the years.
What’s the secret to staying at the top of your game for 25-years?
Jo: I’m still incredibly passionate about what I do and I love my staff and my clients, many of whom have become close friends. I love making people feel confident and glamorous and being surrounded by other inspiring hairdressers.
Joanna, what made you decide to go into the family business?
Joanna: I never intended to go into the family business and remember telling people that I would be happy to do anything except hairdressing! However, after studying I desperately wanted to travel and was working several jobs to earn money to go away. My father asked me if I wanted to help on reception to earn one salary and gain some experience of working in London. I was a girl who spent my life at the stables with my horse in jodhpurs, so suddenly being part of such a glamorous industry was a shock to the system, but also great fun. Over time I travelled a lot, but kept coming back to work in the salon and gradually it really got under my skin. I loved the people, the atmosphere and all the different facets to the business and slowly realised that I wanted to stay a part of it.
How did you carve out your own role: was it clear to you both where your strengths lay?
Joanna: I worked my way through every area by being a junior, running reception and then liaising with the PR and product manufacturers. When my father became ill with cancer I had to take on more of a role and he mentored me as much as he could. Sadly when he died I was thrown in the deep end and it was a case of sink or swim. I went to Cranfield School of Management and completed a business course, which help me realise I was capable of taking the salon to the next level. I also realised my strengths lay in that side rather than the creative aspect and that was what I was passionate about.
Do you think Joanna had to work harder to prove herself?
Jo: Yes, she has always had to work hard to prove herself and not be accused of nepotism. Fortunately she has proved herself in her abilities over the years and by working very hard!
How do you keep family and business separate?
Joanna: Sometimes it’s hard to not let it cross over, but I’m also conscious that my husband and children do not want to listen to us talking shop all the time and they are generally around us which is good!
Does your close relationship make it easier or harder to work together?
Joanna: We’re fortunate that, although we have very different personalities, we have exactly the same values and beliefs. We trust each other implicitly so we never worry about what the other has done, and we also communicate constantly so are very aware of what has happened in every aspect of the salon.
What’s the best lesson you’ve learned from each other?
Jo: To try and see the grey area. And how hard dealing with HR can be!
Joanna: Be strong, be determined, have self-belief!
Who or what is the love of your life?
Both: Family is the most important thing for both of us and Joanna’s dog Ruby who is a gorgeous red Cavapoo!
What would you tell your 18-year-old self?
Jo: Believe in yourself and be confident in your abilities, don’t listen to the people who tell you what you can’t do, listen to those who tell you what you can and trust your instincts!
Best advice you’ve ever been given?
Jo: When I was 16 I was offered my first job in hairdressing by two different salons, one was in Greenford where I lived and the other in Bond Street, London. My mother (who thought London was a frightening place!) told me to take the job in the local salon. I, being a slightly unruly teenager decided I would take the role in London! Through being determined and listening to my instincts I ended up working with Vidal Sassoon and without this I would never have achieved what I have today.
What’s your guilty pleasure?
Jo: Red wine, travel, my Range Rover Sport!
Joanna: Champagne, fabulous holidays, spoiling my children!