PURCHASE OF ROBERT FIELDING….JANUARY 1991
January 13th 1991. I still remember sitting in my Maserati (the one that didn’t work) telephoning the partner that David & I were in contention with, to tell him that we’d done a deal with the receiver & we now owned the chain of salons & the school. Oh, & by the way, don’t come in on Monday. Not a nice way to finish a long-standing relationship, both from the work & friendship point of view.
Then there was the matter of the Rolls Royce that our retired senior partner was driving. It was gold with a beige “Everflex” (vinyl) roof. Classy! Just because I could, I insisted that the car was part of the deal. As I’ve mentioned before, the Maserati I was driving was so erratic that I let it go back to the receiver for them to dispose of & I then became the proud owner of this Rolls.
It was so loud & nasty looking my daughter, by this time around fifteen years old, wouldn’t let me drop her off outside her school. I had to stop around the corner & drive away as fast as I could to avoid embarrassing her. Meanwhile Edward didn’t object too much even when I had to see his form- master about his usual mis-deeds that were frequent & often.
Picture this; Gold & beige Rolls Royce, driver (me) cowboy boots, jeans, pony- tail, lots of gold rings & bracelets (get the picture) turning up to Dulwich College to discuss my son’s future! I shudder every time I think about it.
So, now David & I are the proud owners of Robert Fielding. What next? The first thing we did was to hand back to Debenhams the six in-store salons we were running. Next we employed a fashion-led PR & Marketing person to organise a re-hash of our visuals in the salon windows & at the same time look at a name change.
This was just about the most stupid thing I’ve ever done. Think about it. We’ve just bought a chain of sixteen salons & a school, closed six of them on day one & now we’re going to call it something else. All this for ego, vanity & £250,000. Crackers!
Around late ’91 I had a meeting with a very high profile lady who ran the L’Oreal training centre in Kensington, Pamela Goff. In fact, when I met her again last year for the first time in years, I reminded her of our conversation over the lunch table. The gist of our conversation went like this:0 She said “Ok, you’ve got a chain of salons, a school, you’re changing the name, what are you going to do next”? This was very profound because she’d seen the weakness in our plans, the most obvious being that there was no plan. I remember it like it was yesterday:
“You spend a quarter of a million pounds on buying a business & then change the name! You expect to turn a failing business around by waving a magic wand.” I have to say that was the rudest of awakenings ever. We’d invested our pension fund & now we were being poked in the eye with a stick, reminding ourselves that there’s more to buying a business than signing on the dotted line. We had to make a profit! That is the most difficult thing to do & is every bit as relevant today as it was then.
To emphasise the point regarding the name change, Edward has just called me to tell me about a client of his who found him after 18 years since returning to London from Australia. He recognised the Alan d name & logo, went into our salon in Kensington & asked one of the staff if, by any chance, there was someone called Edward still associated with Alan d. Remember, if you buy a business that’s functioning & you’ve paid a substantial sum for it, wait until you’re really established before you put your own stamp on it.
Anyway, I think the biggest mistake was to leave the running of the School of Hairdressing to the management that came from the Morris School. At that time, London was the Education capital of the World & students came to us from all-over. There was virtually no problem with visas & it was very rare that someone got turned away whilst trying to enter the UK. I know that hindsight is an exact science but we had a goldmine & we failed miserably to take advantage of it because we were too busy looking at the “fluffy bits” & didn’t pay enough attention to the really important bits…….like making money!
I think you can see a pattern emerging if you’ve read the earlier parts of my biography. Even though we’ve been talking about my experiences over the last million years, the basic rules still apply. If you’re going to invest in a business, make sure that the business is viable & don’t change the name until all the other pieces of your business plan are in place.