Interview with Steve Rowbottom, Creative Director of Westrow Hairdressing Group
Steve Rowbottom’s Road to Success
There are several ways to progress in hairdressing today: join an established salon, work for an international brand like Revlon Professional, or open your own business and embark on an adventure like no other. Steve Rowbottom switched from a life as a professional sportsman to now dedicating himself completely to hairdressing. Below, we will discover his tips on how to succeed in business and learn from his expert advice.
Revlon: Steve, after reading your biography and learning how you switched from the world of professional sports to the world of hairdressing, would you say that you see yourself as someone who does not fear change? Do you agree with the motto “nothing ventured, nothing gained” when it comes to success? Tell us briefly about your transformation.
Steve: You’re right: I definitely don’t fear change and I think this has been instrumental to my time in the hairdressing industry. Although sports, specifically football, was always my first love, my transition into hairdressing has also been a lifelong passion, but one that has constantly evolved as the industry and the business landscape has, too. I started out at a small local salon before becoming a junior for Tim Hartley at Vidal Sassoon in the center of Leeds.
During my time there, I quickly developed a love for a vocation that has proven to be a lifelong passion. I never imagined that I would stay in the hairdressing industry, but my time at Vidal Sassoon was amazing. I was working with some of the best and most iconic hairdressers in the world, which instilled in me a passion for the craft that has never left.
Evolution has been key, though. It’s been a rollercoaster ride in a constantly changing business landscape, so we’ve had to learn how to adapt and react and not fearing change has been instrumental to this.
Revlon: And how would you define your hairdressing style? What are you most passionate about?
Steve: I’m passionate about the true fundamentals of hairdressing: the craft, the discipline, the thought process, and the execution. I’m dedicated to discipline and technique and precision cutting has always been at the heart of everything I do and everything I love.
At Westrow, we have four underlying pillars to our business which I think truly define us: creation, innovation, motivation, and education. Education has been instrumental to our business, especially with the launch of our educational academy in the heart of Leeds, which we launched in 2014. This has become the driving force of our business and is something I am very passionate about, as it means we can give back to an industry that has given so much to us over the years.
Revlon: And speaking about Westrow, do you remember what prompted you to create your own brand? How did you meet your partner in crime Marc Westerman?
Steve: I began my hairdressing career in a local salon in a small suburb of Leeds, in Yorkshire, where I first met my business partner Marc. Following my four years with Vidal Sassoon, I took an eighteen-month sabbatical to live in Israel, pursuing my passion of football, and upon my return, I rekindled my friendship with Marc.
Our decision to secure a small business loan resulted in the launch of our first Westrow business in a small salon above a menswear store on Queen Victoria Street (now the Victoria Quarter) in Leeds on April 2, 1987. Thirty-four years later, we now have eight salons across Yorkshire and a multi-award-winning educational academy in the heart of Leeds.
Revlon: Beginnings are not easy. What would you recommend to someone who is about to open a salon?
Steve: Do it for love, not money. We first started in business because we were passionate about hair and that love has never left either of us. Success has been a wonderful by-product of this, but if you aren’t passionate about what you do in the beginning, longevity will be very hard.
Revlon: How has partnering with internationally recognized brands like Revlon Professional helped you? Do you consider it an accolade to your professional work that they want to work with you?
Steve: For Westrow, cultivating the right partnerships (including our own) has been instrumental to the longevity of the business from the very start. We have always wanted to collaborate with like-minded brands; businesses that understand our focus, our business DNA, as well as our future plans and goals.
We don’t collaborate for the sake of it—there has to be a vision, and what I’ve learned over 34 years in business is that two heads are better than one. Hopefully we can all bring something to the collaborative table that helps both sides of the hairdressing coin.
Revlon: Training is a basic pillar of your brand. What is the most important aspect of retraining? Do you agree with the motto “renew or die” in this regard?
Steve: Over the years, there have been so many professional accolades and achievements that I am proud of. However, the launch of the Westrow Academy, in Leeds City Centre, in January 2014 is my standout achievement. After many years in business, and after working towards it for so long, it’s been truly exciting to see how it established itself so quickly as a center of educational excellence.
It has the capacity to house 240 students–both our own and external apprentices sent by other salons–and we can teach NVQ Levels 1 to 3. We teach practical and theory skills in hairdressing and barbering, as well as business management. We see education as one of the biggest areas of growth for Westrow, so to continue working on delivering education with our chosen partners Revlon Professional, is very exciting.
In answer to your question about re-training, we are dedicated to continual professional development. The industry is constantly evolving and never more so than in the current climate, so skillsets need to be continually renewed and refreshed in line with this.
Revlon: How you have managed to have such a large academy, vocation, or business?
Steve: I would say that I am creatively minded, but also very commercially savvy. I’m strong willed and myself and my business partner are both dedicated to technical excellence, as well as creative discipline, which has helped us evolve the business as we go. It hasn’t always been easy (the juggle is most definitely real!), but to keep your head in business you have to be focused on the bigger picture, and not get caught up in the small details. We have of course made mistakes and lessons are always learned, but in order to evolve professionally, you have to be open to evolving personally, too. I’m not the same person I was when we started all those years ago. I’m an older, and hopefully much wiser, version of the boy I was back then–even if I so still feel in my twenties!
Revlon: Managing eight Westrow salons is certainly complicated. How do you manage to keep the balance between the creative and the business side?
Steve: Like all fashion-orientated jobs, hairdressing has two sides: creative and business. This job appeals to my creative side. Working with an inspiring and creative team, and constantly pushing creative boundaries, is fulfilling, motivating, and drives me on a daily basis.
I’m extremely hands-on when it comes to the business side of the job too, and directing a salon group with franchise salons means you need to be commercially aware and industry savvy, as you are constantly facing new challenges. This balance of the two sides keeps the job diverse, dynamic, and engaging. Marc and I also both work to our individual strengths, which makes the business stronger.
Revlon: And with success, how do you balance personal/family life with such success?
Steve: Fortunately for me, my wife is in the industry. She used to edit a leading trade magazine and now owns Seven Publicity—a hair and beauty PR and publishing agency—so it means we’re connected and always aligned in terms of work and the industry. We’re both busy and never place demands on one another when it comes to balancing work with home life. It seems to happen naturally, and I really believe if you give each other space to be the people you were when you met, it makes for a flourishing long-term relationship.
Revlon: Finally, how do you see yourself in the future? Will you continue to expand the business?
Steve: Now that’s a question! The future has proven itself to be very uncertain in recent times, so everything we all might have once imagined has been turned upside down. For me, the future will see our business evolving and expanding, but in a way that’s contemporary and thoughtfully executed.
Our educational arm of the business has truly become the jewel in our crown, so our vision is to steadfastly grow this side of our business, acknowledging the creative talent within and offering opportunities to a younger generation of hairdressers in the same way we were given them many moons ago. And the thought of that makes me very happy indeed!
We have also been receptive to the increased demand for adult education. Many people have reconsidered their long-term career choices, and we can now facilitate their needs. In terms of the salon growth, we will expand through conversion or acquisition alongside developing our own future franchisees.
Revlon: Thank you so much, Steve! It has been a real pleasure to understand the process of a business in the hairdressing industry. We hope you have many more successes and that Revlon Professional continues to accompany you on your journey. Our readers will learn a lot from your experiences and we appreciate your time.
Continue learning and gain exclusive access to education content by visiting our professional e-learning platform RevlonPro Always On. Or, check out these helpful professional guides on how to use salon scheduling software and how to create your salon’s logo.