Originally from the Ukraine, Yulia came to England to attend boarding school. After graduating from the London School of Economics with a Management degree, she worked as a Management Consultant in the finance sector. In 2014, Yulia decided to take the plunge and leave the world of finance and open her blow dry bar, Duck & Dry in Chelsea. Stepping into the world of blow drys and up dos was unfamiliar territory for Yulia but she had learnt from her time as a Management Consultant that it’s not about the long working hours, but rather the commitment to the cause. Yulia’s commitment paid off and she has now opened her second Duck & Dry blow dry bar in Oxford Circus. We were lucky enough to sit down with Yulia to hear the Duck & Dry story, how the US and Japan have inspired her and why she classifies freedom and time as success.
How and when did the idea for the business start?
I come from a very entrepreneurial family, my parents have always had different businesses, and in the back of my mind I think I have always wanted to create something of my own. I have always been interested in the power of a brand and what a strong brand can create and achieve. When I first started thinking about creating my own brand, I was doing a lot of travelling for both work and pleasure. The US is huge for blow dry bars, and what struck me about the US blow dry bars was the experience aspect of them. It wasn’t about quick and cheap styling, but rather the buzz, energy and the excitement around the whole experience.
I was also inspired by Japan, not from a blow dry perspective, but there is a huge concentration of salons in Tokyo and each one of them has a different personality. They didn’t feel like your traditional UK hair salon. Whether they had quirky uniforms or a coffee shop or art gallery, I liked this concept of combining experiences and really wanted to create something that was brand and experience led, but done in a London style.
That was how Duck & Dry was born. It’s all about quality styling in a fun atmosphere. An experience rather than just a quick do then out the door. We position ourselves as a destination, something to do. Rather than going for a cocktail with a friend, you can come for a prosecco and a blow dry. We have taken something which could be considered a functional service and created an experience around it.
Is this your first venture?
Yes. For me it wasn’t just about a change in industry but rather taking that first leap. I remember the first invoice I signed, it all suddenly became very real. I quit my job, got an office, hired an intern so there was someone to work with which made it feel real.
What does a typical day look like?
I wake up early so I can check my schedule and catch up on emails. I get to the office at about 9.30am and try to be home by 6pm to see my son, but in terms of working, I never entirely switch off.
I try to split my time between both Duck & Dry locations, Chelsea and Oxford Circus. I quickly learnt that I couldn’t prioritise one over the other. As somebody who runs a blow dry business, but is not actually a stylist, it took me some time to realise what my role should be in the entire process. I believe it’s two-fold and this structures my day.
One is to develop and grow the brand. Marketing and PR sessions happen daily in order to stay current and so I know where we are going at all times beyond the day-to-day salon operations. The other part is managing the team. I currently have 30 members of staff and they need to understand where the business is going in order for them to support me, so a significant part of my time is spent with them. I spend a lot of my time on the floor so that I know how we are doing. Are the clients happy, how many people are we getting through the door, what’s the vibe?
In the beginning I did think that my role was in the office as I am not a stylist, however, I quickly realised you have to be on the ground, you have to be in touch with the business so you can live and breathe it.
What is the best business advice you have ever received?
Don’t invest what you can’t afford to lose. My parents advised me of this from their business experiences. You should only invest the money you can afford to lose without mortgaging or losing your house. It’s stressful enough to have the level of pressure that comes with starting a business, there is no need to put yourself under unrealistic expectations.
The other great advice I have been given, also on that topic, is to persevere. I think determination is extremely important, especially in the first 2 years. I think a lot of entrepreneurs can find it hard to push themselves on a daily basis, especially when you work in a small team at the very beginning, or often by yourself. Motivating yourself, setting yourself tasks and meeting deadlines can be very lonely and daunting so it is important to persevere, especially if things aren’t going the way you hoped.
What do you define as success?
To have freedom and time would be success to me. Getting the business to a certain self-sufficient level and having a team that can truly support and drive the business. For me you can define success in monetary terms or in terms of brand growth, but I think from a medium-term perspective, if I had more time and freedom, knowing that the business was doing well and running efficiently, that would be success.
If you could go back five years, is there a decision you would make differently?
One of the things I look back on, and it might sound completely crazy, but it would be speak to others in the industry you are launching into. During the year I was setting up Duck & Dry as a brand and looking for a commercial property and team, I was thinking about every aspect of the business as a brand; what will it stand for, what ideas will I implement, how will it look and feel? At that point in time I had never even had a coffee with a fellow salon owner or person in a customer-facing industry. I think it would have been extremely helpful to speak to people in the customer-facing industry in order to better understand, not just the bigger picture of business and brand and the London market, but actually understand the day-to-day operations and challenges.
The first time I turned the key to my first blow dry bar, I don’t think I was completely equipped for what was going to hit me the next day, on a day-to-day basis. If I had my time again I would definitely speak to other people in the industry. There are high barriers to entry in the service industry and the likelihood of someone stealing, copying or running away with your idea would take years. You can learn a huge amount from other people and this shouldn’t be underestimated. I was so focused on my mission, I met with accountants, financial advisers, everybody aside from people who were actually in the industry.
How do you stay inspired?
Inspiration for me is two-fold. One is a little more controlled. I constantly look for ways to grow and build the business and sometimes it’s through research or speaking to my marketing team or from feedback from clients, because it’s a constant evolving, continuous process. I never see Duck & Dry as a finished product and I constantly think there is something else we could be doing. That comes as part of wanting to be successful and grow, so I’m constantly thinking of new and interesting ways of doing things.
The other is on a personal level and is my one luxury I wouldn’t want to go without, and that is travel. I feel when you are taken out of your usual environment and you have a change of scenery, the greatest ideas are born. My husband and I never come back from holiday without a cool idea. I am more relaxed and receptive to ideas. My interior inspirations for the salons for example, always come from travel.
What do you never leave home without?
My to-do list. I am old-school. I write everything down on paper. My list of tasks, thoughts, follow-ups and team schedules are all written in a notebook I take with me at all times. I have stopped stressing myself out trying to remember everything and just make sure everything is written down. I actually find having it therapeutic, ticking things off and adding things totally structures my mind.
What’s your first thought when you wake up?
To-do list! Check my diary. Check my emails. So that first thing in the morning I know whether it’s going to be an admin day, a meeting day, a disaster recovery day! Once I know this, I can start my day.