IT was three years after opening Sheffield city centre’s first ever boutique hair salon Mark Pearson stumbled on a troubling contradiction: “I realised the more customers we had and the more hair we cut, the more money we were losing”.
As business prospects go, it wasn’t hugely encouraging.
But this month, that salon - Creator in West Street - is to celebrate not just its 20th anniversary but also the fact it has become something of a city institution.
At its styling stations, watched over by a team of award-winning crimpers, have sat celebrities, style stars and at least one heavily inebriated bloke who, after a heavy afternoon drinking, demanded his ponytail be wet shaved off .
“I told him he’d regret it in the morning,” says Mark. “But he’s been coming back for that wet shave ever since.”
The shop itself, meanwhile, has held club nights and charity events, appeared on TV and gone through more makeovers than even its most style-conscious customers.
“Well,” says Mark. “If you’re going to survive you need to adapt.”
It’s true. For two decades may be a long time in most business but, as dozens of no-longer-there salons will testify, it is especially so in the fickle world of fashion.
Yet in that time Creator has expanded from seven staff at 12 stations to 26 workers trimming tops at 35 stations.
“I was 22 when I set up,” says Mark, a 43-year-old father of two, who lives in Thorpe Salvin. “I only ever thought six months ahead so to still be here feels incredible.
“Originally, I wanted to make getting your hair cut like a clubbing experience. We gave the salon an urban feel - scaffolding and stripped floors - and offered customers a beer or wine, and it worked. There had been a rise in creative professionals living here and this was the place they came.”
The only problem? As more customers arrived, more money was lost.
“I was a designer,” says Mark, who learned his trade up the road at Michol M International. “I wasn’t interested in business. I thought it would take care of itself but around 1995 it became clear it wouldn’t. That’s when I thought I better do a business course, and learn what I’m doing, and how to make a profit.”
It stood him in good stead.
If the salon had been popular before it has only became more so, with 300 customers a week now passing through its doors.
Among those have been soap stars Letitia Dean and Chloe Newsome, footballer Lee Chapman and snooker legend Ronnie O’Sullivan.
“He came in before the world championships,” says Mark. “He’d been somewhere else but didn’t like what they’d done, and he was on TV that afternoon. The receptionist didn’t know who he was but we squeezed him in.”
But more than any celebrity customer - or the fact it appeared in an episode of Channel 4’s The Secret Millionaire - it was perhaps installing a coffee bar in the late 1990s which really proved the salon’s popularity.
“People were coming in just for a coffee,” Mark recalls. “We’d ask if they had an appointment. ‘Oh no, just coffee thanks’. We didn’t have a licence, though, so we had to stop that.”
Now he’s preparing for a third decade with a refurbishment. It has one every four years and this time there are plans to revert to that 1991 urban feel: “It’s a fitting way to mark 20 years,” says Mark.