When you think of beauty, and specifically beauty salons, you think of makeup and hairdressers, nail colours and waxing. You don’t think of technology, payments, and booking systems.
But, like all industries, digital is infusing everything the beauty business does; from trends and styles developing on Instagram, to wanting to book an appointment via their phone. Lacey Hunter-Felton is leading the beauty tech revolution with her beauty co-working space Hunter Collective, based in Farringdon.
After working as a hairdresser for 16 years, Hunter reached the point where she knew her career needed to change but she wasn’t sure which way to go. After quitting her job, she set herself up in a WeWork space on Primrose Street, surrounded by entrepreneurs and tech start-ups.
“All these entrepreneurs and tech businesses started moving in, saying I’m building this thing and getting this investment. I was really inspired by what they were doing and their ambition,” Hunter-Felton tells the Standard.
Hunter-Felton observed the way these entrepreneurs were interacting with one another when she had a spark of inspiration. “I thought, I’m a freelancer, I have my clientele and all these amazing contacts, I just don’t have anywhere to do it. So I started building the concept of Hunter Collective: flexible memberships for experts in fashion and beauty,” she explains.
How Hunter Collective works
Hunter Collective opened in late 2017. It’s all about taking the sometimes old-school beauty industry and turning it on its head; taking tech concepts like hot desks and online booking and supplanting them in beauty.
Members pay a flat rate of £100 a month, and then a standard rate of £20 per hour for a chair or £10 per hour for a table, and you pay only for the time you use it. This is different from the way the industry currently works, where beauticians usually rent a chair in a salon and work on a commission basis.
“These concepts in tech design are so rational now, but when I started using the phrase hot desk, no one knew that I was talking about,” says Hunter-Felton.
“Fundamentally, there isn’t another space where you can work when you want to work, charge what you want to charge, and pay a flat rate,” she explains. “The cornerstone of what we do is let’s be transparent, let’s be professional.”
Membership of Hunter Collective is growing, with hairdressers, barbers, and nail technicians joining the organisation. There’s a focus on events too, including regular working breakfasts which bring in experts covering areas such as finance or PR, to help the members build their businesses. Global beauty businesses come and use the space for their events, with the Schwarzkopf Academy choosing to run its education events there this year.
Hunter-Felton says this is all ways to grow the network and expand the word about the collective.
As Hunter Collective is growing, it’s changing too. Initially, the focus was all about empowering female entrepreneurs, but Hunter wants to ensure it is welcoming a space for anyone in beauty to work and grow.
“We did built it to empower women but what we realised was it wasn’t just women we’re empowering, it’s the whole movement of this freelancer world, and social media has played a massive part in that. It’s amazing how the world has opened up over the past two years and the boom that happened in tech, is just now happening in beauty.”
Putting tech at the core of beauty
Tech is fundamental to the way Hunter Collective works. The organisation uses Square‘s tech to facilitate all its payments, which allows the space to be run from an iPad or a smartphone. There’s a booking platform that allows members to run their diaries online, with plans to integrate these features in the future.
Hunter Collective is also cash-free, another tech concept, though one that is unusual in beauty. This is based on Hunter-Felton’s personal experience: when she was working full-time in a salon on a commission basis, this drastically reduced the mortgage she could afford on a house.
“With Hunter Collective, I wanted to make sure everything was trackable and efficient. I wanted the members to not be in a situation I was in,” she says.
And, whilst tech is at the core of how Hunter Collective functions, it’s as much about the people and the space it is, which is why Hunter didn’t want to just build a beauty marketplace or a services booking app. When Hunter-Felton and her co-founder Nico Bonfiglioli were pitching for seed investment, the duo were constantly asked why they weren’t building an app.
“Other platforms serve a purpose, but we’re a completely different mindset,” she explains. “If I had an app that connects me to clients, where am I going to cut their hair? Travelling to five or six clients a day is exhausting. So I wanted to offer an alternative.”
It’s also about the connections that can be made in a space where entrepreneurs come together, just like Hunter saw when she was a part of WeWork.
“I love having a space and being part of a community of like-minded individuals who are just as ambitious and driven as I am,” she adds.
Eventually, Hunter Collective will move forward to develop its own technology to facilitate connections and collaborations, as well as bookings and payment, in Hunter-Felton’s vision for a global beauty network with co-working at its core. “Right now we’re a start-up. But the global vision for the business is to be opening across Europe and everywhere else, so we need to have a networking platform so everyone is included and can benefit,” she says.
“We all have clients globally. Wouldn’t it be amazing if you could turn up at Hunter Collective somewhere your client lived and say I’m here all weekend, come and get our services?
“It’s a long-term vision, but my hope is that it doesn’t take long term to create.”