So, how has 2020 been for you? It’s impossible to find anyone whose life hasn’t been upended in one way or another. It has been particularly challenging for business owners like Phil, who depend on regular contact with people every day.
Phil cuts my hair. I’ve been seeing him for at least seven years, maybe longer. He and his wife Iris own a salon in the Inner West of Sydney, which they’ve operated for 15 years. Whenever I visit Phil, I know that it’s not only for a haircut, but 10 to 15 minutes of exclusive focus on all manner of topics.
There seems to be an effortless movement between the clicking of the scissors and the dissection of the latest football game (you have a choice of codes, depending on your bias), world event or even weightier philosophical matters, if you are in the mood.
Phil operates his salon with Iris, his wife. They make a great team. Phil believes that their different temperaments complement one another. “I love to talk and sometimes Iris just gives me a look, which is all I need to be reminded about the time. It’s good that we have this understanding between us. I think that is one of our great strengths. We understand one another really well.”
It’s this kind of teamwork that Phil believes has carried them through other aspects of their life together, especially as parents of their son Michael.
“We are very different as parents, but I think that also works well for us. Michael has a good relationship with both of us. For me, I want him to know that whatever happens he can always talk with us, even it he makes a mistake, not to hide it. Whenever I tell him that, he just nods at me and says, ‘Yeah, sure Dad’.” Phil adds the last detail with a little laugh.
Asking Phil about why they started their business, he says it is because they wanted to have a certain lifestyle, being able to make their own decisions and being responsible for their own actions. “It wasn’t that we wanted to make lots of money, but we were confident in our own abilities. We believed that we could do this. Our aim was to simply make a living from it. People would say five years is a big milestone, then 10 years. Well, we’ve been able to make it for 15 years. To me that is success, being able to keep our business open for that long.”
What about the sacrifices to stay open? Phil mentions a few things such as not being able to get to some family gatherings, or being restricted regarding their annual holidays, but after a while, he simply says, “but it’s not really a sacrifice, because we both love what we are doing.”
“We really wondered whether we would be able to stay open earlier this year. The three months between March and June were really tough. It tested our faith. Some of our regular customers, like a group of older ladies who have regular slots on Fridays stopped coming. Iris and I decided to alternate days to come into the salon because it was so difficult. You would just come in and have nothing to do, so it was a huge strain mentally.”
“It was important to hang in there. We took all the necessary precautions and kept assuring our customers that we were following all the government guidelines to be Covid safe.”
Eventually they made it through those difficult days. “The thing that blows me away is the generosity and loyalty of our customers. We had some pay forward their haircuts or give us extra. We didn’t even know if we’d still have a business, but there were these people who believed in us. That is what I love the most about owning this business. It is because we’ve been able to build a community. It’s seeing people coming together.”
This is a note that Phil repeats several times, “we love our community. We are very grateful for what we have come through and very grateful for our customers. That’s what motivates us.”
It strikes me that our conversation ends on this note. For Phil, it’s not simply about his business but about what he values in life, which is his faith, his family and his community. The business seems to be the frame around the canvas of his life, which is coloured by what he values most.
I’m certainly grateful that Phil and Iris have been able to pass through those tough days and will be praying they continue for at least another 15 years.
(If you’re looking for a hairdresser and live in the Inner West, why not visit Phil and Iris at Capelle Studio?)