• Blondies owner Eliza Showell with a client in her salon (SBS Small Business Secrets)Source: SBS Small Business Secrets
A Sydney-based hair salon owner learned the importance of planning ahead and keeping a cool head when her business was rocked by a powerful storm.
Jessica Washington

SBS Small Business Secrets
4 Apr 2018 - 3:26 PM  UPDATED 10 Apr 2018 - 6:20 PM

For most entrepreneurs, their business is their pride and joy – and seeing their life’s work destroyed before their eyes is something none would ever wish to experience.

But that was exactly what happened to the owner of a small but popular salon in Sydney’s Woollahra, after a storm of unexpected force lashed the state’s east.

Eliza Showell bought Blondies eight years ago, and has been a hairdresser since 1991, attracting a legion of loyal customers from all parts of Sydney.

“We do have a lot of local clients, but we also have clients from surrounding suburbs and areas,” Ms Showell says.

While there’s no questioning her expertise with hair, Ms Showell’s business acumen was put to the test in 2017, as she grappled with the damage the storm had inflicted upon her salon.

“It was torrential rain, there was lightning and thunder. Before we knew it, there was water coming in everywhere,” Ms Showell recalls.

“Everything you need for your day-to-day running was becoming wet – the computer, the EFTPOS machine, product packaging, leather chairs – you just couldn’t stop it.”

It wasn’t just the various tools of the salon that were impaired in the storm – the damage took an emotional toll on the small business owner.

“Because you’re panicked and stressed, I was crying and trying to remain calm, but it broke me after a while. I was quite shocked at my reaction,” Ms Showell says.

“All these things rush through your mind, and it was really scary. Everything you work for, you see it dissolving before your eyes.”

The destruction from the storm was so vast, the damage bill exceeded $30 million, and more than 12,000 insurance claims were lodged.

Ms Showell says she’s one of the lucky ones, and it could have been much worse for Blondies, which was closed for four days following the storm.

“Once the storm has died down, those bills keep coming, you’ve got to think about utility bills, wages, rent… you’re still going to have those ongoing operating costs,” Ms Showell says.

“We had business interruption insurance, so we were covered for the first time with the initial storm, and when they had to come back to fix the ceiling.”

After the storm came a period of calm for the business, and for the team at Blondies, it’s business as usual – allowing Ms Showell to focus on improving the experience for clients and staff alike.

“Products are becoming more natural, all our shampoos are paraben and sulphate-free,” says Ms Showell.

“We like to use ammonia-free hair colouring, and there are no nasties in our products.”

The business is also involved with a group that recycles 95 per cent of salon waste.

The care she puts into optimising customer experience was rewarded in the aftermath of the storm, when she came to appreciate her customers' devotion to her salon.

“When we re-opened, it was a very happy occasion, the clients were so lovely, and I could just cry thinking about it because that is what got us through as well,” Ms Showell says.

“You realise how important community support is for a business, it was really touching.”

Watch this story at the top of the page, or catch the full episode on SBS On Demand.