Continuing our series of profiles of women of colour making their mark in business and across industry. Meet Sandra Brown-Pinnock
Sandra is the founder of Xsandy’s Hair & Beauty, the only African-Caribbean owned hair and beauty store in South East London. Xsandy’s sells quality hair and beauty products and supplies (wholesale and retail), and manufactures their own brand of premium hair extensions. Sandra has been in the hair business since 2008 as a hair manufacturer and distributor, but officially opened her hair store business in June 2015.
What drove you to start your own business?
I entered the hair industry as a hair manufacturer supplying premium quality hair extensions (also called Xsandy’s) to several well-known afro hair high street retailers. I later became increasingly frustrated by the lack of adequate knowledge and second-rate customer service that was (and still is) commonplace in afro hair and beauty shops.
As a consumer, I noticed that many other women (primarily of African and Caribbean decent) were not receiving the information and advice needed when shopping for hair and haircare products. It was clear to me that there was an obvious gap in the market for an efficient customer service- it seemed ridiculous to me that despite black women reportedly spending millions of pounds within a very lucrative industry, we were being short changed on service. I became passionate about wanting to change the way things were.
What was your career path prior to starting your business?
After working for over 15 years as a Psychiatric Nurse within the public sector, I resigned and my husband and I sold our house to set up a social care home. Soon after I was encouraged to enter the hair market and actually opened a hair salon in Streatham in 2006.
Tell us about the business planning stage
I wrote a business plan, but I didn’t stick to it. When we initially wrote a business plan, we thought it would be difficult to achieve, but the vision that I have now, is much greater than before. If I was to write it again, I would look at the bigger picture.
How far ahead do you plan and what keeps you on track and motivated?
A year or two ahead of anything new that I plan to start.
Can you describe a typical working day?
I wake up at approximately 6 am every day and the first thing I routinely do is pray and give thanks to God. I look at my to-do list, then prioritise my list of calls followed by meetings and other things for the day.
No day is the same, especially in the hair industry – there are no mundane days, especially in the stores. There’s always the opportunity of meeting lots of new people and people calling to show support and encouragement – there’s never a dull moment.
What has been the most amazing day in your entrepreneurial life so far?
Opening our second store in Peckham (South East London). The turnout was great, it was buzzing and I just felt so happy and proud of myself and the community for their support.
What has been your scariest moment?
A few years back, I had to use another manufacturer as we were waiting for raw materials (hair) that did not arrive on time. I visited China, got samples sent and was very happy so invested £75k. Turns out what was sent in the end was actually synthetic hair. I thought I was going to lose £75k just like that, despite doing my due diligence. We ended up taking the manufacturers to court, it took four whole years, but we succeeded!
How do you work on making your business grow?
I invest in marketing and PR – it’s important for any business to market themselves and remain consistently visible and engaged with its target audience.
I work with my marketing manager to devise various strategies across the marketing mix online and offline. I also proactively network and attend events which allow me to meet more people within the industry. I believe it’s important to keep abreast of changes within the industry – otherwise, it can be detrimental – e.g. Woolworths is a prime example of what happens when you are not watching in the market.
What is the best thing about being your own boss?
The best thing has to be not having to answer to anyone – I’ve always liked to do things differently and running a business allows me to create ideas and bring them to fruition, on my own terms
What are the challenges of working for yourself and how do you tackle this?
The biggest challenge is having to wear multiple hats and not having enough hours in a day! As a small business owner, you have to know what is happening in all areas of your business. Another major challenge is human resources – managing and recruiting team members is an ongoing battle.
Who do you admire or look to for inspiration as a business owner?
I admire other courageous business women (and men) who believe in themselves enough to go for what they want. I’m particularly inspired by the entrepreneurs in the hair industry who are starting their businesses and creating a space of ownership.
What piece of advice has had the most impact on your business? And who was it from?
A market is crowded because it’s lucrative – that is why the hair market is so busy. If a market is crowded it’s because there is money being made – I read this from Richard Branson. It’s not a case of being fearful of the competition, but instead, you must be innovative in your approach, just like the Virgin brand.
What three books, websites or resources (professional or personal) would you recommend to other business owners?
I read my Bible daily for guidance and inspiration in business and life in general. At my church I also run leadership programme and I feel that the lessons translate well into business too. I also like:
Richard Branson’s autobiography.
Warren Buffet ‘s Ground Rules
What other passions do you have away from your business? How do you relax?
I’m an active member of my church, and enjoy participating in activities and events within our congregation, which is more like my extended family.
My husband and I are also into keeping fit and so maintain a healthy and balanced lifestyle by regularly working out together. Food is very important and we focus on cleansing body soul and mind. Every week we make sure we go out together to eat a meal at a nice restaurant and watch old movies.
I love to travel too and hope to take a nice holiday or two somewhere relaxing this year – business and time permitting!
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