Hair salons abound in Beijing, but for the past years, Eric Paris Salon has been a favorite among expats. At the helm of the operation sits CEO Katy Sinnott, who left a career with an international bank to join her husband in Beijing. Now, the working mother balances her home and work life around the clock, and managed to squeeze in some time to tell Agenda how she got started in the hair industry, and how she found balance in her life.
How did you end up in this profession?
In my first job I worked at HSBC, which allowed me to live in about 36 countries and travel a lot. I traveled all around the world – the Middle East, South America, all over Asia, and Europe. It was a great job. I was young and I really enjoyed being chauffeured everywhere. After that I worked as a consultant, and still traveled, albeit not as extensively. The problem with this kind of lifestyle is that it affects your relationship, and my husband was a key factor in bringing me here. He was building his business and career here, and we work well together, so I decided to join his company in 2004. I am very happy now, even if my traveling days are over.
Your husband is your business partner as well; did you meet while living in China?
I did meet him in China. It’s actually quite a romantic story how we met. I had left Hong Kong to come to Beijing. At that time I had come to stay in Beijing for about six months, and was staying with a Chinese family. I wanted to stay local and not get my hair done, or get any sort of beauty treatments. My resolution only lasted three months, and then I went crazy and couldn’t stand it anymore. I had to get my hair done! So I went to Eric’s salon, and that’s how I met him. He cut my hair, and I had never had such good hair in my life. I was amazed at what he had done. A week later we went out, and after that we were inseparable. We’ve been together since 1999, and after that I never left China.
Was it always a dream of yours to work in the hair industry?
Honestly I never thought about joining the hair industry. Growing up I always wanted to be an entrepreneur. I knew I wanted to work for myself, but I just didn’t know in what industry. Being a constant entrepreneur himself, Eric definitely influenced me to get into the hair salon business, and has been my mentor ever since.
Beijing has so many hair and beauty salons, how do you compete?
We never really compete with the Chinese hair salons directly. Our salon is very French and unique, and we just compete with ourselves to try and make ourselves better. We always try to have high quality customer service, keep our customers happy with good-looking hair, carry high-end hair products, and keep our salon looking clean and presentable. The hair industry is so huge and there is definitely room and opportunity for everyone.
How do you explain your success?
Eric, it’s all about Eric. (laughs) He has been here in Beijing since 1996 and pretty much started the first-born salon chain here. He did a lot of events with Loreal and Schwarzkopf, did a lot of networking with them, and helped introduce their products and hairdressing into the Chinese market. Eric is a great hairdresser, and has a background in French hairdressing, which is pretty much known worldwide. Our salon’s great hair cutting skills and high quality customer service is really the reason for our constant success.
Can you describe what is an average day at the salon is like for you?
I spend about 50 percent of my time in the salon, and about 50 percent in the office. Everyday I come into work, I check in with reception, see what kind of appointments there are for the day. I also check to see if there are any dissatisfied customers – I think it’s very important to know what makes them happy or unhappy. Next I go around and talk to all the hairdressers and get their feedback as well. We are always checking to see if we need to add any extra services or provide extra training. So that’s primarily what I focus on – the customer aspect of the job – because I am not a hairdresser. And then lastly, I usually check the salon, to make sure they have enough products on the shelves, that stands are plugged in, and of course talk to all the customers and introduce myself so that they know who I am.
Being a successful businesswoman, how do you find time in your busy schedule to balance work and your family life?
Before I had a child I had no balance in my life at all. None. Period. But that was okay because Eric and I worked together so we got to see each other all the time. And even back when I was a consultant I was working 100-hour workweeks, which was crazy, and now I look back and wonder how I ever managed to do that. But now that I’ve had a child all that has changed. Now I am always home at 6pm, so that I can get dinner ready for my son by 6:30pm, put him to sleep by 8pm, and then later in the evening I do on paperwork. Today I have a totally different mentality than before. Now I make sure to never go out more than one night a week. Before we would go out all the time because it was part of the business. I am much more organized now in my personal life, and a little more organized at work. (laughs) My son has brought a lot of balance to my life, which is really a great thing!
How do you keep your hair looking so fabulous despite being a working mom?
(laughs) Every five minutes I have free I go and do my hair! Actually my son Andreas comes with me to the salon when I do my hair, and he loves it here! He comes to play with everybody; he actually sweeps the floors while I do my hair. He’s our youngest employee here and we give him one kuai a week.
How has your time in Beijing influenced you?
Living here in Beijing has made me more patient, because we all know that doing things in China takes a lot more time. The culture and language here is different from mine, and since my Chinese is not that fluent I try to be careful when talking to my employees. I use a lot of repetition when talking to them, and am always very patient, which I don’t think I was before I came to China.
Where do you go when you need to take a break from the salon?
I actually go to two places. One place is my home. In my previous career, I lived in hotel rooms, so going home for me was like going on a holiday. To play with our son Andreas we love to go to Ritan Park. It’s beautiful, and you can see people doing all sorts of bizarre things there. You see people singing, tap dancing, playing different musical instruments, dancing… my son absolutely loves it! We don’t really go out anymore. Eric and I enjoy baking and cooking at home, and we recently bought our son a play kitchen, so when we’re in the kitchen cooking, he’s on the side playing too.
Article from Agenda, issue 71, Jan 13-Jan 26. To read more from the most recent issue of Agenda, download the PDF here. To find a copy, contact our distribution department at firstname.lastname@example.org with an idea of where you work, live or play and we’ll tell you where you can find one near you.