How SMS saved Irish hair salons

Just last year, Phorest Software raised €20m from US investment firm Susquehanna Growth Equity (SGE). Here, founder of the company, Ronan Perceval, discusses his growing business with Barry Walsh.

How did you come about starting Phorest Software?

I was working at a friend’s business in my twenties, managing their reception duties when I realised they had a high level of no-show appointments. It was costing the business a fortune.

Back then, there was no system to send reminder messages or emails – we actually sent the very first appointment reminder SMS in the industry. This completely changed the business and word was getting around to the extent that people were calling to ask about what we were doing. When Ireland’s economy crashed, the salon was really feeling the pressure of fixed wages costs and all the other overheads. This was well before smartphones, but we realised we could use mobile phone records we had to send out a promotion by SMS. The phone rang non-stop for three days – we were booked out and had to extend the promotion into the next month to accommodate demand. It was incredible!

We then developed a basic software program which would allow us to send messages as well as create a basic appointment book and again, other salons were hearing about it and asking us how they could buy it. They were buying it for the marketing capability, not the appointment book. It didn’t even have a point of sale function at that stage, but salon owners were lining up to get it.

How does the software work?

Phorest is a software for salons that helps them run their business on one hand (appointments, CRM, stock control etc.) and grow their business on the other hand (email and SMS marketing tools, loyalty system, branded apps, online reputation etc.). Our USP against other salon software is that we offer the best and most complete marketing tools available in the industry. It’s in our DNA and we really believe we’re the best at it.

“We actually sent the very first appointment reminder SMS in the industry”

What was the most challenging thing about starting the business? Is there anything you would do differently looking back?

At the very beginning, everything is challenging. Finding customers when you have no track record, convincing good people to join your team when you have no track record, getting finance from the bank when you have no track record… you get the idea. Although we had many ups and downs over the years, and made so many mistakes, I wouldn’t necessarily do anything differently because we needed to make those mistakes in order to learn how to be better. My only advice would be if you are going to start a business, do it right away and don’t put it off.

Who is your target market?

Our target market is essentially anyone that owns and runs a salon business. That’s primarily in hair, beauty and aesthetics. These are often busy owner-managers who do not have a lot of time to give to business meetings and decision making so we try to make the process as frictionless as possible. They’re also aesthetically driven, hands-on people, so getting to see and try the product is a must.

“At the very beginning, everything is challenging”

Between blogs, podcasts and events, what do you find works best?

There are marketing techniques that work best to get straight to a sale and there are others that help build our brand. Our podcast has been a runaway success, because our industry was hungry for a place to share experiences and we felt like we were in a good place to facilitate that. It’s on a massive growth trajectory and is very well received – it also shows our target market that we care about their daily struggles and want to help them achieve their best.

Another huge success for us is our flagship event that takes place in January each year, the Salon Owners Summit. Over 600 salon owners from around the world travel to hear from our inspirational speakers and network with likeminded people – it’s a real day of inspiration and education. It might sound a bit cheesy, but connecting with our audience and being authentic in our values has really been the most successful route for us.

Have you won any awards?

We have been named in the Deloitte Fast 50 for last five years.

“History shows that in times of economic uncertainty, feel good services can really thrive, so it’s certainly not doom and gloom for the salon industry”

Tell us about your staff

We currently have about 200 people. We have been growing our team by between 30-40pc each year for the last while. We have plans to double our client base over the next three years, and our team will naturally grow to support that. Some of that growth will be in Dublin but a lot more will be internationally as we add new markets.

Has Brexit impacted you when selling to your international customers?

The UK is in a state of uncertainty and nobody really knows what impact Brexit will have. We’re lucky for a few reasons; as a global company, we are not reliant on the UK market. We have a great Irish business, new and thriving US and Australian businesses as well as a German office and a small team in Finland. Secondly, history shows that in times of economic uncertainty, feel good services can really thrive, so it’s certainly not doom and gloom for the salon industry.

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Interview by Barry Walsh

Published: 4 October, 2019