Going ‘beyond accountancy’ to help a business thrive

Mark’s enthusiasm for his work is infectious. Spend half an hour in his company and you’re left in no doubt that he’s built a business by putting people first.

It has paid off. Today Mark Mountney has a chain of three salons – a flagship studio and a men’s salon in Wanstead, plus a boutique-style branch in Loughton. His team has won 5-star status with the Good Salon Guide, the only independent publication dedicated to quality hairdressing standards in the UK. Then there are the awards – dozens from the British Hairdressing Business Awards, Creative Team Competition, Schwarzkopf Young Artistic Team and American Crew.

Mark became a hairdresser straight from school, but decided to strike out on his own when he was 24. He borrowed £3,000 from his parents and the same amount from the bank.

Five accountants in five years

“I thought it would be easy,” Mark smiles. “But it was a real shock getting my head round all the bills – VAT, PAYE and the rest of them. I got through five accountants in my first five years!”

When asked how that happened, Mark says: “To be fair, the first one was good. But he emigrated to Australia, which wasn’t helpful! The others were recommended to me, but they never seemed to have the time or the focus for my business. Things got overlooked and some pretty big mistakes were made.”

Mark was getting to the end of his tether by the time he discovered THP. “I was speaking to my bank manager, who said that lots of his clients had mentioned THP. So I got in touch and haven’t looked back. I’ve been with them for over 10 years, and they do everything for us – payroll, tax returns, VAT and the rest.”

It’s not just the service that Mark values, but the relationship. “What makes THP stand out is the fact they’re contactable, helpful and professional. Claire Dittrich, who takes care of our payroll, is like a best friend. She’s so helpful, especially as our payroll is so complex and changes every month.

“It’s the same with the rest of the team. I worked originally with Mark Boulter, then Kirsty Demeza and now with Tom Lyall. I have a brilliant relationship with all of them. I enjoy the business side of what I do, and I like the way they’re so patient with me. It just works – it’s like a breath of first air.”

Launching a new business during a recession

Mark relies on the THP team for more than compliance work. “When I opened the new salon in Loughton in 2008,” he explains, “THP helped with the finances and advised me where the pitfalls lay. It was tough opening that salon just as the recession kicked in. It was a scary risk taking a different concept to a different market at that time. But THP was brilliant. They really go ‘beyond accountancy!’

Within 18 months, Zoology’s Loughton salon was a roaring success. And there’s little wonder when you learn about the perfectionism that Mark puts into serving his customers and building his teams.

“Recruitment is critical,” Mark insists. “I can interview 50 people before finally finding the right person for our salons. I’m looking for people I warm to, who have character and a good attitude. I don’t want egotists.”

When Mark recruits new employees have a steep hill to climb before he lets them work with customers. “I invest in staff,” he says. “I invest in service and communication, because relationships are at the heart of what we do. This week I’ve got two stylists starting. I want them to really understand what we’re about, what we stand for and what our history is before I give them a single customer.”

Closing for an hour means the business stays on track

Thanks to this approach, Zoology has a really close-knit team and members are keen to learn from each other. “Every Friday we close for an hour”. Mark explains. “It’s a time for the team to talk and share ideas – and make sure we’re doing the best we can. Some people think I’m mad closing on a busy day, but I really do believe that hour is one of the most important for our whole business. It keeps us focused on the customer.”

And the customers themselves? How does Zoology help them look and feel great?

“It’s simple. We give good advice, including free consultations. We help people choose styles that suit their facial type. And we simply won’t do something that’s fundamentally wrong for a person.

“I think that pays off. Many customers simply trust us and say ‘I’ll leave it to you’. And because they love what we do, they go and tell others. Most of the marketing for Zoology happens within the four walls of our salons. People leave us looking good and feeling good, and with complete peace of mind – and in today’s age I think that’s brilliant.”

Visit Zoology’s website

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