Make me a Tonik Suite J!

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By Gabrielle Harkins

Some people ‘have it’ and some don’t. If you were to look at the statistics of self start up businesses in Australia and compare the number that fail to the number that succeed, one would almost shy away from brewing ideas that may be rolling around in one’s head. Here’s a success story that deals with heads all day.

One day, a young man just over the age of 20, put all his eggs in one basket and purchased a hair salon in the Woolworths arcade of Acland St named Tonik. He spent all his hours giving each customer the best service he could offer, always looking for ways to improve the service, staff and salon to allow for an experience that his customers wouldn’t forget so they would return week in and week out. And they did! Week in and week out, the salon would be brimming with loyal customers as well as new customers, all receiving the personal touch that is afforded to them when visiting the salon. That ‘silver service’ has continued throughout time and brought us to 20 years later, when the anniversary of Tonik (now known as Suite J) arrives this year in April.

Over the 20 years, there have been some interesting times around Tonik-Suite J. St Kilda moved from being a major police haunt due to high crime and drug issues to a ‘bohemian playground’ for travellers and alternates to the strong family community it boasts today. There was change in trade throughout Acland St too, from cake shops and functional businesses to what we see now in fashion chain stores and restaurants, and the recent rent hikes which saw so many businesses’ close down and only the strong survive. Yet, through it all, this independent, local hair salon run by a local has kept its cogs turning year after year. I had to ask the owner, Jae Teasdale, what the secret to this kind of lengthy success is. Jae replied “Long hours and a passion for hairdressing and the fact that St Kilda is never boring, so it has never become boring for me. A loyal clientele, a loyal team who are dedicated, hardworking hairdressers and not afraid of hard work are a big part of what keeps Suite J going. It’s difficult to call it work when you love what you do!”

I also wanted to know what had been his greatest challenges throughout the last 20 years. He laughed as he said “well originally I bought the salon with a business partner. It worked for the first few years but as time went on, she tired of the demands running a business can bring. On the 2nd day of my first holiday in years, I received a phone call from her telling me she had closed the salon down, sacked all our staff, terminated the lease and vacated the building. I returned immediately to find a ‘for lease’ sign on the door so I started up the business again on my own, re-hired staff and restocked the shelves. That was a very, very hard time for me”.

Another challenge was the damage the salon sustained during the storms of 2012. The building next door was being renovated and apartments were being erected above. During strong winds, a retaining wall collapsed and came through the roof of the salon. Jae and his staff found temporary space at a nearby salon whilst repairs were completed. It was then that Jae decided to re-name the salon. Suite J was introduced to St Kilda in the same building, but with a fresh new look and feel that represented Jae’s vision of ‘bringing sexy back’. Sleek walls, floors, mirrors and comfy leather chairs were the key ingredients of the salon’s makeover.

Of course Jae is right. The only way to make sure you have happy customers is to give them the service you would like to have yourself. Speaking from personal experience, it is always a pleasure to arrive at Suite J for my appointment. The coffee machine is on, the eclectic music plays and the team are always happy to have a chat or arrange the latest issue of Vogue to be placed in front of you should you need some ‘time out’. Jae and Salon Manager Julie Hanley, who has worked with Jae for over ten years, have taken the time to get to know each customer and ensure their experience is exactly as it should be. It’s always complete indulgence, in a setting that is so comfortable and where nobody feels like a stranger.

Congratulations Jae, for 20 years of continuously setting the highest standard in everything that you do… and here’s to another 20!

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