Beauty: Snip and snap

By Janetta Mackay

TV takeover queen has Auckland business in her sights.

Tough as nails telly dominatrix Tabatha Coffey is coming to Auckland to share her secrets of small business success. The Australian star of American reality show Tabatha's Salon Takeover (back on air on TV3 in December), has answered a few Viva questions ahead of her visit for a seminar on Sunday night, showing, even by email, that she doesn't suffer fools lightly.

My laziest queries are dismissed in true-to-television style. "Directional hair, what's that?," she mocks - but as viewers of her TV3 show know, Tabatha is more heart than hardness, just searingly unforgiving of pretentious slackness.

Her catch-cry on marching into underperforming salons is: "I'm tough, I'm talented and I'm taking over." A week of cursing, crying and cleaning later makes all but the most idiot of owners realise that the gift of a makeover at the hands of this experienced stylist and salon operator also requires their commitment to hard work, staff training and good service.

Behind the ball-breaking exterior, her real care for her craft and their staff and customers shines through. Coffey says what you see on screen is what she's like in real life. It's just her story sounds so much larger than life. The script might have been written for television, yet she is that rarity on a reality show - one who does not need The Box to amplify her being.

In five years juggling television work with owning a New Jersey salon called Industrie Hair Gurus and working on a celebrity clientele out of a West Hollywood salon, 42-year-old Coffey has become a gay icon and giver of self-help seminars. Both roles make sense when you know her background. Her primary school years were spent hanging round the Australian transvestite clubs her parents owned, helping with hair and learning the power of transformation. As an adult, she applied this to herself, honing her appearance by losing a lot of weight.

When her parents split, Coffey moved with her mother from Adelaide to Surfers Paradise, starting a hair apprenticeship as a teenager, before heading to London in her 20s to work at Vidal Sassoon and later Toni & Guy. "London was a terrific training ground."

Her first foray into television was in 2007 when she appeared as a contestant on a reality show called Shear Genius "to challenge myself". Although eliminated in the sixth of eight episodes she was voted the viewers' favourite.

"I never knew where it would lead and it ended up leading to amazing things," Coffey tells Viva. She was offered her own cable network show by the makers of America's Next Top Model, Top Chef, and Project Runway, and has since written a revealing best-selling memoir It's Not Really about the Hair: The Honest Truth About Life, Love and the Business of Beauty.

She recently sold her salon to concentrate primarily on the work she loves, which is developing fellow hair professionals. This has included 10 years of travelling internationally as part of an artistic team dispensing training, appearing at shows and working on trend collections for hair company Joico which is hosting her New Zealand and subsequent Australian appearances. Back in her home country next week, she intends catching up with family and friends before returning to New Jersey and her partner of 10 years.

Though the obvious audience for her Auckland seminar is hairdressers, Coffey's message applies to other small and family-owned businesses wanting to lift their game. The fourth series of her show has been renamed Tabatha Takes Over, allowing her to crack the whip well beyond the salon.

Viva: Tough bitch or good actress?

Coffey: I am a BITCH: Brave, Intelligent, Tenacious, Creative and Honest. I don't know how to act. My profession is hairdressing. I'll leave acting to actors.

On TV you say "I'm taking over" but would this interventionist approach work off-screen with a struggling business?

This is a thriving real world business for people called "consultants". In many instances they step in and take control to figure out what is wrong and to right the ship. In essence that is what I do on the show. It is a consultancy boot camp because I only have one week to achieve results.

What is the key message you will be delivering to your Auckland audience?

The message is very similar to my show. Everyone needs to be the best they can be and strive to improve themselves and their business each day, both owners and stylists.

What are you mostly often asked by salon owners?

How to be a good leader, and I think leadership inevitably is by example. An owner needs to stay motivated and keep striving in order to inspire staff to do that.

The new series of your show takes you beyond the salon into other businesses; how are you handling the transition from expert to adviser?

I am a small business expert and adviser. All kinds of small businesses share a remarkable number of similar issues, from leadership skills, to marketing initiatives, to staff morale, to professionalism in their field, to basic customer service.

What in common do salon and other business owners get wrong?

Leading by example, understanding your market, making sure your staff are adhering to the highest professional standard, and making sure the customer is well taken care of. As a consumer, you want to have a great experience in a salon, a bed and breakfast, a coffee shop, any number of environments. And we all know what a bad experience feels like when we are on the receiving end.

What took you to New Jersey?

I headed to the States because my mother was living there at the time and I was ready for the next adventure in my career, which I found in opening my own business.

Is it big hair and flat iron country or are the stereotypes cruel?

Aren't all stereotypes cruel?

Why do we always see you wearing black, is it a favourite look or your TV persona?

It is my look, the Tabatha you see on TV is the Tabatha I am off TV. And it is something many hairdressers adhere to because we hairdressers should not be the stars of the show and wearing black helps us to keep focus on the clients.

What do you consider your career highlights?

I have had many. Meeting Vidal [Sassoon] was an amazing moment and culmination of many years of hard work. Opening my own salon was a huge accomplishment for me.

And lowlights?

I don't think dwelling on the low times helps you to achieve great things. I try to tackle them as they come and keep moving forward.

If you fancied a change from platinum blonde would your contract allow it?

What contract? If I wanted to change I would. I like my hair.

Which celebrity/celebrities would you most like to give a hair makeover?

I don't spend time thinking about celebrities I want to make over. I focus on the clients I have in my chair. And if a celebrity is sitting in my chair then I focus on them - but I don't talk about them in the press.

Those who have read your book would have learned about your colourful early life. The disconnect from a humdrum upbringing seems to have helped shape your career choice and determination, but what about personally?

We all grow and transform through our personal experiences. Life is what it is for each of us and we all learn about who we are and how we react from the things that happen along the way. My journey has been unique and fantastic.

What would viewers be most surprised to know about you?

That I have pink fluffy slippers and a poodle at home - although he isn't teased, he is spoiled rotten!

Win with Viva

Viva has two double passes to give away to Tabatha's Sunday evening seminar in Auckland, courtesy of hair company Joico. Our two winners will also get a $250 Joico care and styling pack, including the new Colour Therapy range and K-Pak Revitaluxe treatment product. The event at SkyCity Theatre begins with drinks and canapes, followed by a 90-minute presentation from 7.30pm and a half-hour Q&A session. Tickets $250 per person. To book, ph 0800 456 426 or go online. To be in the draw, email your name, address and contact phone number to vipviva@nzherald.co.nz with "Joico" in the subject line. Entries close November 11 and winners will be notified by phone.

- NZ Herald

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