Going to the hairdressers can be an uncertain experience. "Our research found people didn't know how long it would take or how much it would cost," says Grant Stapleton, the co-founder of Hue specialist colour salons.

After two years doing due diligence on the hair salon market, Stapleton and Jenny Aitken launched the specialist business in April 2008, with the promise that their colouring treatments would be half the price and take half the time of the upmarket hair salons.

Over three years on, the pricing has risen to meet market expectations. A half head of colour costs $105 and $135 for a full head.

Hue is Aitken's first business - she was a production co-ordinator at New Zealand Doctor, when she was putting the Hue idea together. Years before she had also done beauty therapy at Ballantynes in Christchurch where she learned about a "service ethic".


As an entrepreneur in waiting she sought help from franchise coach David McCulloch, who introduced her to Grant Stapleton, the man behind Bakers Delight in New Zealand.

"Grant has the contacts and experience. He knows an inordinate amount of people," says Aitken.

Before long, they were joined by Steve Smith, currently marketing director at Lion Dairy & Drinks and then national account director at Lion Nathan. Smith owns 4.6 per cent of the parent company and Stapleton and Aitken hold equal shares in the remainder.

They engaged a market research company who did focus groups on brand, price and design.

In the focus groups they learned that many women don't like the way their hair is blow-waved so each Hue store has a hair drying station for customers instead.

Smith, based in Melbourne for Lion Nathan, has told them: "You need to be here." So Stapleton and Aitken are going to Melbourne next month to research taking the business there.

"There's a lot of blood on the ground from New Zealand companies going to Australia," says Stapleton.

Meanwhile, Auckland has four Hue colouring salons, in Takapuna, Mt Eden, Balmoral and Ponsonby, and another two to four are planned next year. The next one will opening in Albany.


The business, which came 25th in the Deloitte Fast 50 2011 awards, has a long-term vision of 100 stores in New Zealand and overseas.

There are 40 full and part-time staff and the Hue business is turning over several million dollars and expects to do "another few million" next year, according to Stapleton. Aitken says a big name in hairdressing has told her, "I wish I'd thought of it."

The businesswoman says Hue was the first salon to have centralised online booking.

This has been followed by an option where customers can go online, prepay and get a significant discount on a treatment.

Aitken has worked hard at creating a different culture from most salons.

"Jenny has done a fantastic job, there is no hierarchy," says Stapleton.

Every person is incentivised in the company. There is now an opportunity for colourists to buy 25 per cent of the store and this will be happening in Albany.

"They don't have to do the administration or the marketing," says Stapleton. "They get to be creative geniuses."