A stylish route to entrepreneurship

Lewis Thomas, Partners Hair Design, 2010 and 2011 Finalist

For Lewis Thomas, entrepreneurship is a trait he was born with. One of his first memories of wanting to run a business was at the tender age of 12, when he saw an opportunity to earn money by opening and closing a farm gate in Bath, England, for motorists on their way to play golf. Needless to say, it did not take long before he started selling golf balls to the motorists. “If you want to become an entrepreneur, just do it,” Lewis says.

Partners Hair Design comprises of 18 salons strategically positioned in up-market shopping malls in and around Cape Town. The head office and training school is based in Kenilworth, and the newest edition to the group of salons will be opening in 2012 also in Kenilworth but at a separate location – boasting a SETA accreditation. The salons offer the following services: shampoo, cut and blow-dry; colour and highlighting; extensive in-salon hair treatments; and a vast selection of professional retail products and styling tools for home care use. “The company was established in 1984 and, after much thought, I decided that the company was about many people working together, namely, staff, suppliers, customers etc and not just about one entity,” Lewis explains. “Hence the name Partners Hair Design.”

Back in the day

Having started out as a hairdresser when he was 15, Lewis gained as much experience as he possibly could. Fourteen years later, at the age of 29, he opened his first salon. “While I was learning the hairdressing trade, I often found myself feeling uncomfortable about the decisions made by my superiors, several of which I did not agree with,” he shares.

Lewis soon realised that while enjoying the stability of being employed, he should learn as much as possible from his bosses, even though they often made inaccurate decisions. “I would analyse their rationale and often came up with better solutions to the situation at hand. During those years, as a result of me challenging their decisions, I was often left feeling uncomfortable and was made to feel like ‘just a hairdresser’ – nobody important,” Lewis continues. “It was in this uncomfortable and less than ideal space that a seed was born. I knew that one day I would open my own salon, and I made a personal promise that I would never make myself or my staff feel as though they are not important.” According to Lewis, the company’s core differentiating factor can be attributed to its rock solid foundation of education and training, which has been part of their business methodology from the start. He praises his stylists, whom he refers to as “so skilled and of such a high caliber”. “Partners Hair Design only makes use of internally styled visuals that are displayed as branded images throughout our salons.”

Lewis has three children and when he is not busy styling people beautiful, he spends his time with the family, and incessantly attends classes at the ‘University of Life’. “I do not take part in organised sports,” he admits, “but I do spend some time running.”

Although Lewis holds a City and Guilds of London Institute qualification in ladies and gents hairdressing, his most significant achievement at school was achieving immigration papers for South Africa, which he affectionately calls home.