Local Data Company interview with the NHBF
The influence of data in our modern world cannot be underestimated. From big corporations to small businesses, data is used to gain insights into operations, customers, and industry trends. Recently, the Local Data Company interviewed Ricard Lambert, former NHBF CEO, about how the NHBF utilises data. The interview highlighted the significance of data in the hair and beauty industry and showcased the positive outcomes that resulted from the NHBF's use of LDC data.
HOW DO NHBF USE THE DATA FROM LDC?
About eight years ago, we started to produce a report to gather together all the data on the hair and beauty sector from the ONS Population and Labour Market Surveys. That was things like number of the businesses in the sector, number of employee bands, turnover bands, full- and part-time employees, gender split, number of apprenticeships. It was all published and available, but you’d got to really dig through the depths of the government data and the spreadsheets and all the different industries they covered to find it. We thought it would be easier for us to do that research, and package it all together in a simple, straightforward report.
Once we’d done that for a few years, we realised we needed something to give a sense of how the actual number of businesses was changing on the high street. That’s when we came to the Local Data Company because what we wanted was something granular to give us an accurate figure about openings, closings and vacancy rates within the subsectors to really give us that depth of understanding at local level. We added that in as an additional section into our compendium report. It just gives a useful additional picture as to how the sector is changing and evolving over time.
WHAT PROBLEMS DOES THIS SOLVE FOR NHBF?
What we’re really looking at is the way the sector is moving. We’ve seen the steady growth up until the pandemic and then how it’s worked through the pandemic. This is the clearest picture you can get of truth behind the anecdotes. We hear our members telling us “we’re sure that the number of straight hairdressing businesses is declining, but the number of barber shops and nail salons is growing”. This means we’ve got numbers here that show you how that’s happening.
WHAT OUTCOMES HAVE YOU SEEN AS A DIRECT RESULT FROM YOUR USE OF LDC DATA? HOW HAS THIS SUPPORTED YOUR OBJECTIVES?
Our objective, first and foremost, is just to give an accurate data picture. Rather than relying on anecdotes and supposition, we want to try and have numbers to back these things up. So, having the LDC data means that we have that greater insight and, because we commission it, it’s a data set that no one else has.
We will also use it in our representational work. When we’re talking to the government, we try to base everything we have on evidence and data. It’s evidence that we collect, but the government doesn’t have, which enables us to back up what we’re saying to them.
WHAT DO THOSE CONVERSATIONS WITH THE GOVERNMENT CONSIST OF?
What we’re trying to give them is an accurate picture of what the sector looks like and where it is. If you think back to some of the early months of lockdown, the hair and beauty sector was shut down completely and there were a lot of people in the sector really worried about their livelihoods. We were trying to reflect that back to government, but it appeared from the responses that there was a sense within government that the sector was basically a cottage industry, mostly staffed by women, mostly working part-time for pin money. If you look at the data, that is not reflected at all. We were able to go back to government and turn that impression around because we had the data and the evidence to show them this is what it’s like.
In fact, one of the reasons that we got the support we eventually got from government—including being one of the sectors that were allowed to open early after the 2021 lockdown — was because we were able to demonstrate the impact that decision would have, the impact of the sector normally and the impact of lockdowns on the sector.
Now, we’re using it to talk about the cost of doing business crisis, to talk about the importance of the sector in terms of health and wellbeing, to talk about difficulties getting new entrants into business, apprenticeships, and trainees. We’re always saying, here’s a picture of the sector, this is what it looks like, and also because now we’ve got the data over a number of years, we can also point to how things have changed.
IS THERE ANYTHING YOU HAVE SEEN IN OUR RECENT DATA DELIVERIES THAT YOU WEREN'T EXPECTING?
The most surprising is that the top three growing sectors in the first half of the year were barbershops, beauty salons and nail salons. The other thing is the net decline in number of hairdressers over the past couple of years. It was a small decline last year and there’s a very clear trend in this subsequent year.
We’ve not been surprised by the growth of barbershops. I think it’s the speed and scale, and the resilience, of barbershops and nail salons, particularly over those pandemic years.
YOU ALSO RECEIVE AN ETHNICITY ANALYSIS AROUND THE DIFFERENT HAIR AND BEAUTY BUSINESSES IN THE SECTOR. HOW DOES THAT PLAY INTO YOUR WORK?
That was a specific piece of work which we commissioned last year. There are some salon businesses who cater towards particular ethnic groups, but nobody has any idea of the prevalence. There is also the growing concept of an inclusive salon: that whatever your ethnicity, gender, orientation, you should be able to walk into a salon and get the service you want. The reality is that stylists or therapists may say, “I don’t have the experience with your hair type or your skin tone or whatever.” The argument is that salons ought to be inclusive, and it could be better business if they were, but others are saying, “it’s really difficult to achieve that.”
What we wanted to try and do was get a sense of the scale and prevalence of ethnic focus within the sector. We asked the Local Data Company, because we knew you gather data by going shop front to shop front. It’s more complicated than that: you can’t always tell from the shop front or name if a business is tailored towards a particular community, or if it is, but will cater to anyone who comes in. We found that we couldn’t go salon-by-salon, but what your researchers were able to do was use the Census data to identify areas with significant populations of ethnic minorities, and then look at the number of salons in those areas, on the assumption that they will be geared towards the local populations.
This is not a census of those salons. What it is trying to give you is a picture of the concentration of salons where we have particular ethnic densities and then give a sense of how those changes over time. We can see some real interesting movements, because your data goes right down to the postcode level, which means you can think over that period of time and think that those movements correlate with certain things.
WHAT DO YOU VALUE MOST ABOUT YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH LDC?
The real detailed, granular information and the understanding we can get from it, what’s happening in terms of openings and closures and vacancy rates on the physical high street. It gives us a real sense of how all the anecdotal information we get from our members is translating into hard numbers. That’s a real value for us.