Monday, June 22, 2009

Making people feel good

Amy O'Connell's new business venture, The Powder Room, is something of a coming home. Because the premises where she has set up her new beauty salon is where her grandparents lived and also ran a very popular sweetshop back in the 1950s.


The sweetshop was strategically placed, directly opposite the cinema. There was always a rush to it during the interval between the 'short' and the main feature.

For its new purpose, the location is still strategic. Beside Fallons Cafe Bar, across from Ruby Shoes and not far from Paul's restaurant. Just down the hill from the Bridal Boutique and a cluster of other fashion shops in Kilcullen. The Powder Room won't be overlooked by their customers.

For a man, there's a mystique about a beauty salon. Secrets, strange words, exotic techniques. So this writer will just run them off without attempting explanation. If you use them, you'll know. Facials by Decleor. Aromaplasty. Liss Age. Swedish body massage. Waxing (ouch!). Electrolysis. Lash and Eye Treatments. Nail Care, make-up, spray and instant tan. Gel nails.

Hold on, though. There's a list of 'Mens Treatments' too. Including eyebrow care, manicure and facials. And wax for back or chest (ouch again!)

"It is mainly a women's thing," says Amy. "But over the last decade, men have been getting more into grooming and looking after themselves too. So about five percent of clients in salons and spas are men."

Amy spent five years working as a flight attendant before deciding that she wanted to get her feet on the ground again. She considered nursing, and spend some time working in a hospice before deciding that, though she liked it, it wasn't to be a career choice.

"I liked people, and I liked making people feel good, so I went and qualified as a beautician," she says. "I got a job at Killashee Hotel Spa when it was starting up, and that gave me a very good grounding not just in working in the business, but what was involved in getting a new place off the ground."

Although, she adds with a grin, on a much different scale than her own new enterprise.

Amy went on to work at Marrons Beauty Clinic in Clane, where she spent more than three years before deciding to set up on her own back in her home town.

“I absolutely loved it there and when I left it was on a good note -- they came down to wish me well when I opened.”


Her grandparents wouldn't recognise their home today, but would probably be well pleased at the transformation. The 'sweetshop' is now the Powder Room reception area, and the rest of the house incorporates three general treatment rooms, a pedicure room, a sunbed room and a room for spray tanning.

That last is taking over from the sunbed treatments which have been popular for decades, and Amy offers three different systems because everybody’s skin is different.

Amy emphasises that beauty treatments are not all about vanity, but about helping people feel good about themselves. “A lot of it is maintenance, so to speak. But there’s also an element of coming in for half an hour, or an hour, when they haven’t kids around, nobody annoying them. You could say it is a bit of an oasis.”

It is a very personal business, Amy says, and one where people need to have somebody they can trust, and not be afraid to ask questions. “I think the secret of success in this business is to give people your time, listen to them, don’t rush them in and out, and that’s how I plan to run The Power Room.”

Although her client base will be in part built up from her network of friends, many of them in Dublin, Amy reckons Kilcullen and its hinterland is now big enough to provide a good business base.

Even in a recession, though? “Well, people don’t stop looking after themselves. Maybe they extend the times between visits, which has happened in the hairdressing business, but we all budget and balance to give ourselves whatever we can afford of the good things.”

And in tough times, a little bit of pampering can do a lot to lift the gloom.

Brian Byrne.

(This article appeared on the Kilcullen Page of last week's Kildare Nationalist.)