Affinity Salons, established in 1992 by Vishal Sharma, is the leading chain of unisex salons located in the Delhi/NCR region, Punjab and Mumbai. The reputed salon chain has recently celebrated 25 years of delivering international standards of hair care and beauty treatments to both male and female clientele. It is currently present in 79 locations and that number continues to grow everyday.
As you walk into the head office of Affinity Salons in Green Park, you are immediately struck by the understated sophistication of the space. Exposed brick walls, contemporary cubicle stylings and the warm glow of the overhead light fixtures mirror the distinctly upscale interiors of their numerous salons. We are here to meet the man himself. Founder and CEO of Affinity, Mr. Vishal Sharma.
While we wait in the boardroom, we get glimpses into the mind behind it all. The walls are peppered with quotes that serve as motivation for his staff. Even the coffee mug on the board room table bears the phrase “TEAMWORK The fuel that allows common people to attain uncommon results.” Clearly, we were dealing with a man who believes in inspiration.
My first question was standard but aimed at getting to the foundations of Affinity.
Me: Why Salons?
Vishal: *Chuckles and gestures to the wall behind him* This is all you need to know.
An ornately framed passage behind him reads: “This is the story of a 21-year-old boy who started a small salon with four chairs from the garage of his home, with nothing but an inner desire to fulfill his entrepreneurial quest to create a brand of his own… His mantra: create a united team of exceptional talent that can deliver extraordinary hospitality to every guest who walked into his salon.”
We began with just four chairs and six employees in a 220-sq.ft. area. Twenty-five years later, Affinity is present in over 70 locations and has a staff strength of 1600.
When I entered the business, I knew I wanted to turn this industry around. There was no organized player in the market and the overall quality of service was low. My aim was to change all of that.
Me: So, what were some of the challenges you faced when setting up your first salon?
Vishal: Well, twenty-five years ago when I went home and told my folks about my idea. They were floored. I believe their response was “Are you crazy? You want to start a barbershop?” I simply replied. “Yes, I do.”
I started with an initial capital of less than 2,00,000. I was very particular about the aesthetic of the salon and the level of service I would offer. I hired an in-house team to design the interiors and trained my hairdressers with the best in the business such as Vidal Sasson and Toni and Guy.
Me: How was your initial response?
Vishal: The initial feedback was overwhelmingly good. People enjoyed the look and feel of the salon and we began building a loyal clientele. I am extremely privileged to have such a great client base. I began expanding gradually but I never dreamed of the scale that I would be able to eventually achieve. God has been kind. I would just say that the gamble paid off well for us.
Me: Why do you think people come back to Affinity?
Vishal: In my opinion, there are many reasons. First and foremost, it’s not just about a haircut or a shave. It is very simple. Customers come here for the full experience. If they enjoy the experience you provide, they will most definitely come back to you. That is one of the reasons the Bombay Shave Experience that we offer has received excellent feedback. Customers enjoy the immersive experience of the shave and the numbers speak for themselves. If we do 10 shaves a day at the salon 9 of them are using Bombay Shaving Company products.
Secondly, customers love the vibe of the salon itself. We were one of the first salon chains to pay this much attention to interior design.
Lastly, you know the old saying that your barber and your tailor are two people that are extremely difficult to replace? There is a certain level of mental satisfaction that the customers derive from going to the same person for their grooming needs. I myself, schedule an appointment with my favourite barber at one of my salons every 3-4 weeks for my haircut.
Me: What is your vision for the future of Affinity?
Vishal: Besides nationwide expansion plans, we are looking to address one of the biggest problems facing the industry. Education. There are very few academies that offer quality training and education the next generation of aspiring hairdressers and grooming experts. Affinity is looking to partner with some of the top academies in the world to bring international levels of training to India.
Before we ended our conversation, we asked him to be completely honest with our last question.
Me: What do you think of the Bombay Shave experience?
Vishal: *Chuckles again* Believe me, I wouldn’t have wasted my time with you if your products and the overall experience you offered wasn’t up to my standards. You offer something unique and as we grow we like to help good ideas grow with us.
Once again, he draws out attention to the wall behind him. The framed plaque reads: “No matter how GOOD you are, you will always miss some DETAILS. Partner with people who see what you don’t.”