The lengths it takes to build an e-commerce brand: Amy Filippaios of SimplyHair

In 2013, Amy Filippaios started SimplyHair, an online specialist hair extension and salon supplies wholesaler, by storing stock in a cupboard at her office at the University of Kent. An experienced hairstylist with a grounding in marketing, digital and customer experience, Amy set out to improve the service that independent stylists and salon owners received from wholesalers and also deliver commercial advice to help develop their businesses. The approach has driven SimplyHair’s own business success with a growing team of digital and hair professionals and a newly expanded warehouse and office space in Canterbury, Kent.

Thanks to Amy for taking time out of her busy day to answer the Prowess ‘How you did it’ Q&A.

Tell us about your background

You often hear how entrepreneurs got their first taste of business young, by selling sweets to their schoolmates or car washing at the weekends, but this wasn’t the case for me. Rather than possessing the typical entrepreneurial personality traits, I describe myself as a sociable introvert. On the outside I come across as confident and sociable, however, after long periods of being around others, I definitely seek solace to recharge and regroup.

I have always been driven, particularly by academic achievement, but that came from a type of survival instinct rather than an enterprising instinct. Throughout my turbulent childhood, academic achievements gave me a sense of worth and purpose and propelled me to university. Unfortunately, I graduated during a recession with few job prospects and took a role with limited progression opportunities. Craving control over my career led me to start working for myself in my spare time.

Tell us about the business and why you started it?

I’ve always had an interest in hairdressing and took evening and weekend classes to teach myself how to fit hair extensions, cut and style hair, so that I could run my own business at the weekends.

I really enjoyed the process of setting up my business and before long I was so busy that I was able to quit my job and work for myself full time. I worked as a mobile hair extension technician for two years but when I consistently filled my appointments, I felt I had reached the limits of business growth and looked for further career opportunities.

Having worked in a few customer service roles in my teens, I always felt that the service I received from suppliers could be a lot better. I also sourced my own products and knew that there were hair extension technicians out there who would benefit from the quality product I had. Driven to offer quality products and services I decided to set up SimplyHair. As we grew, we took on a customer service member of staff, then another, then another, and today I am super proud of the team I have around me, helping to grow the business further.

What are your values and what role do they play in the business?

Our customers have always been at the heart of our business and we were founded on good customer service. This doesn’t end at making sure they get quality products on time at a good price. Supporting them to run their own successful business is integral to our own success, so we also help them to grow with access to specialist resources and advice.

From a personal perspective, I’m focused on making my children proud and building something they will be proud of. I would love to grow a business that they may one day want to run themselves, or that inspires them to achieve their own goals, whatever they may be.

What are the high points?

We have experienced so many high points in our SimplyHair journey so far. Employing additional team members and moving into bigger offices were particularly proud achievements for us. It’s exciting to see how far we’ve come from storing stock in a cupboard, to taking over two warehouses.

Working with Dancing On Ice was also a very proud moment for us. Going to the live shows to represent the business we had built and seeing our products worn by celebrities was something I could have only dreamed about when we first launched.

What were the toughest challenges and how did you get over them?

Any business owner will tell you that there are lots of challenges that come with running a business, but there have been two stand-out moments. The first was the birth of my children. SimplyHair was only four years old when I had my first child. The shift from being able to work 24/7, to being at home with a baby, sleep-deprived and suffering from postnatal depression took a huge toll on the business. I then quickly fell pregnant again, so my maternity leave lasted 18 months before I returned part-time. Learning to trust my team to manage without me was a valuable lesson but a bitter pill to swallow.

The second huge challenge has been Covid-19. Running a business that predominantly services hairdressers, who were forced to shut throughout the two lockdowns, put a lot of pressure on us. It has meant furloughing staff, refocusing and prioritising projects, and ensuring the business can survive these very difficult times. I am very proud of how the team has adjusted and the work we have continued to be able to do. This is especially true of our free business masterclass, which was launched during the second lockdown for free, to help inspire and re-energise professionals in the hair industry.

Money – if you needed funding for start-up or to grow, where did you get it from and how was the process?

SimplyHair was started on a very small budget. My boyfriend (now husband) and I had a little bit of money in savings and the bank gave us a very small business overdraft. We also had a family friend who kindly lent us a small sum of money which we paid back with interest, in order to buy our first order of stock. It was a tiny order and we could fit the entire stock on one shelf in a cupboard, but it was enough to get our feet off the ground.

We reinvested the profits back into the business and did not take a penny for many years to focus on growth. This approach ensured we did not over-invest in a business until we knew it was working.

Marketing – tell us about a marketing tactic that works really well for your business? What are your main sales channels?

Our website is where the majority of our sales come from, therefore a lot of our marketing focuses on driving traffic to our website. We predominantly use Facebook and Instagram ads and provide stylists and salon owners with new and interesting content that will help them and their business.

Technology – how does technology fit into the business?

As an e-commerce business, digital technology is fundamental. Our website must run well, load quickly and that is user-friendly. We continuously invest time and funds in technology to improve the experience for our customers.

Earlier this year we introduced Personal Assistant, which is designed to help our customers manage their client orders and to save them time. Customers can assign their clients’ names to each of the items they order, and the warehouse team can pack and label them; making it easier for our customers to sort their deliveries according to each client appointment. It also allows our customers to maintain digital records for each client and quickly re-order the right products. We’ve had such a positive response, which is something we are hugely proud of.

Where do you get support from?

I definitely lean on my husband and friends for emotional support. I have never been fortunate enough to receive support from my direct family, but I think it’s important to recognise that you need to have people around you when running a business, but this doesn’t have to be a traditional support network. This could be friends, business networking, online communities, there are lots of like-minded people out there, you just need to find them.

They don’t realise it now as they are so little, but I also get a lot of my support from my children. They are only two and three years old, however when I have had a tough day, coming home and snuggling up with them on the sofa or watching them play, helps me to remember what is important to me. Spending time with them fulfills me more now than any academic and business achievement.

Who has inspired you and why?

This is such a tough question, as I think we are inspired by lots of different things for different reasons.  While there hasn’t been any one person that has had a profound impact on my entrepreneurial aspirations, there have certainly been moments in my life that have had a lasting impact. In my twenties, I read Dr Karyl McBride’s Will I Ever Be Good Enough?, which had a significant impact on my life. It helped me to understand a lot about my upbringing, and why I am the way I am, and I would genuinely say that this book changed my life.

Watching my children grow inspires me to continue working on myself, so that I can be the best mother possible for them, as well as the best version of myself for my business and staff.