On the up · 25 July 2018

How Duck and Dry founder disrupted London’s blow dry bars and built a celebrity clientele

Rormstrom has stores in Chelsea, Soho and Oxford Circus

Yulia Rorstrom was initially an outsider to the beauty industry. In four years, she has single-handedly built a network of glamorous hangout spots dotted around Zone 1.

Rorstrom was inspired to launch Duck and Dry after a trip across the pond where she fell in love with the US blow dry movement. After identifying the gap in the UK market, Rorstrom decided she wanted to bring the blow dry buzz to London.

Business Advice visited Rorstrom at her Kings Road store in West London as part of our Women in Micro Business series to find out why a new business model isn’t the key to all entrepreneurial success, and why she doesn’t need to pay for influencer marketing.

Rorstrom said: “Very often people think that starting your business is coming unique never seen before idea. It doesn’t always have to be brand new, it can be something already out there which you can improve on,” Rorstrom told Business Advice.

She brought fun, music and prosecco to London’s blow drying scene, in comparison to the “hole-in-the-wall” type of establishments which were the only other alternative.

Commenting on why Duck and Dry stands out from the bog standard, Rorstrom said: “It’s pretty, it’s buzzy, its social. We have group tables, a prosecco bar, we encourage you to bring friends and spend time here.

“Instead of meeting somebody for a drink before dinner, why not come for a glass of prosecco and a blow dry?”

Celebrity regulars

Open long hours, Duck and Dry caters for a wide demographic of customers, from early morning professionals to mums who need a break in the afternoon, to girls going on their evening dates.

In the midst of this are influential socialites and bloggers. Although Rorstrom thinks it’s important not to pay for their service, she is proud to say she has grown her relationships organically and describes her partnerships with influencers as “collaborative”.

On the importance of relationships with influencers, Rorstrom said: “I think it’s a way of communicating with your consumer and spreading words and building brand awareness. But I think it’s important to build relationships with those people, not just a free post for a free blow dry.

“That’s not how it works, we pick people that like us and support us from the brand perspective, then we create content together.

“It needs to be collaborative effort – we don’t pay for blogs or appearances. Many have been or are still our clients.”

“We don’t pay for advertising or blogger reviews or anything like that, so it’s nice to know we capture the audience without having to do that.”

Made in Chelsea’s Binky Felstead and pop star Pixie Lott are amongthe many London-based fashion icons who often visit Duck and Dry.

Four years on from opening her first store on Kings Road, Rorstrom thinks it’s still paramount to oversee operations on a daily basis.

“Over time I’ve definitely eased off and it’s refreshing, because if you want to grow then you have to delegate. There is no two ways about, otherwise you drive yourself crazy and won’t grow enough” she added.

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The main challenge for this founder was launching both of her biggest stores whilst finding during her pregnancy.

“As a woman raising a family and running a business is a challenge but it’s doable, and I have an amazing support network around me.

“I’m fortunate that I can feel comfortable going to work Monday to Friday without the inside nagging.”

Rorstrom believes for female business owners it’s the juggling of work, family, social, and personal time which is the most difficult part of being a mother and business owner.

Although she thinks it is fantastic that women are given more opportunities nowadays, she feels the expectations for working women have soared.

“We are still expected to raise a family, by and large, maintain a home and maintain some sort of social life, whilst doing yoga and juicing. It’s a lot to pack in.”

“Women have more expectations than ever, which is great but it does increase the pressure that you are expected to go to the latest play, a 5am spinning class, look great, work hard, pay towards the family bills and then maintain the family home.”

To keep in check with her busy schedule, Rorstrom writes all of her notes down on paper. “It’s very old school but I work constantly on to do lists. It’s not terribly advanced, but ticking them off it feels so good! It’s not the same on your iPhone. I give the rest of my team to-do lists too.”

Quality staff and unique experiences

Rorstrom also admits that she misjudged the recruitment process and spoke of the difficulties in building a strong hub of quality employees.

After spending weeks on choosing which leather for her lookbook cover – which she jokes was the “important stuff” – she underestimated the effort it takes to manage people.

Rorstrom said: “Firstly it’s important to build a team you can rely on. It’s wonderful when the team is all there, but it takes time and getting there is tricky.”

“It’s not a straightforward process, it’s difficult to find people as motivated and excited as you are.”

One aspect of Duck and Dry that makes the salons stand out from the rest are the inside prosecco bars and DJ nights.

Customers are offered flutes of the fizzy stuff whilst having their curls tousled. Not only does this add a quirk for the customer experience, it has also opened the door for business partnerships.

Duck and Dry have partnered with London bars such Mahiki and Brats, which come in and make bespoke cocktails for Duck and Dry’s clients.

More recently, Duck and Dry partnered with new rum brand Koko Kanu, which made petal cocktails during the Chelsea Flower Show.

On brand collaboration, Rorstrom said: “Originally I started doing it from a selfish perspective as it gives you access to other founders and businesses.

“But we learnt it really helps us, as it adds another experience for our clients.”

The best advice Rorstrom could give to other budding entrepreneurs is to keep the costs lean in the beginning and to only spend when you must.

Despite not having any major muck-ups, she urged business owners to think carefully about the operational side of business.

“When you start out you think of business model and look and feel of your brand, but I didn’t ask myself what it would looks like on day to day basis.

The entrepreneur also wishes she had met already established business owners to find out their pain points, in the hope she could have avoided some of Duck and Dry’s blips.

When asked what top tips she has for women in business, Rorstrom adamantly said women shouldn’t choose between family life and business.

“Go and have a family and go and start a business and don’t let one stop the other. Once you’re in it only one way out. Women shouldn’t be scared and shouldn’t have to choose between the two.”

“I think as long as you have a support network around you, whether its family or means for a many or business which allows flexibility. I certainly wouldn’t want to compromise on either, because they’re so special to me cos they form who I am now. It’s busy but it’s absolutely doable.”

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ABOUT THE EXPERT

Carly Hacon is a reporter for Business Advice. She has a BA in journalism from Kingston University, and has previously worked as a features editor for a local newspaper.

Business development