Native Magazine | For the Creators of Tomorrow | Celebrating Global Subculture

Interview: Natalie Johnson

As we build up to Christmas we continue our focus on the incredible people of Coventry. We caught up with the founder of Rock n Roller Parlour, Natalie Johnson and nattered about Ruby (her converted caravan), business plans and the future of Coventry.

As the owner of Rock N Roller Parlour can you give us a brief history on your career to date?
I initially left school wanting to be famous – standard teenage outlook! I went to university in London and studied Music and Events Management but that didn’t work out. I then travelled the world for a year and decided to change my career path at the grand old age of 25. I’ve since been a hair stylist and worked in various city centre salons which gave me the skills I needed and the drive to open up my own little place!

Your salon is a converted caravan named Ruby, how did that happen?
I’ve always adored vintage cars – my first car was a 1974 Beetle and my parents have a ’75 VW camper. Originally I had wanted to convert that into a mobile salon but my 5ft11′ height dictated otherwise! Not practical!  The alternative was a lightweight caravan which is what we have today. My amazingly talented Dad and I spent the best part of a year stripping it back to its shell entirely and secretly converting it into the beautiful tailor-made Ruby that we have today!

We hear great things about your salon, what are your immediate and/or long-term plans for the business?
Thank you very much! Immediate plans consist of mainly building on the business as it’s still very early days and maintaining the identity of the salon. Long term is a bit of a blur for now – initially we had talked of having a larger caravan for extra staff, however I can definitely see myself owning a salon unit in the future… with Ruby inside of course as the main feature!

We imagine maintaining the small, independent nature of your business is essential but difficult due to the nature of growth and future opportunities to expand?
It can be difficult if you allow it to be, I think. So long as you stick to your business concept and stay true to the business’s nature then I think you automatically maintain your independent nature as you grow. There are many different ways to grow too. For example, I wouldn’t want to have franchises dotted all over the UK as the novelty and charm of the whole idea would be lost. I’d like to be able to tour around and offer my wedding hair services as a mobile concept, but the insurance companies have limited me to being located in just the one spot. So in that respect, the opportunity to grow has been limited by factors that are outside of my control…. for now anyway!

As an experienced hairdresser, if there’s anyone out there looking to enter your industry what would you advise them to do?
Find your niche and stick to it! For example, I specialise in creative colouring, balayage and bridal hair. Get into a commercial salon as soon as you can that can offer ongoing training and support that will encourage you to grow. Also.. follow trends closely as the public are very fast moving with what they do and don’t like. If you don’t keep up, your business will suffer.

And what would you advise against?
DON’T BLEND IN! Your image reflects your hairdressing, so if you look good, you’ll naturally become busier as you’re intriguing to look at. Also don’t just stick to the same methods of hairdressing that college teaches you – it’s incredibly important to develop your own identity. The public can then see what you’re all about and your business will naturally begin to flourish. Don’t sit back and just wait for the clients come to you as success doesn’t happen overnight. It’s damn hard work to build up a client base – it took me about 3 years to have enough clients to cover my rent – but if you want to get anywhere you have to seriously work for it.

You are based at Fargo Village in what seems like the perfect combination. How has it developed since you’ve been there?
Even just since I launched the Rock’n’Roller Parlour in August, we’ve had so many new tenants come in and join the team. FarGo is an ever expanding concept.. it’s one of the main things I love about it. It’s incredibly unique and has recently hosted weekly Christmas Markets with varying themes. Additionally we now have new Caribbean and Tapas restaurants that do INCREDIBLE food and drink! Escape Live is about to launch too which will appeal to everyone. It’s ever evolving with lots of hidden treasures tucked away and ready to explore!

The community vibe of Fargo must be essential? A solid network of like-minded people and also a melting pot of ideas.
Absolutely. It’s crucial for everything to melt together in order for it to work. We are essentially an enormous family of freaks that all have our own little quirks and unique offerings. We all try to collaborate too which is amazing. For example through January I am collaborating with Choc ‘n’ Roll to do a Treat for Two discount deal where two clients get a haircut and five handmade chocolates each for a 25% discount. It’s all about supporting each other! I’m certainly closest to Rob (Dashing Blades) and Ian (PopBangColour) – they’re like the big brothers I never had – annoying streak and all!

Finally, there’s a huge range of plans for creativity in Coventry, where do you see the city in 5, 10 or 15 years?
Even now, Coventry is hugely developing  on a monthly basis. I can definitely see it appealing to the masses more in as little as 5 years. There is continual growth throughout the city, what with plans for a water park and constantly expanding universities, that means in 15 years, I feel we’ll be a city not to be missed…and hopefully one that wins the City of Culture bid in 2021!

Visit the Rock n Roller parlour online here.