Future Proof: Peter Mark finds itself in good trim for a new generation of customers

It is 52 years since Peter and Mark Keaveney first opened their doors at 87 Grafton Street in Dublin. Since then the company has seen highs and lows and has been a forerunner in the provision of innovative hairdressing in Ireland.

Back then, the two brothers and best friends could park their Volkswagen Beetle outside the salon for free and paid £6 per week rent on the premises. Now Peter Mark employs 1,600 people in 72 salons across Ireland and is pushing through the recession by innovating and retaining loyal staff.

Peter O’Rourke is the media-shy, yet amicable chief executive of the company, having taken on the role in November 2011 after stints as financial controller, chief financial officer and finance director.

It's not the first family business he has worked for – he was previously at Monaghan Mushrooms but that's quite a change from the fast-paced, high fashion industry he now finds himself in.


O’Rourke says that while founder Mark Keaveney jokes that the company has been operating two-thirds of its life through recession, there is no doubt that the latest downturn came as a bit of a shock. When business started taking a dive in the second quarter of 2008, “we went into discount mode”.

"We recognised that our clients couldn't afford things and, also in terms of our own staff, we wanted to ensure that the salons stayed busy because we needed to keep our staff motivated. So, while not compromising on quality, we lowered the prices and actually invested more in training."

With 1,600 employees, Peter Mark has a lot of people relying on their income from the company.

O’Rourke says that while some staff have left the business over the past five years, no staff member has been let go as a direct result of the recession.

“Helping your staff understand how to deal with recessionary times can be difficult. You do what you have to do to survive, but five years later we are in a better position than we ever were. The recession is still there but we are happy that the business is stable,” says O’Rourke. “We can only grow now through innovation.”

The company is already in a large number of locations countrywide and it seems that, rather than expanding geographically, it is working with what its got. One new innovation is Style Club – a number of new salon types which aim to attract young, fashion-forward customers. There are three such salons – at North Earl Street and South William Street, Dublin, and at Swords Pavilions Shopping Centre, Co Dublin.

O’Rourke says that, at any one time, up to 400 Peter Mark staff can be engaged in either centralised training at the 930sq m (10,000sq ft) Peter Mark Training College in Dublin or decentralised training in-salon. The life of the Peter Mark trainee is planned out over a three-year period.

“We are really focusing on the communications side of the business because we recognise that some people struggle to communicate. Staff have got to have the soft skills as well as the hard skills of hairstyling.”

Over the years, the company has enjoyed great loyalty from their staff.

“Our staff tend to regard Peter Mark as a financially sound, secure place to work,” says O’Rourke. “It’s well run. There’ll always be problems from time to time, but that’s a fact of life. We don’t shirk in terms of the products we use in partnering with l’Oreal and GHD; the Peter Mark brand is strong and has a loyal clientel and our staff recognise this.”

Many international rivals such as Toni & Guy and Regis operate a franchise model of business, but Peter Mark has continued to employ the owner-manager model of doing bus- iness. O’Rourke says this offers a far better business model.

“It’s easier to control the business and to implement innovation in services and so on. It’s a case of ‘this is what we are doing and this is how we are going about it’ – we are more in control of our own destiny.”

Trading in Northern Ireland started to see a drop later than in the South and was made more difficult by a Vat rate on services of 20 per cent.

New generation
"The North is a tough area to do business in at the moment but we don't get worried – we just get on with things and it's an area we are very committed too. The recession in the North has been more of a slow burner," says O'Rourke. "Down here, we just threw the frog into the boiling water."

Refurbishing key salons such as Grafton Street, ensuring the Peter Mark brand attracts a new generation of clients, and more focus on social media and staff training will be key drivers in ensuring Peter Mark’s survival over the next 52 years.