The Gainfort Academy has become synonymous with flair and excellence in the hair and beauty industry for 30 years now. They are a leading salon supplier and also assist new establishments with their design and fit out. Compounding this, Gainfort has their state-of-the art training academy, which was established in 2007. At the helm of this success is Fiona Gainfort, who we caught up with to gain an insight into the business and her fast-paced career.

Can you describe or outline your typical day?

Is there such a thing as a typical day? I find that most days start with coffee (a must), emails and morning team meetings. I like to check in on the students in class at the Wexford Academy where I’m based or I could be out visiting students in our other centres in Waterford and Dundalk. There is such a variety of aspects to this business that no two days are ever the same.

What was the key driving force behind you becoming an entrepreneur?

Both my parents were self-employed in business, and this, in turn, inspired that drive in me to also be self-employed. When the opportunity came to expand and build on Gainfort Hair and Beauty Supplies; which I run with my husband Michael Gainfort; I was able to fulfil a lifetime ambition to become involved in teaching, which is where my heart is. They say if you love what you do you’ll never feel like you work a day in your life – when it comes to the Academy this is true.

What do you think the key to becoming a successful entrepreneur is?

Personally, I believe that having a passion for what you do will force you to always strive to better your brand and business. You have got to keep on top of your game and network. It’s important to be seen and to meet your peers, competitors etc. Stay focused and plan, plan, plan – this is so important so you can reach on all sides of the business including the boring things like accounts, banks etc.

What has been your career highlight to date?

I am extremely excited to have recently become a member on the Executive Board for The National Hairdressing Council, and of course, the success the academy has had in winning several awards such as BeFabulous, the Irish Hair and Makeup Awards, The Irish Hair & Beauty Awards and RSVP Beauty Awards. Also, we are the only business to have won four consecutive awards under the same category in The Wexford Business Awards. Being awarded Training Provider of the Year in my home town was very special.

What do you look for in an employee?

We strive to employ those who will be team players. We seek employees who pull together to get the job done. Employees who get me and Michael – who get what Gainforts is all about. Those who are willing to come on a journey with us, as we learn from each other and grow as a team. It is important to us that our employees get our excitement, passion and drive. At the end of the day, you’re with co-workers as much as your family, so it’s important to be happy and enthusiastic coming to work. I think Gainforts is known for that positive vibe. Our students and customers tell us it’s their happy place. That makes me happy!

What do love most about your job? Are there any downsides?

I absolutely love meeting new students, many of whom actually tend not to be school leavers. Our typical students are mothers or candidates who haven’t found their career path in life yet, very often they have been stuck in unexciting day jobs. I love to take them on their journey to a new future in the hair and beauty industry. I love our industry. It’s exciting, ever-changing and challenging (in a good way) and full of unique and genuinely lovely people.

Of course, there is a downside…that’s life! Paperwork (the bane of my life) would be an example of the downside, but it has to be done. However, when there is a photoshoot or an exciting event in the Academy it’s very hard to stick to wading through the filing!

The hair and beauty industry is undoubtedly very competitive. How does the Gainfort Academy manage to stay relevant as a salon supplier and as an academy?

Gainfort as a brand is celebrating 30 years in business this year. With three divisions in the company; Gainfort Hair and Beauty Supplies, Gainfort Academy and Gainfort Salon Design; we offer a 360 degree service to our customers. We live and breathe hair and beauty. We are aware of all the latest innovations in products, equipment and in training.

We are proactive in being a leader not a follower, and we’re very proud of that. If we can retain the interest of our loyal customer base over 30 years then we must be doing something right.

What drives you to keep going when things get tough or stressful?

A mortgage, ha, ha!

Seriously, Michael and I are both from working backgrounds and we don’t accept defeat easily. There can be downsides to working with your partner, but I think we are both very fortunate to have each other to lean on and sound things out when things get stressful or tough. I think the team at Gainforts, my friends and family would say I’m a positive person with a can-do attitude. We have weathered a few storms in business over 30 years, but I’ve learned these things pass. My father in law told me once, what you’re worrying about today you won’t even remember this time next year! And if all else fails there’s always a gin and tonic!

I think you have to accept that anything worth having doesn’t come easy, and thankfully for me, the good times far outweigh the bad.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever heard, career or otherwise?

I admire and respect a lot of the wonderful personalities in the industry. Some years ago I purchased a book by the talented stylist Lisa Fitzpatrick, called Enjoying Style and Fashion. It’s a great read full of positivity. There is a quote in that book that I love which says:

“Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than the things you did. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbour, and catch the trade wins in your sails. Explore, Dream, Discover”, Marc Twain.

I think it says it all really.

What upcoming plans do you have for the business in the near future?

OMG do not get me started my mind is buzzing with ideas 24/7! I plan to continue to expand on the programmes I am involved in delivering. We are currently in Wexford, Waterford and Dundalk. We are also involved in a beauty project in Wicklow commencing in June, and we have another project lined up in the Kildare area this autumn.

As always we are continuing to refresh and expand in the qualifications we deliver in the academies with new training courses coming this autumn including Henna Brows, Full Time Hair and Beauty Programmes, and we are branching into advanced aesthetics, kicking off with the introduction of Hyapen Training.