BEN DAVID “The Hair Maestro”
By Hillary Chataika
It would be no exaggeration to class Ben David amongst world renowned hair stylists such as David Mallet (celebrity clients: Penelope Cruz, Nicolas Cage), Ted Gibson (celebrity clients: Angelina Jolie, Demi Moore) and Serge Normant (celebrity clients: Julia Roberts, Sarah Jessica Parker). As I sat interviewing this Zimbabwean trained cosmetologist, I was awe struck at his humility for someone with such an impressive pedigree of A list clients and CV. Ben has styled the likes of Matt Damon, Idris Elba, Jill Scot, Eve, Anika Noni Rose, Colin Salmon, Leleti Khumalo and the current first lady of Botswana Mma Masisi.
He operates from his chic, multi-ethnic, Hair Essentials salon based in the prestigious Masa Centre, Gaborone.
The Dream Chose Me
Initially Ben wanted to study engineering at school, and to use his own words “stumbled upon cosmetology and fell in love with it.”
His first job was at a salon that specialised in African hair but because he did not want to be pigeonholed as a stylist, he decided to seek employment at a multi-ethnic salon. Before long, he got employment at Image International which was situated at Sam Levy’s Village, one of Zimbabwe’s most affluent mall’s.
Rising above the racial stereotypes
“I was getting stonewalled at every turn and the Rhodesian whites that operated at Image International were very territorial. It was as if it was an affront to the whites for a black lad to dream of working on Caucasian hair. I was miles away from the hood and they made me feel it.” Hair stylists generally work on commission and I could see the genuine pain in Ben’s eyes as he reminisced over his early challenges.
Conversely, I also saw his face light up and beam with pride as he narrated how he finally broke through what seemed to be mission impossible. “Rose, the then owner of Image International, recalled seeing a marketing qualification on my CV and asked me why I was not applying that skill to get clients. Realising that the shop was situated in a high traffic area close to the banks and Bon Marche the equivalent of a Pick ‘n’ Pay or Woolworths here in Botswana, I decided to design a board offering a 25% discount on all coiffures. Just like that, clients started flocking in by the droves.”
Learning to retain clients
With the challenges of getting clients now a distant memory and surpassing his white colleagues in terms of clientele, Ben needed a clear system on how to retain his clients, how did he do it? “Hair is a personal and sometimes sensitive affair and you need to truly listen to your clients. Armed with this knowledge, I decided to build a rapport with every single client and offer a free consultation to better understand their hair growth and challenges. This in turn allowed me to better service them and the more adept I became at this, the more my clientele and referrals grew. I built a strong diplomatic clientele in a short period as a direct result of my prodigious handling of clients and natural aptitude for my art. My hard work did not go unnoticed by the owner of the Salon and I was promoted first to supervisor and ultimately managed the establishment.”
“At the time of my move to Botswana I was the only bread winner for my family and the economic situation in Zimbabwe was going to the dogs and had to move. I responded to a local advertisement from a Salon in Gaborone that was looking for a hairstylist that could handle Caucasian hair and got the job. When I arrived here the glossy picture that was being painted by the salon was divorced from reality and had to struggle to make ends meet. Struggling and contemplating moving I met a lady that encouraged me to stay. Young and smitten by her beauty and personality, I stayed and eventually opened my own salon, Hair Essentials. Little did I know that this lovely local lady, as destiny had designed, would be my future wife and mother of four amazing kids.”
Key to success
Ben’s creative vision and exquisite use of colour has undoubtedly endeared him to most of the country’s high flyers and regular clients alike. Beyond the skill and mastery of his art, I was curious to find out what he attributes his success to. “In this business four things are critical for success, consistency in your art, good relations with your clients and support staff, rewarding clients for their support and sound financial management.”
“A flashy setup means nothing if no one is in your shop. How you treat people does not end with the client but also your staff. Stay humble, make everyone feel respected and service them with passion. If you get this right, your clients will become your biggest marketing asset and ardent advocates. The client does not need you, you need the client, understand that and the reward will come.”
Winter hair tips
“Contrary to popular belief we must not tuck away our hair in braids, plaits and weaves the whole of winter. Moisture and strengthening treatments must be done in between the braiding and plaiting. Winter is the time when we need to step up on moisture treatments because our scalps and hair get extremely dry. The use of wigs is no longer frowned upon like in previous years. You can take advantage of freeing your hair a couple of times in winter and apply the necessary treatments. Try to do protective styling that does not apply too much tension on the hair. Invest in an intense moisture treatment that you can use between washes to replenish the moisture we lose to the atmosphere and follow up with a mask to lock in the moisture for a longer lasting effect.