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Getting To Know Valerie Delforge

I came to the UK in 1990, wanted to learn English and experience something different. I was 20 at the time.

I quickly started working for an agency called David Douglas Agency which was placing us in various department stores for brands such as Christian Dior, Lancôme etc. in London to cover sickness or understaffed beauty counters. I quickly realised that I was loving this industry. Sent my CV everywhere and got my first interview with Clinique.

I was asked to sell a pen. I did, and she put me straight in Selfridges. That was the beginning of my career.

Clinique was pure selling, and I became passionate about my career. After a year, I got promoted to my own little counter in Simpsons Piccadilly, I was so proud. I was one of the top salespersons, always focussed on achieving my target.

Then managed a team of 3 in Boots Oxford Street. Clinique taught me the selling techniques that I am still using now as well as identifying the customer’s needs, but it is also where I started loving management.

Boots is where I met Marie Louise, she was the manager for Clarins, the counter next to mine in Boots. She not only became my best friend but also taught me a lot when it came to managing staff.

I quickly realised that I loved Clarins, their products, their ethos.

Marie Louise managed to get me a job interview. She was going to work as the manager for Clarins in John Lewis and needed an assistant. At the time, Clarins was quite new in the UK and the way they took anyone on board was that you needed to be a skincare specialist and had to work your way up before you could even be considered to apply for management position.

I was the first person that they took directly as an assistant manager. They were growing quickly and needed support. I started my 10 years love affair with Clarins. I simply learnt so much: Structure, time management, commercial approach & solution as well as motivation of the team. Clarins was very structured which is still now part of their successful growth, and to this day I still use some of their methods.

From Assistant Manager, 6 months later, Marie Louise left to manage Harvey Nichols and I became the manager of John Lewis. We did really well, I loved it. I had my 2 children in between and when I came back after my second child, I joined the in-house recruitment team, learning everything about recruitment which was another world. How to create an impactful ad, create a signature recruitment (which I use now for my clients) and have powerful interviews where you are seen as the leader. It is true that nowadays recruitment is one of the biggest headaches of the service industry. I like to see a problem and turn it on its head. Instead of being focused on the issue of the industry (lack of funding, poor education & generation Z mentality) you need to become the leader of your business. Otherwise you let your staff manage you rather than you manage them and lead them to success. At the moment, we are so scared to recruit that we don’t manage. But being clear in what you want and who you are is the key to success. All clients I have worked with have attracted the right staff members once we have adopted this mentality. It is why I talk about Leadership as the 7 steps that not only will focus you but engage your staff for the long-term.

I then became Area Manager, I was young and eager to please, learning so much from my direct boss who was the National Account Manager. I did so well with my role that in the end I became the Area manager for London working underneath a regional manager and my profile became high in the company. It was very hard work as 70% of it was HR. When it comes to London, you are managing 230 people and have to have a strong relationship with the department store managers in order to implement the marketing and activities necessary. I was dealing with a team of 30 mobile therapists so became the queen of rota management, problem solving, anticipating issues that might occur. I had to be ultra-organised and my communication as well as time management skills became refined and at the top of my priorities.

My private life was crumbling around me by then, I decided that we needed a fresh start. Convinced my partner to buy an existing Clarins beauty salon in Saffron Walden and Marie Louise became my silent partner.

In my head we would live in a small town and get away from the toxic environment we were dealing with.

So, I went from managing 230 people to 1 beauty therapist in my business that I renamed: Le Mirage. It was an existing Clarins Salon for 10 years that we rebranded and revamped but kept Clarins as the main brand and treatment.

In 10 months, I learnt more that in 10 years with Clarins.

I became a strong networker, understood what it was like to own your business and struggle to even pay yourself. We had made decisions that now I wouldn’t even be considering. We bought machines thinking that people would want the treatments, but it was a huge fail, money was tight, I couldn’t pay myself and my personal life became a huge nightmare.

Saying that, I tripled the turnover and became a Clarins Gold Salon in the 10 months I was there. This meant more support from Clarins and lots and lots of events and marketing to increase new clients. At the time, there was no Facebook or social media, so networking was my only focus. Everyone in the town knew me as I went to introduce myself and invite them to visit the new business!

Although that was a success, financially it was a disaster. We had bought the machine, employed 3 more therapists and I still couldn’t pay myself. On a personal level, my partner realised he didn’t want to move anymore so I was traveling daily for 3 to 4 hours a day. I ended up with a burn out. I realised I was going to leave my partner and had to make the choice: I take my daughters with me in Saffron Walden or stay in London. I guess that owning a salon at such young age with no experience taught me exactly where I went wrong and what my strengths were. I then built my whole career with self-developing myself at every opportunity.

Whatever happened in my private life, I realised one thing: it doesn’t matter if you manage 230 girls or 1 beauty therapist in a small salon, when someone wants to be difficult, you need to be equipped as a manager to handle all sorts of situations. Your systems and structure need to be strong, so no one can shake that. Having your own business can be very lonely, decisions (good or bad) can impact dramatically in both the financial and emotional state.

It was a very intense moment of my life for various reasons, but in the meantime, I was headhunted by Urban Retreat to start one of their new venture: UR Beautiful in Kingston on the 1st floor of Boots.

I did the whole pre-opening 3 month before the opening day. I worked with my boss Tina Robinson and once more, I learnt so much. How to manage a budget, creation of pre-opening deadlines, negotiations between Boots and URB etc.

We hired 26 staff members: Beauty Therapists, receptionists, make-up artists, nail technicians and hairdressers. I had 70 brands to look after, which generated strong negotiation skills and intense planning of marketing for each of them.

It was the first time I worked with hairdressers and that side of the industry.

I loved it; we were working so hard but it was a really good team.

The first day of opening we had a huge event with all the experts, and I asked the Marketing manager: “What’s my budget for Marketing?” “We don’t have one” she replied.

Once more, networking was at the core of my existence, but I love it! I created so many events, just like with my salon, thinking completely outside the box. Link with other businesses to join forces!

Here are some of the things I did, same as when I had my own salon:

Created a fashion show with a local clothes shop and invited her database to this (This was allowing me to showcase the hairdressers work and increase my database!). Got 5 businesses together and created a hamper for the estate agent to put in when they sell or rent a new house.

Got Tuesday student day where we linked with the local schools and university. It was a huge success as they got 20% instead of the usual 10%.

Worked with L’Oreal and won a competition (created the whole photoshoot and loved it!)

Then 2008 hit us, I remember Woolworths closing down and the local charity shop being on 2 for 3 offers! A charity shop! I remember wondering how on earth will I get people to come to us, being so new to the town… I managed to create strong packages that saved us, worked on the database, once more, networking and marketing were at the core of my existence.

2.5 years later I was headhunted by L’Occitane who wanted to open spas. L’Occitane is mainly a retail boutique, although they have some amazing spas across the world.

I took the role as Regional Manager in the view to work on the opening of 4 Spas.

I was regional Manager of Scotland! Not where I lived but somehow managed to make it work, then 6 months later managed to have the midlands then the south. In the meantime, working on the opening of the Spas. L’Occitane was great, very detailed and precise in their approach.

They started every Monday Manager Meeting with: The devil is in the details.

I learnt a lot on customer journey with l’Occitane, they were obsessed with understanding what made the customer journey so impactful that it generates more sales.

All my structure, time management and eye for details came in handy with L’Occitane.

One year later, they decided not to go for spa openings as it was too expensive and they chose a different route.

I love retail, it’s in my experience throughout my career but the Spa and service element I missed a lot. I was then head hunted by Bliss Spa in London and I first said no. The reputation of the Spa wasn’t great. 3 months later, I am asked again to go to an interview. By then, I thought that I had nothing to lose.

I went for the interview, did a mystery shop and went for it.

I can safely say that Bliss was the hardest role I’d ever done, and yet the most fulfilling.

Somehow, all my years of experience came into place in Bliss. It was a 50 staff members spa, with a turnover of £2.2 million.

I never managed beautiful places, always managed difficult teams, demotivated people, I was renowned throughout my career to deal with the tough situations, like the problem solver, trouble shooter type of personality. I was always dealing with pushing places forward and always managed to achieve targets through changing the mindset of the managers, creating strong processes, applying performance management to anyone who wasn’t supportive of the changes and implementing strong strategies to create better environments and a tangible vision.

Bliss was no different. On my first day, I had a facial, and fell in love with the concept and the brand immediately. The therapist sat me down and said: “You are the 9th manager in 9 years, good luck, they don’t last, the therapists have the upper hand here”.

My sole mission after that was to have a cake with a candle in the year anniversary and blow it with her, as there was no way I would stay for only a year. I would be the first manager to stay over a year.

And I did. I was her boss for 3 years! I realised the extent of the damage very quickly, when I get to a Spa or salon, I observe first, it allows me to understand how the team functions. To me, it’s all about communication and systems of communication. That was of course terrible as it was lead by therapists or the powers above. At the time, Bliss had just been bought by Steiner which owns Elemis UK so was answering to Elemis directly.

My boss told me that I have carte blanche to do what I wanted. And I did just that… I understood the brand, the mindset of the team, and lead them to success.

It took me 4 months to sort the mindset of everyone out. The spa was on a decline of 27% over last year’s figures. It had been on a decline for over 5 years now. In a year, I managed to increase the figures by 6% over target.

There had been no investment, if any case we were a crumbling spa: issues with the air conditioning, with lack of funding so I couldn’t buy the necessary machines etc. The girls were so motivated by the time I worked with them that we overcame all obstacles, no matter what the circumstances. I felt like I had become a true Leader by then.

My role was very much to support the managers, I was the meeting and communication queen. But I was also renowned as the manager that will follow up what she says. If I said something will happen, it will happen. “You are what you do, not what you say you’ll do” should be the motto of every wannabe leader. The team saw changes and the fact that I was on their side with 1 mission only: to achieve targets. I became so strong in my way of functioning that everyone who was there believed in achieving the targets.

Since the growth was so powerful, I then looked after Elemis Day Spa as well as Bliss. Same, they had been promised a refurbishment 10 years ago, I had to have an impact straight away.

Again, I managed to double the figures and create a strong career path for each of the therapists. I was known for my motivating meetings and impactful approach to changes.

After doubling the figures and creating strong processes, I quickly became the Head of Spa Operation for Steiner Europe.

I had 8 Spas to look after, including 3 Bliss Spas internationally (Doha, St Petersburg & Barcelona)

My job was mainly strategy planning through budget, leadership, marketing strategy & retail as well as working with the managers to ensure their success. Social Media was starting to be important by then, so I started to learn more about that side of things. Being Head of Spa Operation meant that the details that you deliver in each Spa had to be specific to them and ultimately achieve strong P&L and forecasting.

By then, I was asked to help many businesses which ultimately is what launched me in to the opening of my own consulting agency.

At the time, I decided to focus on 1 main client. My first client that allowed me to leave my job as the Head of Spa Operation for Steiner was Themae, a French brand.

They wanted to implement the brand in the UK and mentor the Spa Director in Paris which is where I met Tiphaine. It was the first time that I was working in France.

After my year contract finished, I helped opening a spa in London called Gazelli House. This was extremely operational, creation of a plan of action, recruitment, operating processes, definition of the customer journey, creation of marketing & networking strategies.

Then after that finished was taken on board by Treatwell (formerly known as Wahanda) the online platform for beauty salons. They wanted to open a business academy and asked me to front it. I learnt absolutely loads about the power of digital and creation of key strategies to support businesses.

Ultimately, when that contract finished, I realised that I wanted to stop dealing with just the 1 client and create a structure where I could support more businesses simultaneously.

That’s where I did a lot of public speaking, business days with brands, webinars and social media. By then, Tiphaine (who I had met back at Themae) and I created modules as we wanted to deliver 3 day seminars in Paris & Lyon. These have been successful from the start.

My point of difference?

I get into the core of the business by analysing the figures. What I have noticed is the owners don’t know their costs or if they do, some will still be unsure of what KPIs that will make them money.

I then go through time management with them, stock control, redefining their branding, create a strategy for their marketing and generate a really good customer and staff journey. By focusing on the management & reception team before even focusing on the productivity of the service providers, I know I can implement strong foundations in the business and that processes are created for the sole purpose of delivering a smooth customer journey and ultimately engage the teams.

From all of that, once it’s clear, we focus on the retail to increase their revenue.

Therefore, I like to work with the owners and managers and then getting their teams to be stronger commercially. I believe it’s more impactful on the results.

I am known in the industry for delivering results and being ultra-efficient. I’m also known for being tough, no nonsense as I have 1 thing in mind: achieving targets and reducing costs.

I have been told on numerous occasions that I do more in 1 day than a year with other coaches – and that I fry brains! But my motto is: if it works, let’s refine it, and if it doesn’t, let’s transform it!

Phew, I think that’s it :) Thanks so much for reading and I hope you enjoyed hearing my story.


I would love to to hear from you, and my calendar is always open if you’d like to book a 15 minute consultation to find out more about how I might be able to support you.


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