WHEN she was a teenager, Ciara Wilson remembers being allowed to play with soprano Cara O’Sullivan’s makeup — this was to spark her love affair with the industry, in which she still works today.
“When I baby-sat for the kids, down in Rosscarberry for the summer, I was allowed to play with Cara’s makeup, but no one else could come with me… I was always so careful, it was like the crown jewels. That was when my love affair began with makeup,” said the business woman, who lives in Bandon and runs the Salon Shop, hair and beauty supplies, with her partner Aidan.
In fact, it was Cara who bought Ciara her first makeup kit — a hard-case makeup box. Ciara, whose family were close friends of the O’Sullivans, drove to events, like Tops of the Town with the soprano, and was always fascinated when she saw the star getting ready for her shows.
“ I was aged just 13 or 14 at the time, and I remember watching and learning, that’s what I wanted to do.”
Ciara went to primary school in Douglas, secondary school in the city, at Ms O’Sullivans, and finally sixth year in Christ the King Seconary school. She grew up in Grange, in a family of six. Her dad was a prominent sportsman in the area, involved in Munster Motor Cycle Club, based at Vernon Mount — which was effectively their back garden — all her brothers are into the sport too.
After school, Ciara went to study Beauty Therapy for two years at the Cork College of Commerce, but she saw it as a stop gap.
“I wanted to be a makeup artist for TV — I remember watching ET, I wanted to create those special effects.”
But the course she needed to do, to break into that side of the industry, was in London, and she had been told she needed to be over 21 years of age to do it. While the Cork College of Commerce course was “to burn time”, Ciara ended up loving her course.
“To learn about skin, body care, the electrical world, sports massage, it was all very fascinating. I loved all of it.”
She got a job in a salon supplies in the city centre, on Academy Street, and it opened the world to teaching, as they had premium brands and went to salons to teach: “I got to study/ shadow the owner and learn that way.”
She went back to finish college, but also stayed working with the salon supplier. Then the following Christmas she ran a salon in Mallow, for eight months, until her dad told her about an opportunity in the city for her to own her own beauty salon. She took over that premises on French Church street where she ran her own salon for four years.
“Then it got all very serious — I got into the world of running books, dealing with accounts, being all very grown up and serious.”
Her sister then opened her salon Zero Zero near Paddy the Farmers and Ciara opened her nail bar and makeup bar in there, for around a year.
All along her dream was to run a large super salon, but she felt didn’t have the necessary experience, yet. So she sent out her first CV ever, to Inchydoney Island Lodge and Spa. She was living in Bandon and had a young child and decided she would spend a year at the hotel — but ended up working there eight.
“It opened up a completely new world. The experience was amazing, it was an award-winning spa, I got to work with huge brands, I got to manage it at one stage. We had 52 staff, 26 therapy rooms, a large thalasso therapy spa. In that time we also managed the extension, it was a huge refurbishment project.
“It was so interesting. I got to travel to amazing places, with this position, it was an amazing opportunity. That’s why I decided to go there for one year and stayed eight.”
Her partner, Aidan, opened the Salon Shop ten years ago, in Bandon, in a small premises, in an industrial estate. The business was ready to expand, and the couple spoke about Ciara joining him. But she decided the time wasn’t right and after Inchydoney she went on to work at Therapie on Opera Lane as a therapist for 12 months.
They then decided the time was right to open the Salon Shop, a hair and beauty supply company, in Cork city, at the Kinsale Road Business Park.
“We secured the small unit across the road (from where they are now, about one tenth of the size of the current premises), the ground floor only. We opened in November 2011. We kept the small shop and warehouse outside Bandon. Within six months of opening we were a victim of large floods — water came down by the golf course, and raised in the river and we got washed out — it was the worst day of our lives at that moment, but it gave us the push to move. We viewed this premises and we moved over and we haven’t looked back.
“The first day I went into the small premises, I said, how are we going to fill it. Now, five years later, we are here and I say we don’t have enough room.
“We downsized the premises in Bandon and moved the shop into the town. We moved the warehouse and logistics here.”
The shop in Bandon is open six days a week,while the Salon Shop at the Kinsale Road is open seven days a week. They have 20 on the payroll, the majority part time staff. Currently Ciara said they are experiencing a baby boom — with five pregnancies.
Speaking about their stock, Ciara said: “The one thing about our company, we say no to nothing, I know that is incorrect English — but that is what we do.
“We have nearly 15,000 individual products on our system. We were asked to stock all of them… people say do you have it, we source it, we stock it… we react to our customers’ needs and demands as fast as we possibly can.”
The majority of their customers are based in Munster, however they also have customers from all over Ireland, the UK and France, given their online presence. Their clientelle are mainly hair, beauty and spa customers. They are the exclusive stockists of Gelish in Munster, the three week manicure — and are educators in that too. They also stock Milkshake, Kerastase, Montebella, L’Oreal, Schwarzkopf, Indola, as well as other brands.
“We try to be a one stop shop, for everything if possible.”
Ciara works in purchasing and selling, while Aidan is back of house and purchasing.
They are very passionate about education.
“I do believe, education is the key to success. If I have a product, if I teach you how to use it well, you will build your client base well and you will come back. We stick in a training course, more often than not it is free when you purchase a product.”
Ciara said there is never a dull day and she is full of praise for her team.
“The best part of running such a large business, is staff, you have to make sure your staff are alright and you’ve given them the tools to do their job!”
She loves nothing more than relaying stories of how happy customers have reported back to her, how great her staff are.
“I beamed with proudness because, this is our place, and when people come in for interviews, we say the most important thing is our customer.
“If you are my customer, I don’t need to worry about you spending today… but I have to make sure your experience is a positive one… that is key.
“We are honoured if you want to spend your money with us, you worked hard for your euro.”
Outside of work she is also mum to 16 year old boy and step mum to Aidan’s two daughters, aged 15 and 17.
As to hobbies, Ciara loves to run and bring the dogs for a walk at nearby Kilbrittain beach. However, there’s another adventure she also likes to engage in.
“My partner is a workaholic, he would sit on the couch every night with the laptop, so I went off and bought a camper van. So every Friday night, from April to October, we head off in the camper van, bring the dogs — the children have no interest in going — so off we go, we could end up anywhere. We have done two thirds of the Wild Atlantic Way — so in 2017 we are going to do Mayo and over.
“It is fabulous, sometimes during the weekend, we can say we have a residence in Kinsale, or we could be in Kenmare, there are some beautiful areas. That is what we do to unwind. We drive on the Friday, get up Saturday morning, make our filter coffee, we sit outside and say ‘look at us!”
Plans for Network Cork in 2017
JUST four years a member and already Ciara Wilson has taken up the role as President of the branch. She recalls her first meeting: “I refused not to attend, so when the committee request came up I put my hand up. I got the job as meetings officer, I organised the meetings, the venue, the food, refreshments, the running of the day, the IT. I am a pure grafter, give me a job and I will do it, I will mingle along the way. Don’t stand me twiddling my thumbs in the corner.”
Ciara spent two years as meetings officer and then was asked to be Vice President last year, and this year she became President. “It is an exciting time,” she says, “I’m very much a grafter, I will take the bull by the horns and run with it. I don’t get very stressed, I just get the job done. I’m looking forward to it. But I am also a great delegator.”
She has the first three events of the year organised. The first meeting of the year is on January 11 in the Ambassador with Hugh O’Donovan, a mindfulness practitioner.
The February event will be with the SCBI, Strategic Corporate Banking Institute, at a venue to be confirmed.
March’s event will be in the exciting venue of the Everyman and will focus on the fashion industry.
“I want people to admire our heritage, we have some amazing buildings in Cork,” says Ciara.
The annual Network Cork Business Awards will take place in May and Ciara hopes to develop that into a black tie event. She also hopes to host a joint event with Cork Chamber in April, breakfasts in July and August, as well as a barbecue in the summer.
Goals this year include pulling apart the recent survey of members, to see what they want — and responding to this. “Joan had some fabulous numbers this year, I hope I can carry on. She put a lot into it.”
There are currently 203 members in Network Cork — there aren’t 600 members in the entire 11 branches nationwide — so Cork has over a third of members.
She would also like to do something to honour past presidents and is ironing out details on how to do this.
“I suppose it’s the old bones of me — with my grandfather involved in Vernon Mount and dad President of Vernon Mount. They had a structure, a clubhouse for all previous presidents, there is a history there. The only place at the moment, as far as I can see, where you can publicly see the past presidents of Network Cork, is on the chain — there is nowhere you can go to see a list of these fabulous women, that I am following in their footprints.”
Retention of members also will be a goal: “Yes, it is great to build members, but we also need to focus on retaining members as well, that is important to me.”
Network Cork committee 2017:
Network committee members this year are: Vice President Karen Flemming, Ex Officio Joan Walsh, Secretary Gillian Hennessy, Meetings Officer Donna Mannion, Ezine officer Lorraine Maye and Awards co-ordinator Margueritte O’Sullivan.
There are also three meetings officers, Sian Horn, Peigin Crowley and Sinead O’Dea.
Social Media will be handled by Ruth Fuller, while PRO is Anne Marie McIllwraith. Acting Treasurer is Barbara Nugent.