A Cut Above is a 38-year-old hair salon brand that has seen its share of ups and downs, but remains a strong name to this day thanks to the tireless efforts of Datin Winnie Loo, founder and current Group CEO of A Cut Above.
Affectionately monikered Winnie-Jie (Sister Winnie) by many of her 250-strong employees under A Cut Above, Datin Winnie Loo considers all of them her extended family.
Perhaps this is why it’s no surprise that most of her own family members are in similar businesses as well. She runs A Cut Above with her husband Dato’ Richard Teo, and helped by son Marcus Teo, while her daughter Hazel now lives and works in New York, after pursuing her fashion studies in Los Angeles.
Running The Race For Almost Four Decades
It can be easy to lose your steam after even just 10 years of doing this, but Datin Winnie is inclined to disagree.
To her, there’s no one secret, but she had this to say, “I kept evolving myself in the trade and turned my career into a hobby. My salons are my playgrounds, and no one gets bored of going out to play.”
Her clients’ hair is her canvas on which she can express her brush-strokes of creativity, and Datin Winnie enjoys seeing them leave with as smile. That being said, a business is still a business.
There’re also some challenges of being the “face” of a brand, and Datin Winnie Loo shared, “As I am a role model to many on personal branding, I have to walk the talk. Too many people recognise me and I need to at all times look prim and proper even while at the wet market as I never know who I will bump into. Also my skills must be truly A Cut Above the rest as that’s the perception of being the face.”
As one of the pioneers of the hairstyling movement in Malaysia, Datin Winnie Loo was a large part of the evolution of the trade. She said, “I have turned my dreams into reality and I have proven it as the hairstyling industry was a trade that was never seen as a serious profession.”
Running a business for so long has also given Datin Winnie an appreciation for longevity.
“We can be passionate about the business but sometimes as entrepreneurs we must also learn to let go. When I was young I may think otherwise but now as the company just celebrated 38 years, I have a different mind set of running the show and I can’t be here forever.”
Going along those lines, she’s not just a business owner and entrepreneur now. She’s also reinvented herself as an investor, advisor and partner to younger ventures.
She recognises the rise of beauty startups and she chooses to invest her time in sharing her knowledge and experience with them instead. She’s been part of hairstyling ventures such the Mercedes-Benz Stylo Asia Fashion fest recently and is the Chief Advisor for WeStyleAsia, a Malaysian startup that’s a marketplace for beauty and wellness professionals.
It’s not just about building her own empire anymore, but also providing the right support and knowledge to others so that they can build theirs.
Weathering Through Rough Times
Datin Winnie was one of the few lucky locally grown organisations that knows what doing business was like before the likes of Yelp, and the rise of viral social media reviews.
Back in the day, Datin Winnie found that it was more difficult to grow one’s brand. She thinks that with social media today, there’s the potential to get a name out much faster. She’s also on the social media train and handles all of her own postings as she likes to keep it personal.
A Cut Above has seen its fair share of storms over the years, with one being the Boycott A Cut Above movement that happened in 2013.
Speaking of her personal experience with criticisms, negative feedback, and bad reviews, she said, “I am in a business about people, and it is not easy to please everyone—especially emotional types.”
“Perhaps it’s easier for me to please God by being God-fearing but when we are in this business we need to bite the bullet, accept challenges and criticism with manners, stay calm, and treat it as a learning curve in life. We also need to be mindful not to comment even in such reviews just in case our words get twisted.”
“How do I bounce back? Well, I always remind myself that in the entrepreneurship journey, there will be loads of people doing far better than what I do. Instead of stressing over the unnecessary, I will wake up, dress up and show up with my winning smile. Unhappiness is soon forgotten as better things are in store for those who stay positive.”
When Family Calls
As for life at home, we asked about what it’s like to have most of her family involved in business with her. Datin Winnie said, “Being in the family business, excuses can be made much easier like going to work late. Because if I am late then everyone runs late too, which is not good.”
“But on the contrary if we have to discuss some quick business plans and proposals it is so much easier to sit over a chat at home and get it done faster. It can also foster a closer bonding to have some good chats over our meals.”
But it was not always sunshine and roses over the years, as Datin Winnie describes what almost triggered her into leaving the business many years ago.
“My son who was always under the care of a babysitter from 1st month of birth suddenly developed an acute kidney failure and required so much medical attention that the babysitter couldn’t handle it. At the time, I was busy having to travel to Brunei very often for the royal household appointments. I really found I had to choose between career and family especially when my son turned two.”
“When we had no choice we decided to send him to nursery but the fear in his eyes and the screams when we walked to our car made it even harder. The pain of dropping him there made my heart ache.”
“And that, is life starting out as a mummy in business.”
Feature Image Credit: JohnnieWalkerMY on Youtube