George’s ‘scary’ gamble that turned into a salon success story

George Culligan (right) with Lauren Ashton at the GCMA Salon in Kimberley.
George Culligan (right) with Lauren Ashton at the GCMA Salon in Kimberley.

So, you’re 21 years old. You’ve just moved in to the first home of your own, you’ve just set up your first mortgage and the bills are pouring in. What’s more, you have just £160 in the bank.

What do you do? Quit your job and pursue your dream to try and set up your own business as a make-up artist?

George Culligan of GCMA Salon, Kimberley with the inspirational mirror on display in the salon

George Culligan of GCMA Salon, Kimberley with the inspirational mirror on display in the salon

No, surely not! That would be madness and financial suicide, wouldn’t it?

But that’s exactly what Eastwood girl George Culligan did. And three months on, unbelievably, her potentially reckless gamble has paid off spectacularly.

That business, the GCMA salon on James Street in Kimberley, is thriving. Bookings are booming, reviews on Facebook are full of praise and the salon has even been shortlisted for a major, national award.

“When I took the gamble, it was so scary,” says George. “Lots of people told me not to do it, and warned I was being stupid.

Beautician Lauren Ashton at worrk in the salon.

Beautician Lauren Ashton at worrk in the salon.

“I had a stable job that I was good at, and it was hard to leave.

“But looking back now, it was the best thing I have ever done. I firmly believe that when you set your heart on something, you have to do it.”

For many years, George knew she wanted to work within the beauty industry. Even when, on leaving Kimberley School with A-levels, she lived it up as a Club 18-30 holiday rep in Magaluf, enjoying every minute.

Even when she started her first full-time job, with energy company E-ON, she knew it wasn’t really where she wanted to be, so she started doing courses in make-up and nails on the side.

Her next stop was the East Midlands Ambulance Service, where she answered 999 calls to the operational headquarters, just like you see on the acclaimed TV programme, ‘Ambulance’. She says: “I loved it, even though it was very difficult and challenging, but it wasn’t where my passion was.”

Her passion actually lay in running her own make-up business and, finally, last autumn, she decided to take the plunge.

“It was all off the top of my head, but I saw this shop available in Kimberley,” George says.

“I said to the landlord, Jeff, that I had only £160 in the bank to use as the deposit. But he was lovely and gave me two weeks’ free rent before I opened in October.”

To underline her determination, George initially ran the shop from 9 am to 5 pm, and then did a night shift in the ambulance call centre from 7 pm to 7 am the next day!

But after a month, she left the ambulance service and concentrated on her new salon full time. She took on a former school friend, 21-year-old Lauren Ashton from Nuthall as the only member of staff, and enlisted the help of her mum, Kelly, who “does nails on Saturdays”.

The result has been remarkable. The salon, which offers services such as lashes, Botox and massages, as well as make-up, has been a huge hit with women in the Kimberley and Eastwood area. So much so that George, now 22, is looking to expand and possibly move to bigger premises.

Her reputation will soar even higher if she wins the make-up salon of the year category that she has been nominated for in the prestigious Hair and Beauty Awards 2019, to be held in March.

“That is massive,” she says. “Salons that have been open for years have not been able to get that.

“The best thing is that we have been nominated by our customers. I think they see that both myself and Lauren are young, and we are a really good team. She has done very well, and we both work hard.

“Also, we like to do a lot for the community. We run CPR classes and children’s parties, and focus a lot on mental health issues, with positive messages written on our mirrors.

“When people come here, they feel comfortable, and I think they appreciate that you are trying to give something back.”

Those customers have certainly wasted no time in making their feelings known about the GCMA Salon on Facebook, where posts include comments such as:

“Friendly staff, a nice, tidy and hygienic salon, and really professional”

“The salon is the cutest and most welcoming I have ever been to.”

“A lovely salon with warm and friendly staff and great service. Five stars.”

“George did an amazing makeover for me. I was really impressed, plus she was lovely and friendly, which helps enormously.”

“George was a total star. She made me and my mum look stunning for my wedding day.”

And “I felt so comfortable having my make-up done here. George did a brilliant job.”

The comments prove how right George was to follow her dreams, and she is hoping her story will encourage more young people to follow the same path.

“Although my parents were supportive, I’m sure they’d have preferred me to be a teacher or a doctor!” she says.

“But I wish I’d have done this sooner. People hesitate because they want something that is stable, but that is how you end up hating your job and getting into a rut.

“I say to young people: don’t be intimidated by the business world and go for it yourself.”