Born in 1976 in Mackay, Central Queensland, Justin Pace’s parents owned a 24-hour service station. At just aged two, it was discovered that he had developed Wilms’ Tumours on both kidneys (a rare kidney cancer that primarily impacts children.) After surgery to mostly eradicate the cancer, followed by multiple ongoing surgeries to fix continuing complications, from the age of two to five, he received regular chemotherapy and radiation treatment. The result of this gave Justin lifelong hearing, speech, and literacy complications that persist to this day, but the support of his family never wavered. With such a challenging start to life, it is testament to his determination and passion for hairdressing that has brought Justin Pace to be the well-known and respected Salon owner and award-winning colourist we all know today.
Meet Justin Pace . . .
Where did your hairdressing career begin?
Due to my personal health and literacy challenges, I had deferred to practical endeavours to find measures of success . . . art, manual arts, and non-contact sport (soccer, tennis, discus, and swimming, never football.)
Early grade 11, felt as though I was wasting my parents’ hard-earned money being sent to a Catholic school. I desperately wanted to leave school; however, my parents made it clear under no circumstance could I, unless I gained an apprenticeship.
Upon applying for all manner of trades, I happened to gain a hairdressing apprenticeship at Manhattan Hair Design, Mackay (allowing me to leave school before finishing grade 11.) My parents gave me an ultimatum . . . if you don’t make the apprenticeship work, you’ll have to go back to school, so I did absolutely everything I could, not to fail (to this day, a life motto.)
What achievement are you most proud of in your life or career?
I’m most proud of being a successful business owner and being someone able to use procedural and problem-solving skills to navigate life. Even though I’ve found there to be great societal emphasis on school / tertiary education, I’ve personally seen the most successful people in life are no only passionate about and skilled at what they do, they’re also not the most highly educated person on paper. I’ve become an advocate for trade apprenticeships (allowing me to offer practically-minded people the same chance in life I was given.)
What do you love most about your career?
I cannot explain the passion I have for the career hairdressing has given me. The hairdressing industry has not only provided continuing professional and personal purpose and fulfilment but allowed me to travel the world. Still look back and pinch myself . . . the countries I’ve been able to visit would never have eventuated if it wasn’t for hairdressing. I’ve made both personal / professional connections and forged relationships with people throughout the world, plus evolved as a person in mind, body, and spirit . . . all thanks to hairdressing.
What’s the secret to staying creative throughout the years?
Believe in yourself and your vision in life. The creative journey will present many bends and twists – however if you stay true to yourself – you’ll always have an imaginative mind. A lot of the time, your mind and creativity do not align (when functioning as a creative artist, this the ongoing struggle we all find) . . . but it’s about slowing down and looking directly at what’s in front of you (allowing the revelation of an intuitive path.) Sometimes, I think we search to find creativity, however it’s always right in front of us.
How do you maintain a good work / life balance?
Oh, s**t . . . is there a balance? The way I look at it, there’s health, personal, relationship and professional. At any given time, one of these facets is my number one priority and the rest sit below. Personally, I do not like to put any of these facets above another, however unfortunately there’s always one that inevitably must be prioritised (which means the others aren’t.) Sometimes, it’s a juggle and although I believe they should all be equal, in today’s world, this cannot regularly happen.
How do you like to spend your spare time?
At present, I spend my spare time on my 273m2 inner-city Brisbane block with my wife and two cats, looking after my vegetable and herb garden, and the exterior of the house. Love being outdoors.
When the opportunity presents, I travel to the Great Barrier Reef for an annual fishing trip and I also assemble complex Lego builds to remove my mind from the world.
When all else fails, I go down to my tool shed, pull out an old canvas and paint like I’m still in grade 10.
Was business ownership always a priority for you?
Observing my parents always being in and out of small businesses enabled me to comprehend the love, passion and hate involved in operating your own business.
After spending two years abroad and returning to Australia in 2003, I realised owning my own business was a dream and passion of mine (opening my first salon in 2007.) As someone who decided not to have children, opening a business allowed me to create a family with colleagues who resonated with me.
Share with us some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced along your business journey.
Finding staff has and will always be one of the biggest challenges. I like to treat staff as part of my family, believe in them and trust in them. If staff end up finding themselves safe and secure as part of my family, it eventually equates to the revelation of team identity not only within the salon but industry (as shared values and vision wholly entwine.)
As the hairdressing industry has diversified in its operational paradigm in the last decade, the traditional salon (which I have) has had to fight harder to find staff. I’ve overcome this via advertising on national employment platforms and social media, plus personally responding to people who independently reach out to me.
I’ve also noticed there to be less people who wish to take on a hairdressing apprenticeship, as traditional pathways are not as enticing as they once were.
Another big challenge is finding the balance of running a successful business whilst simultaneously making it affordable and within the reach of a broad clientele.
Who were your industry heroes in your early years and who inspires you today?
In my early years, my international industry heroes were Vidal Sassoon, who motivated to be precise in what I did and Trevor Sorbie, who inspired creatively and technically, generating the ideal of what I thought hairdressing should be.
Nationally, I was grateful to have Stelios Papas take me on board immediately after finishing my apprenticeship in 1996. He believed in me at a very young juncture in my career (19 years old.) Apart from the two years I spent abroad (2001 – 2003), I worked for Stelios from 1996 – 2007 (thereafter opening my own salons.)
Now my business inspiration – though some may find cliche to say – is my team. Everything I do today and for the future is about the growth of each individual member, giving them opportunities in life.
Creatively-speaking – as we nowadays live in such a closely-connected ecosystem – our eyes are open to many brilliant hairdressers who previously wouldn’t have had a voice.
What would you say are the core values or philosophies which define your business and leadership style?
– Respect, honesty, trust.
– Treat others the way you’d like to be treated.
– Actions speak louder than words.
– I’ll do everything in my power not to fail (along the way, owning / learning from my mistakes.)
What has been your greatest lesson or piece of advice along your business journey?
I’ve two pieces of advice that resonate:
– firstly, go with your gut . . . you know what is right and what is wrong. Sometimes, it’s very hard to separate heart and mind, but that in which you believe combined with your moral and ethical values is what’ll ultimately rise to the top (urges that can neither be suppressed nor ignored;)
– secondly, never look at your competitors to see what they’re doing (otherwise you’ll become confused.) Believe in what you do and stay in your lane, even if it looks as though others are doing better. Never compete against others, rather yourself. In the present moment, be better than you were this time last week; in a week, be better again.
What advice would you give others who dream of building an impactful brand?
Believe in yourself, believe in your principles, believe in your brand. You must understand the why behind what you’re doing. If you do not understand the why, you won’t understand the story, you won’t understand the how.
What do you think is the “secret sauce” when it comes to owning and running a successful salon and team?
– unrelenting hard work, education and training (cumulative skills constantly raising standards;)
– good role modelling. If I’m after certain behaviours, I’ll show rather than tell;
– when required, using contextual awareness to lead with my heart, not head;
– never thinking I’m number one.
– each individual ought to treat one another the way they’d like to be treated (affording all dignity, respect, kindness and understanding, propagating a stable work environment;)
– creating a team that functions with one voice (not only the same beliefs but operational output carrying the salon and clients to a state of homeostasis . . . essentially doing each other’s jobs where and when required.)
What’s on the agenda for the future?
Team, team, team . . . it’s all about building a good family, home, and environment, plus defining the culture of the brand, making Co and Pace Salons a substantial entity, not only a name.
As someone who can never sit still nor thinks he’s at the top, I’ll forever look at wide-ranging opportunities that enhance the professional and personal lives of all who interact with Co and Pace Salons.