By Garry James

SAMLI is a hair studio that offers “cuts and coffee”, based on London Road in St Leonards. SAMLI is a Hungarian word, pronounced sham-li, meaning kitchen chair. Gary Bánvölgyi, the business owner who is originally from Hungary, chose the name because that is where the business started, on a kitchen chair. 

Before he was qualified as a hairdresser, his friends would come to visit him, and he would cut their hair on his kitchen chair. For Gary, the name is a good reminder of where the business started and reminds him of his home country. Gary moved from Budapest to Hastings in 2010, and could originally only speak limited English. He moved to the UK for better opportunities and to learn a new language. 

He chose Hastings because he wanted to experience a different type of lifestyle, and wanted to live by the sea. Coming from a landlocked country, living by the sea was a luxury for him. When he arrived in Hastings, he worked in factories, held cleaning jobs and worked in the fun park on the seafront. At these jobs, he earned minimum wage and learned about a new culture and language.

He went on to study hairdressing at college, which taught him women’s cuts and colour. At the same time, he worked at a barber which focused on male cuts. Gary continued to train, moving to work at Toni and Guy. He was able to pick up skills for both sexes, and this was something that he wanted to include in his own business. 

SAMLI was launched in the Summer of 2018 by Gary, as a unisex hair studio. During the lockdown, on 1st July, will be the company’s second anniversary. What sets SAMLI apart is that the hair studio is unisex. They have customers who are young and old, and they offer not just haircuts but colouring, beauty services and a range of smoothies to their customers. This sets them apart locally.

When Gary first found out about Covid-19, he didn’t take it seriously. It felt far away in China, and, like so many other business owners, he did not think it would affect the UK. When the virus did catch up and take over the UK, he was anxious about his business. As per the government lockdown, he had to shut down his business in March. He had to cancel all of his appointments for the foreseeable future. What he found most difficult was not knowing what the future held. No-one knew how long lockdown would last, and when coronavirus would ‘end’. 

Gary was able to apply and received the Small Business Grant from the government. The grant helped dramatically: before this was available, he was living on his savings. Although he was grateful for the grant, once bills and rent were covered, it did not leave a lot for anything else. At the time of writing in mid-June, there is still no clear guidance for hairdressers around the country when they can reopen. Gary has been informed that he can open “from 4th July”. He wished the government had been more specific about timelines they are working with, as it is affecting small local businesses locally in Hastings. He runs his business as a family business, with his family. His customers have become more like friends and family, and he expects a rush of current and new customers booking appointments once he is allowed to reopen. Gary created the business from scratch without any support, starting with only a few clients per week. He is already thinking about employing another hairdresser and is reasonably positive for the future. 

During the lockdown, he used the time to improve his business. Partly, this was to keep himself busy and partly to improve the experience that customers have when they visit the studio. He has redecorated, built a new coffee bar from recycled wood and replastered a wall. 

Gary has a clear plan for the future of the business. He already has customers travel to his studio from locations throughout the South East including Eastbourne, Tunbridge Wells and Brighton. He wants this to continue and would like to open other sites. St Leonards is the birthplace of SAMLI, and he wants to keep it the only one in the UK and open other sites abroad. In the future, he may open another location in Budapest or Vienna. 

He says, “This is my dream. I want to become a well-known brand where you can get not just a pampered service but where you can have a special, personalised service, from a person who listens and looks after you.” Without being cliche, Gary believes that because he has worked hard, the hard work has started to pay off with his business. 

You can check them out at www.samli.cc or after lockdown has lifted at 65 London Road, St Leonards. 


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