Nicola Hughes… you’re hired!

Reading Time: 5 minutes

When Sir Alan’s people called, it was an honour and a thrill for Saks to be asked to field a hair industry expert in the finale of The Apprentice 2023. Enter salon owner Nicola Hughes at Saks Chester, to consider finalist Rochelle’s salon and training academy concept as part of Lord Sugar’s panel. Watch the episode and FF to Nik’s questions at 43:36.


2023 also sees Nikki being inducted into the British Hairdressing Business Awards Hall of Fame, having been named Franchisee of the Year three times (same as our already-inducted salon owner Claire Denyer at Saks Kings Hill).

Given the major amount of high-profile ‘biz-pertise’ coming out of Saks Chester, we caught up with Nikki to create a five minute read on a) The Apprentice experience and b) her recipe for salon-owning success.

The Apprentice campaign image

When you know, you know


Sorry! What we mean is, how did it feel when you got asked by Saks HQ to contribute, in such a high-profile show?

Nikki : “At first it didn’t register. Only after the show aired did I realise how many people watch it. Surreal.”

You were booked with customers on the day of the final and we never want to shuffle. What was your approach?

Nikki: “Obviously I couldn’t breath a word so I rang everyone and explained that I had an unmissable opportunity, was it OK to rearrange. Filming was on a Saturday so I worked late Friday and came in on Sunday. My customers were fine – they knew I’d only ask if I had a good reason to.”

Train chaos on the day. Did you get the bike out?

“Err in a long dress, not a chance – it might get stuck in the chain and ruin my bike! We made it from Chester to London but had delays and a long taxi ride home. Landed around 2am, my youngest daughter had a raging temperature – poor thing – so I got four hours sleep and was then back to salon. Such is life!”

Describe the vibe?

Everything was cloak and dagger when we arrived but it was a very chilled experience. The production crew had everything under control. It all went very smoothly.”

And Lord Sugar? 

We chatted with Sir Alan and he was exactly as you’d expect. A straight talking business man. He was very interested, spoke objectively about the two contestants and was kind and balanced in his approach.”

Anything challenging for you?

Knowing what to do with my hair, of course! I can talk about the hair industry all day but I’ve never been on TV. And I had to look like a hairdresser. I left the house at 9am and we didn’t start recording till 2pm, so I had to create a look that would last.”

( US: The effortless up-do, red hot halter maxi and matching lip combo gets a 10 from Saks… had to be said!)


How did everyone react to seeing you on TV?

It was 100% confidential beforehand so it was a massive surprise. When the programme aired my phone was beeping away with supporting messages from customers and friends, some of whom I’d not seen in years! They said they recognised my voice first, haha. I had customers who had been shouting at the TV, that I could do all hair types, so it wasn’t a USP. Amazing feedback, and it’s been brilliant to make everyone proud, especially my Saks family!”

Any interesting reactions or messages after your appearance?

Yes, from a customer who’d booked in afterwards. We were chatting and she said ‘someone from Saks was on The Apprentice last week’, and I told her it was me. She gave me the once over and said ‘Well it didn’t look like you’ – hilarious!

What did you take away from the experience?

My belief has always been to grab every opportunity and live with no regrets. And this experience has empowered me to believe in myself more and be even more passionate about empowering others to achieve their dreams.

Montage of images from Saks Chester salon

Saks Chester VIBE!


We know team-nurture is all. And we love that team-Chester made it to the BHBA final as Salon Team of the Year. Anything to say here?

My team fully deserve to be finalists in the BHBAs – they are amazing. We work to support each others weaknesses and enhance our strengths. Doesn’t matter if we win or not, I know they’ll go on to be even stronger and I’m really excited for the future.

Business-head on… three tips for salon-owning success?

Set clear targets that the whole team understand.

Make your goals relatable. Ensure every team member understands what the success of the business means to them.

And if one of your team is struggling, take responsibility of things you can do or change to support them.

As a salon owner, That One Thing you hate having to do?

Letting someone down, There’s times with customers and team that my heart wants to say yes, to something they’ve asked for, but for logical business reasons I have to say no. Doesn’t matter how long I have the business, that part doesn’t get any easier. I just try to explain why I’ve had to say no. It just goes with the job.

And straight from the heart… what you love most about salon-life.

The flexibility it gives me. I can support and empower other stylists to reach their dreams. I like to think I’m helping shape a fantastic industry and I get to be there for my family and make memories with my two beautiful daughters and husband. Life is about balance!


Salon manager *and wing woman* Claire says: “Nikki and I have worked together for over ten years. As well as owning the salon she runs a busy column and is always there to support us all. Work/life balance is important and Nikki massively supports this with flexible working, weekends off and the option to work our diary to suit us.

“We’ve got a good vibe in our salon – customers say we are like their friends and we all support each other. Nikki invests in our training, attending external events and entering awards to keep us fresh and diverse. Not to mention treats like products and team lunches just because. When there comes to a boss, it doesn’t get much better, cheers Nikki!”


Find Nicola, Claire, Gail, Danielle, Sarah, Ellie-May, Tia, Erin and Martha at 19a Upper Northgate Street in town. Browse and book online here.


UK salon owners wanting a better work/life balance, this might be for you. Convert your salon to Saks with no hassle, no upfront fee. Just an affordable monthly cost – in exchange for a whole load of hands-on help from day one. Read all about it and call 0845 678 0290 to arrange an informal chat with Saks HQ.



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