Meet Penelope Cheshire, the powerhouse behind Beauty Works

Penny Cheshire holds the award, with Sharman Birtles MBE JP DL

Penny was presented with Queen’s Award for Enterprise by Sharman Birtles MBE JP DL, Vice Lord-Lieutenant of Greater Manchester, before later attending a ceremony at Windsor Castle - Credit: BeautyWorks

Penelope Cheshire has achieved global success through the simple equation of hard work, understanding her customer and empowering her team 

Penny Cheshire’s hair extensions business, Beauty Works, which has its offices in Cheadle, has grown in just 10 years to a multi-million-pound global concern, with distributors in the US, Europe and Dubai. Her products feature in Vogue, Cosmopolitan, Grazia and Glamour, and have won plaudits and awards at The Hair Awards every year since 2013.  They are seen on Nicole Scherzinger, Bella Hadid and Dame Joan Collins. Maya Jama chose Beauty Works hair extensions to wear to the Brit Awards in February, and in September 2021 Jennifer Lopez’s glamorous red carpet look at The Venice Film Festival was boosted by Beauty Works 22” clip-in hair extensions, in Blondette.  

It’s not only celebrity endorsements Penelope can celebrate, however; in November 2021 Beauty Works was honoured with a Queen’s Award for Enterprise in the category of International Trade. 

Penny accepts Queen's Award from Sharman Birtles MBE

Penny was presented with Queen’s Award for Enterprise by Sharman Birtles MBE JP DL, Vice Lord-Lieutenant of Greater Manchester, before later attending a ceremony at Windsor Castle - Credit: Beauty Works

‘Last year was really exciting,’ Penny acknowledges. ‘The Queen’s Award is the highest award you can win in business. It was a huge honour and achievement for Beauty Works. 

‘I got to go to Windsor Castle to meet Prince Charles. Because of the pandemic, I wasn’t allowed to take anybody with me, so my husband couldn’t come and as I was walking in, solo, I was admiring all the gifts from other nations in cabinets and the 16th century paintings on the walls and I fell up the stairs and broke my heel. It literally snapped off and I had to walk round the whole night with a broken heel. I kid you not, I was hobbling the whole evening. Luckily I had a trouser suit on and the length of the leg hid the fact I was completely lop-sided.  

‘It was embarrassing; one of the royal assistants asked if I was okay, but I realised there was nothing I could do so I just hobbled on. I’ll definitely never forget it.’ 

Penny Cheshire poses in front of lit up Windsor castle

Penny arriving at Windsor Castle, heel still intact - Credit: Beauty Works

This anecdote probably sums up Penny’s attitude to life – just keep on getting on with it.  

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‘We started the business from a two-bedroom flat in Liverpool, working at the kitchen table and keeping our stock in the spare bedroom. We then moved to Mottram, which while there was a lot more space, came with its own challenges – there were vans coming all day, every day, collecting or delivering and we decided we’d best move before the neighbours ran out of patience. My husband persuaded me to open an office in Wilmslow, although I was quite resistant at first. I felt a bit scared of the growth – I needed to hire staff, and that’s a big step, as then you have other people you’re responsible for.’ 

This is a responsibility Penny takes very seriously, and the very low turnover of staff in her business is just one demonstration of her effective employment style. 

Penny and women from her business

Penny with some of her team at Beauty Works - Credit: Beauty Works

‘I don’t micromanage,’ she says, ‘and we always aim first to promote from within. I don’t believe people can learn if they’re not allowed to work things out for themselves, to make mistakes and recover from them. You have to allow people some control over their own job. When you have girls coming in in their early 20s, they’re not really settled – they’re not really sure about their career, their home life, their boyfriends, business; generally I find now they just want it all, they want everything all at once. On Instagram it can look easy, it looks like people have these perfect lives, but don’t realise the hard work that goes into it all behind the camera. That’s what I try to teach the young women I work with.  

‘We encourage our people to develop within the business. I have one who started in the warehouse as a picker and packer who has progressed to buyer, which is normally a degree-type role, but we just thought this person was right for the job. We have girls start in customer service and progress to telesales and on to relationship management. It’s something we really believe in. 

‘I never went to university myself. Everything I learned was from on the job, so as a business leader I believe that you don’t always need to have a degree to succeed in certain roles. I prefer a more entrepreneurial type person; someone who’s quite passionate and hungry for a job. Passion, attitude, spirit, that’s what I look for when I am taking someone on.’ 

Making high quality hair extensions more accessible to ‘normal’ women, lifting them out of the sole purview of the wealthy and the famous, has been a driving force behind Penny’s work since she first established her business.  

Looking into the camera, in white tops and blue jeans, Altou Mvuama and Devon Herring with Beauty Works hair extensions

Beauty Works has a strong social media presence to connect with its audience, such as here with models Altou Mvuama and Devon Herring in a recent campaign - Credit: Beauty Works

‘I always knew I wanted my own business, and I was always obsessed with hair and how great hair can make you feel. I would save and save my wages for months and get my mum to drive me to get extensions put in. At 17 I moved to London and lived in Peckham.  There were a lot of Afro-Caribbean salons in the area and they were only selling a certain texture of hair, so I would source my own, and then for friends and family too. A Facebook page brought more customers and it got to the point where my friend, Lauren, and I would spend all weekend doing it. Lauren found a TV show, a bit like X-Factor for small businesses, called Tycoon, with finalists being mentored by Peter Jones. There were hundreds of entries but we got to the final 10, then got to work with his team to learn business planning, forecasting, production, marketing and sales. I learned everything there was to learn really quickly and those skills are still relevant today. 

‘We didn’t win, and sadly it didn’t work out with Lauren, but I went and did it on my own.’ 

Penny moved with her husband, Martin, to his home town of Liverpool and the rest, as they say, is history. 

Rear view of Molly-Mae with a long pony tail

Social media influencer Molly-Mae Hague working with Beauty Works on a campaign - Credit: Beauty Works

‘The industry has really evolved over the last 10 years. From celebs and WAGs in really obvious hair extensions now it’s very different. They’re used for short-term fixes if there’s a problem with the natural hair; for daily life; for one-off events such as weddings, when brides want to be themselves, but an enhanced version of themselves; for thickening, for lengthening, for colour... and they are so much more accessible.

'When I first got into the industry, hair extensions would take between three to six hours to have fitted, which was obviously really expensive. We’ve really looked into this and feel that in modern life, normal women who are juggling careers and family and everything else, really don’t have time for this, so our new method is what we call a ‘lunchtime service’, where women can go to a salon and get our tape-in extensions fitted within an hour.  

‘It’s always been my vision to combine the highest quality hair with the technique for rapid fitting, to make sure that Beauty Works as a brand was affordable for everyday women and not just celebrities and high earners.’