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Starting a business in Palmerston North was never on Haylee Benton’s radar when she returned home to Palmerston North from the United Kingdom. As for many kiwis living abroad, coming back to New Zealand was a chance to escape the hustle and bustle of the big city and reconnect with whānau and friends, however on a night out with girlfriends Haylee’s intended trip of leisure turned into an exciting business expedition. 

While reliving the bright lights of Palmy, Benton spotted a space for lease in Coleman Mall and immediately saw it as a perfect space and opportunity to replicate her luxury UK salon and bar ‘Alchemy & I’. 

Before returning to the UK, Benton decided to follow her dreams, grasping at the opportunity by committing to the lease. After receiving encouragement from her loved ones, Benton was inspired to pursue her passion of phenomenal customer experiences, bringing this unique salon style to her hometown, with this dream quickly becoming a reality.  

“I wanted to create a high-end luxurious bar and salon in Palmerston North and identified a gap in the market. Having done it all before, I knew I had the tools and experience to make it happen.” 

“My goal was to recreate a space for clients to enjoy a pampering session in a high-end location, while enjoying a cocktail, “says Benton. 

With the globe in the depths of the COVID-19 pandemic, Benton spent five months bringing her vision to life from the other side of the world.  

As a result of lockdown and being so far away from home, Benton made the most of the digital world to set up her new venture, interviewing and hiring her entire staff over Zoom.  

Newly appointed Salon Manager, Helen Tilyard managed the set-up process, coordinating tradies, sourcing cutting edge products and designing a functional yet appealing space to recreate the same look and feel as the UK salon.  

Tillyard, Benton and Salon Director, Sean Butt had regular Zoom meetings to ensure the project was on track. Benton and the team were extremely grateful to local businesses including Wood Robson Shop and Office Fitters, Lew’s Creative Flooring and Couchmans Electrical who worked hard to ensure the brief was met and the salon fit-out was ready for opening and to a high standard come November 2020. 

An engaging social media campaign in the lead up to opening created a flurry of hype and people were excited and eager to see the finished product. Since inception, nearly 900 people have treated themselves to the highly sought-after pampering services, from hair balayage to pedicures and everything in between. 

Before bringing ‘Alchemy & I’ to Palmerston North, Benton pondered whether Manawatū was ready for the new concept. She need not have worried; business is better than she could have imagined. 

“I’ve received so much positive feedback on the service and new level of indulgence, and I’m just so delighted to be able to offer this level of luxury to clients where I grew up,” says Benton. 

Benton is not a hairdresser by trade but describes herself as ‘the fussiest client’ with a real knack for providing quality top end service. The vision behind ‘Alchemy and I’ was to deliver a consistently high level of VIP experiences to renew, reinvigorate and revitalise exceeding all expectations. 

Customers have access to an app where they can request magazines, order a glass of bubbles, request phone chargers and order a delicious lunch thanks to the partnership with Alexandre Patisserie across the road. 

I want every customer to leave the salon feeling like they’ve been waited on and treated like royalty, whether they’re new to the salon or a regular customer,” says Benton. 

Benton’s UK ‘Alchemy & I’ salon recently made the top five salons in the UK for customer service and salon design. Benton also owns two other award-winning salon brands in the UK – Koha and Cecily.  

With the Palmerston North salon proving popular, the future looks bright. Benton plans to upscale and introduce ‘Alchemy & I’ to other small New Zealand cities, so she can spread her passion for luxury and excellent service throughout Aotearoa. 

Benton and the ‘Alchemy & I’ team welcome feedback and look forward to taking care of your needs at the salon. Check out the treatment menu at 

Check out the treatment menu on their website.

Manicure area in Alchemy & I

If you’re looking to grow your business, CEDA can help

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