Women with Gritt: Jocelyn Petroni on Kindness, Self Funding a business, and the moment she got that call from Chanel

“People can sometimes assume you have to be mean to be successful, and I don’t think that’s the case. I think people are surprised when they find out that I pride myself on being kind to others. There’s nothing I value more than kindness.” 

Welcome to Women with GRITT: a series where we interview the resilient, hardworking women who have kicked in the glass ceiling and inspire us to do the same. 

When thinking about a 10-year career plan, very few of us are bold enough to aim for expert status. Sure, we may want to improve our skill set and advance up the corporate ladder, but actually penning the word ‘expert’ into our bullet journal seems that little bit out of reach. For Jocelyn Petroni, founder of her eponymous salon, bonafide skin expert and the official Nail Artist for CHANEL Australia, achieving this goal was a non-negotiable. 

With a fond appreciation for craftsmanship and beauty since she can remember, Petroni was never one to do things by halves and was quickly identified as an emerging talent while studying her Diploma in Beauty Therapy at The Strand College of Beauty Therapy. On a highly-sought after scholarship, mind you. Crediting this to her father’s influence, Petroni was quickly made aware of just how capable she was. “My dad had a really big influence on me. He is Maltese and has always instilled this Mediterranean approach to holistic wellness in me since my childhood,” she says. “I still have memories of us taking ocean swims together and sitting in the shallows to scrub our skin with the sand.”

Now running her successful Woollahra flagship salon and managing commitments as the official nail artist of CHANEL Australia (and the first ever stockist of CHANEL nail colours outside of their branded counters), Petroni has built her reputation on kindness, expertise and second-to-none customer service. You don’t get to count Miranda Kerr and Megan Gale as diehard fans for nothing!

In this interview, Petroni speaks to Gritty Pretty about self-funding a business, why it took her seven years to hire staff and the moment she got that call from CHANEL.

Hi Jocelyn! Thank you for speaking to us today. Before we jump into your incredible career, we would love to know where you think you first inherited your drive and passion from?

Both of my parents always demonstrated an incredible work ethic and attention to detail my whole life. I like to think I’ve inherited these traits from them. I was one of four children in my family and the only one not to go to university but that really helped me just have a really pure passion and motivation to be a success. I’ve always considered passion the true key to a successful career.

Sounds like you had incredible role models! When was the turning point, in your younger years, when you realised that skin, beauty and nails were what you wanted to do?

In school, I always loved art but I also loved science and biology. When I started to study beauty therapy, it just felt like those two sides of me came together. At a really basic level, I think the idea of being tactile, of being empathetic, of being nurturing—all the things it takes to be a great skin and beauty therapist—were in me from a really young age. My sister had a very serious accident when I was five and I got to take care of her until she was better. I think that’s when my love for taking care of people really ignited.

Once you’d become set on being a beauty therapist, how did you break into the industry?

I applied to a few different beauty schools. In those days, it was very expensive and required an interview to get in. Because I was working full-time while I studied, I asked at the interviews whether there were scholarships. They didn’t have them right away but a few weeks into studying, my school told me that they’d gotten the funding and since I’d had the gumption to ask upfront, they were giving me the first one. It pays to ask! 

From there, my first beauty job was at a beautiful spa called Spa Chakra. The owner was such a pioneer and he had moved to Australia to launch his business and I got to see first-hand the real benefit of thorough market research, excellent customer service and customer care. He was amazing.

What an incredible mentor! What were some of the greatest lessons you learnt in the early years of your career?

The experience at that spa really inspired me to create something of my own which combined the luxury spa environment with my own meticulous attention to detail. I wanted to offer professional treatments that were more about care and results than indulgence. Everyone deserves to have lovely skin and I think everything I have done has been an extension of that.

Once you’d come to the realisation that you wanted to start your own business, what practical steps did you put in place to get it off the ground?

I never dreamed of having a big business, I loved the idea of being with clients and having control over their whole experience too much. So, it took me a long time to scale up. When I first started, I leased a small space upstairs of a hair salon in Paddington. I did everything myself. Except for a flyer drop! My parents helped with that. Even when I started to have a waitlist for clients, I resisted the idea of help. It took me seven years to hire staff!

And how did you initially fund your business?

It was entirely self-funded. I think it cost me less than $10,000 in the beginning. But I started small and was powered purely by passion, motivation and drive.

The hard work obviously paid off because ten years after you first launched you opened your iconic Woollahra flagship store. How has your role evolved over the years?

It’s evolved a lot! And it’s still evolving. But I’m also still the person who will sweep the floor and take out the bin when I need to. No matter how busy I get, I still really value the time I spend with my hands on my clients because that is my heart. That is what fulfils me. I have enjoyed diversifying, learning new skills and employing incredibly talented staff but it’s important to me that I am still connected to all parts of my business. It has my name on it, so it will always be fundamentally intertwined with me.

What are some of the hardest things about launching your own business and how did you overcome these challenges?

I am naturally a very social creature and I like to engage with people and hear their stories. So, starting the business alone as a sole trader without anyone to bounce things off was challenging. I had to stretch myself to keep studying, to find the support, to build the community network groups. I think that’s the hard part of starting your own business in the early days. It feels like you’re working really, really hard in a vacuum and it’s hard to see the success.

And success you’ve certainly achieved! You were named the first official CHANEL Nail Expert for CHANEL Australia in 2015. What was that feeling like and how did that partnership come about?

It was humbling and thrilling—a true career highlight. I have always admired what CHANEL does with colour and how they’re able to really dictate trends without ever being too trendy. To have some kind of input and effect in that is just a complete honour. 

I think the partnership really came about through my relationship with the press and with local beauty editors. I didn’t really seek it out. I didn’t have a publicist or anything like that but I found that once I got my hands on them, they tended to share their experience and that had a really big impact on my business. It was my reputation with those editors that brought CHANEL to my door.

You should be so proud! Finally, how would you like to see the conversation around skin and skin health change?

I’d like to see less of the idea of perfection. Less filtering on social media would be a nice start. Honesty and authenticity are so important when it comes to skin. Some realism in the skin you see, instead of fantasy. I think that would make a difference to how much people love their own skin, which is so valuable.

Well said, Jocelyn! Thank you for chatting to us today.

WOMEN WITH GRITT June 17, 2021 by Rose Garnett