Having It All: A Salon That Mixes Old and New

Mixing the old (as in their decor and tried-and-true customer service) with the new (as in the latest and hottest client-pleasing services) is what makes this New Jersey salon a winner in more ways than one.

Champion and Ventrone selected antique pieces to furnish the salon. The floral patterns in the window dressings, floor coverings, and upholstery lend warmth to functional furniture, such as the comfy client chair.
<p>Champion and Ventrone selected antique pieces to furnish the salon. The floral patterns in the window dressings, floor coverings, and upholstery lend warmth to functional furniture, such as the comfy client chair.
The salon started as Golden Shears, a place where clients could get a great haircut; nothing more, nothing less. Today, the name has become Golden Shears: Hair, Nails & More, and for a very good reason. Peter Ventrone, owner, and Linda Champion, manager of the salon, located in Runnemede, N.J., have created a homey shop that rejects the beauty and elegance of the past, while maintaining a focus on the latest services that keep clients coming back for more.

“We have an old-style radio in the salon, along with several other antiques. What I see clients telling their children about them, I feel I am giving them a piece of history,” Ventrone says proudly.

Until two years ago, Golden Shears, a runner-up at the 1996 NAILS Industry Awards for a salon with 4-7 Nail Technicians, only specialized in hair. Now, Ventrone employs 16 operations, including five nail technicians. “It just got to a point where out customers wanted more services. If we could not provide it for them; they would go to another salon.”

Ventrone, originally from New York, attended beauty school and received his license in 1964. Drafted during the Vietnam War, he was at his first salon for a short time.

As the country eased out of the unkempt, anti-establishment years of the sixties into the seventies, Ventrone moved to Philadelphia. After cutting hail at a local salon for a while, Ventrone realized it was time to open up his own place so he rented a building. “Although I was alone at first, I had a good following. Gradually, I brought in a few stylists. The business started to take off and I gave away some of my clients. But, I am always willing to give away my following to build another operator,” he admits. After a few years, Ventrone was unhappy renting and purchased a building across the street using only the first floor for his salon.

Rose Capasso, a hairstylist who has worked with Ventrone for 15 years, re-members the first shop as small, and not very professional-looking. “Our new location was half a business and half a house, and very old. Peter totally remodeled it, practically rebuilding it from the ground up and it turned out very beautiful,” Capasso says.

For weeks Ventrone cut hair during the day at the old shop, and in the evening went across the street to renovate the new one. The night before the grand opening a major disaster oc­curred. There was an arsonist setting fires around town, and he picked Golden Shears to burn that night. It destroyed the salon.

Ventrone, like the phoenix rising from the ashes, would not give up and dedicated himself to rebuilding the salon for his operators and loyal patrons.

Time for Nails

As his hair business grew, Ventrone instinctively knew there was a huge nail trade just waiting to be cultivated, but was unable to find the right person willing — and hungry enough — to go after it.

Enter Linda Champion. Although Ventrone and she were a couple for a few years, Champion maintained a nail technician position at another salon, not wanting to interfere in his business. “Then I realized the potential at his shop and thought maybe I could help get it going. I only worked two days a week at first so nobody would feel their comfort zone was being invaded, or intimidated by my huge clientele. Everything evolved Sow’ she explains. Determined not to create a panic, Champion ventured forth by making minor aesthetic changes in the shop, removing pictures and replacing them with new prints and gold frames.

 To build a nail trade, Champion hired what she considers excellent nail technicians. “All the technicians here, including myself, have many years of experience, and I feel that is our best asset. The business skyrockets each time we add more services.”

Champion, who received her cosmetology license in 1977, began her career as a manicurist in a barbershop. For a while she took a leave from nails to do makeup and hair, but eventually returned to nails, specializing acrylics for the last 14 years “Ever since I was a little girl I always wanted to be a hairdresser. I never thought about nails. But when I started doing sculptured nails, it took over my career and I had no choice but to do them. To this day I don’t work with tips, basic manicures, or pedicures since I have such a strong acrylic business.”

Champion explains that each nail technician specializes in one area of nails, pedicures, even nail art (although there is no real demand for it at the salon). Nearly 90% of their work is doing artificial nails and keeping up with polish color trends. “The majority of our clients are getting daring and asking for the new trendy looks. We sell polishing they buy the more bizarre colors. “They get a kick out of it.”

However, pink and white permanent French acrylics with clear polish is very popular with women who want nails that look natural, but are really artificial. Champion feels technicians who do not push this style are losing out, claiming they charge quite a bit extra for this service, but customers are more than willing to pay for it.

Never Stand Still

As. the nail business mushroomed, Ventrone realized full-service salons were the wave of the future. “I have been in the business for a long time and learned there are trends you have to go with. I have seen others close their shops because they were unwilling to change. If a service is not doing well, you replace it with whatever is new immediately,” he says strongly. Putting his words into action, Ventrone and Champion added more manicure station and a pedicure chair to complement the nail care business.

Then in 1994, with Champion’s expertise and help, Ventrone embarked on his most impressive project to date: to completely renovate the upstairs apartment, giving it the ambiance of an old- fashioned beauty parlor.

“The word ‘spa’ seems so cold and stale, and since we offer an old-world charm and elegance with antiques and comfortable furniture, we wanted everyone to feel like they were at home. At the same time, we maintain the same hygienic and sanitary conditions of contemporary salons, which were lacking in the past,” Champion explains.

As clients enter the parlor, a feeling of anticipation builds while walking through each area or room. Everyone experiences a warm feeling which invites them to try one of the services in this pleasant atmosphere, says Champion.

The main area consists of a sitting area, a cosmetic corner, and the bridal parlor used for private consulting or any special need. The massage therapy room with its cozy decor entices customers onto the table. Nobody forgets the antique settings of the hair removal area, facial room, and the Victorian tanning bed room. “After everyone takes the tour of the upstairs parlor, they want to move in and live there,” Champion says.

The parlor is also used for a unique feature: “littlest ladies” birthday beauty parties. The mothers bring their daughters, provide a cake for the guests, and the salon furnishes the refreshments for the occasion. A few girls at a time go downstairs to have their hair and nails done. “They walk out feeling very grown-up. We give them key chain souvenirs from our boutique, so they leave feeling very good about the experience.”

Upon entering the salon, customers immediately step into the “you don’t mind waiting room,” where they can relax on two comfortable Victorian sofas, enjoy a cup of cappuccino, or browse through the salon’s boutique. The decor is an eclectic blend of antique and contemporary, but leans more to the Victorian with Oriental rugs tastefully placed throughout the salon.

“Even our newly painted exterior, in Victorian shades of burgundy, cream, and green, catches the eye of every motorist driving past the building. It gives them a hint of the wonderful and delightful things that await them inside,” Champion says enthusiastically.

The lower level houses several hair stations, an elaborately decorated pedicure chair, and nail tables scattered throughout the salon to eliminate any congested sections.

Champion credits Ventrone, with the help of a friend, for all the construction during the remodeling of the upper level.

“Meanwhile, I was running all over trying to decorate the building. I was spending days standing and waiting around at auctions buying furniture, mirrors, light fixtures, and accent pieces trying to pull it together. All without the help of a professional interior decorator,” she says proudly.

The Golden Touch

Champion reveals that her ideas came from the depth of her heart and soul. She wanted to create a salon where clients would love to come to relax in comfort surrounded by warmth and beauty. Emphasizing that many changes were due to the suggestions of the patrons, Champion reveals it was the incentive they needed to improve the salon. “We wanted an upscale atmosphere, unlike contemporary spa salons which intimidate with a sterile office environment. Luckily, the size of the building afforded us the opportunity to expand,” she notes.

Last year, Champion created a variety of colorful seasonal fliers enticing customers to try trendy fun colors on their nails. Placing the fliers at each nail station, she happily reports the response was overwhelming. “People loved them. I could not believe how many people got green polish for their nails because of the flier I made for St. Patrick’s Day. The bright colors draw people to fingernails.”

With the huge success of the first fliers, Champion designed others for Easter, Halloween, Christmas, and Valentine’s Day, and may try to create them for other services m the future.

Golden Shears established a dress code for the technicians in order to maintain their new image. Their clothing is business-oriented, but trendy and elegant. “Of course our customers do not need to follow our lead. They come in wearing anything from sweats to high-fashion outfits. It is important for them to be comfortable,” Champion says.

Nail technician René Gliatto really enjoys working at Golden Shears. “One of the nice things for me is that Peter stops whatever he is doing to greet people as they enter the shop. Everyone here is warm and friendly, and although the salon is very plush-looking, you are not greeted by an aloof receptionist,” Gliatto says.

Fresh out of school, Gliatto entered a nail competition and won first place as a student in sculptured nails. The following year she won first place in the professional category. “Once I figured I had mastered it, instead of walking away, I got more involved and things took off,” she says.

After 13yearsasanail technician, Gliatto chooses to work with sculptured nails and pink and white French acrylics. Also known as the “pedicure queen,” she is now studying reflexology so she can add it to her menu of services.

Since all the technicians at Golden Shears specialize, they usually do not interfere with each other’s clients. However, if a client is unhappy with someone, Champion asks them to try another technician before going to a different salon. “We all have our own way of doing nails, and they might find someone else more compatible,” she says.

Attracting Attention

According to Gliatto, the shop is building a good reputation with in their industry. She and Ventrone service a client very active in the beauty industry who can go to any salon at no charge but prefers Golden Shears. “We make her feel comfortable. Most of the time she needs to be all business, but there is the can let her guard down,” Gliatto reveals.

Besides the excellent technicians and the great services, Champion feels the real attractions are the unique business acumen and warm personality of Peter Ventrone. He believes you are never too busy or have enough business to stop accommodating your clients. Ventrone insists everyone is treated equality –from executives to the unemployed.

“I’m Italian, so when people come to my house, I open my refrigerator and start cooking. Before the salon got so busy, I would serve food to my customers. That is the way I run my business. People come in sometimes, not for a haircut, but just to sit my chair and have fun. I make them laugh. This is what I bring to my shop. When I sing or joke around it may be irritating to some, but most of the people are having a good time.”

Ventrone, who always believed word of mouth brings in new customers, never pursued any advertising for the salon, but now he sees its value. When they placed a banner outside the salon announcing their NAILS Industry Award, it captured so much attention that people were drawn into the shop just out of curiosity, Ventrone recalls.

In five past, their only promotion was giving away T-shirts to clients, but with all the new improvements, Champion started producing a client newsletter, “The Parlor in Print.” Their standard gift certificates were replaced with “Beauty Bonds.” When redeemed by the recipient, they will be worth 10% above the original purchase price.

Golden Shears also initiated a Tuesday Night consumer workshop, targeting local businesspeople. They offer complimentary services to introduce them to new services and operators.

Both Ventrone and Champion insist education is a big part of their business and a top priority at Golden Shears Ventrone constantly impresses upon his fellow technicians the value of attending shows, classes, and seminars on the latest techniques. Exploring all the new services and products gives you an edge over the competition, he maintains. “Although we love the products we use, we are always open to new things to make our business better. Whenever we go to a show or seminar, we pick up or learn at least one thing that makes the time spent worthwhile.”

Capasso points out the technicians are not pushed into continuing education, but they seem interested on their own and feel it is important for the shop. “Peter is the best boss anyone can ask for. He is like a co-worker, a very good friend. Peter and Linda make a good team,” she says.

With the recent changes and remodelling at Golden Shears, Ventrone sadly says they are out of room ... but only temporarily. There is a piece of land adjacent to his property, owned by the township, he may buy to enlarge the salon’s parking lot. “If we had more space, I would add a sauna or whatever else is trendy. We will soon offer a line of hairpieces for cancer patients and others who need one.”

Although fully staffed, Ventrone plans to attend a job fair at a local school to interview students with a talent for beauty. “You never know what tomorrow brings so you always need to keep looking ahead,” he says.

With one eye focused on the future, and the other eye focused on being the best salon in town, Ventrone and Champion prove that you truly can “have it all.”

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