The Salon of Choice

Whether you take Pucci Salon and Day Spa’s slogan, “The Salon of Choice,” to mean a salon with many choices, or the salon to choose, you’d be right. Between the salon’s full menu of services and owner Debra Capaldi’s unflagging dedication, Pucci is the place.

When Debra Capaldi first saw what was to become Pucci Salon and Day Spa in Scottsdale, Ariz., all she could say was, “Wow’“ The salon she had formerly visited as a client had vacated the premises, leaving in its wake broken mirrors, smashed thermostats, and doors off their hinges, all in a pool of water from the broken water heater. “With everything smashed up the way it was, it looked like an earthquake had hit,” Capaldi remembers. The scene of destruction had a powerful impact on her so powerful, in fact, that she took some of the images the trashed location evoked in her mind and put them into the decor of the salon she was planning to open.

‘That’s where we got the theme with the open sky, broken mirrors, and bare metal beams,” she says. Capaldi also asked her architect to bring together many different textures, such as corrugated metal, ceramic tile, concrete blocks, cement, stone, and, of course, Formica for the stations. Many of the walls separating different sections of the salon rise toward the ceiling, only to stop short with jagged edges as though the top part of the wall had collapsed. Yet other walls, narrow and painted with a dark, rich color, reach to the high ceiling like tall skyscrapers. Some parts of the ceiling are decorated with a cloudy blue sty, as though there were gaping holes in the roof.

Capaldi chose these design elements deliberately to stimulate her customers’ senses. “The design is very outrageous; it’s exciting to look at,” she explains. If the decor doesn’t energize clients, the videos will. While a sound system pulses with music from scattered speakers, videotapes on hair, makeup, and fashion play on TV monitors perched on metal beams high above the floor. Capaldi says, ‘It’s all for visual effect. Clients can see the monitors from any angle in the salon and it’s one more thing to keep them busy.” (As if die hustle and bustle of 60 hairstylists, nail technicians, and estheticians isn’t enough to keep clients busy.)

When this salon says full service, it means it. Clients can choose from a variety of hair and nail services, as well as a menu of spa and massage services, including 10 different facials (not counting the numerous micro treatments that range from Enzymetherapy Peels to Spa Glo for Feet to Elbow Rescue Treatment). Then, of course, there are makeup lessons and applications, tinting, waxing, and eight day- spa packages. Not to mention the tanning booth.


Capaldi is the maestro who orchestrates all the action in the salon (with a little help from the four people who work the front desk with her). “I’m here every day, close to 12 hours a day so that I can monitor situations and catch them before they become problems,” she says. Capaldi, a licensed esthetician and makeup artist, says clients often ask her to give them a facial or do their makeup, but she gently turns them down. “I don’t have time to do services,” she explains. “As the owner, I can only do one thing and that’s manage the salon. I think it’s very important for me to be here all the time. I make my employees comfortable and happy and then their customers are happy and then I’m happy. It’s synergy.”

As the owner, Capaldi explains, it’s her responsibility to make the decisions — from big to little. “Say a client comes in on the wrong day. While my front desk can help her, I can give her the extra service that an employee can’t, like a free service while she waits.”

For example, on the day spoke, Capaldi came in to find that a hairstylist had called in sick. She went immediately to the phone calling to reschedule clients for the following week. Soon afterwards she had four women who were scheduled to begin their Day of I Beauty packages at 11 a.m. ca from the airport — at 11. “So then I had to figure out how to keep all four women on schedule without them missing something from 1 day,” says Capaldi, who adds that she eventually decided to shorten I the first woman’s massage, explaining to the woman that it had to be done to keep everyone on schedule.

For some salon owners, situations like this make them want to pull out their hair. But Capaldi sails through unruffled. In fact, the on time she gets anxious is when she’s not answering questions and solving problems. “If I’m not there even for one day, I missed something. I’m impatient and I want things done right away,” she says “If I’m not there to deal with it when it happens, I have to deal with it later. I don’t like that.”

When she’s not answering an employee’s question or chatting with a customer, Capaldi work; with the front desk staff, answering phones and booking appointments According to Capaldi, the front desk is a salon’s nerve center. “The front desk runs the whole salon, Everyone at my front desk is close? we’re a team and we continually communicate with each other so everyone knows what’s going on. Everyone in the salon knows they’re the brain center and they get the respect they deserve.”


Capaldi values respect because it took her almost a year to earn it from salon professionals in her community. Capaldi has lived in Scottsdale more than 10 years, but her only contact with Scottsdale salons was as a customer until she decided to open Pucci six years ago. (Planning the opening took more than a year; the salon has been open 4½ years.) Her interest in the industry, however, goes back much further. While Capaldi attended college in Boston, she got involved in school plays doing the actors’ makeup. She loved doing makeup so much that she got a job with Lancôme after graduation.

“I figured I’d work there a year and then go on to graduate school,” says Capaldi. Instead, she got a promotion and decided to stay on with Lancome while she went back to school — but instead of going to graduate school to earn her teaching certificate, Capaldi went to beauty school to become an esthetician. She was soon doing skin care and teaching makeup classes in addition to her sales job with Lancôme.

In the meantime, two of her friends decided to open a salon, and Capaldi and her cousin helped them get started. “I helped them pick the name, design the salon, place the stations, and set up their orders,” she says. Capaldi liked helping out so much that she got the idea to open her own salon. But before she did, she and her husband relocated to Scottsdale and she got involved helping him set up his automotive business. “I put the business together — opening accounts, learning city codes, decorating, obtaining the equipment, working with a lawyer and accountants. It gave me a lot of insight into what to expect with my own business,” she relates.

After a few years, Capaldi started researching her “dream” salon. She talked to friends in the industry and to suppliers. When the salon she patronized relocated, she says the empty space was like omen, telling her it was time to act. She met with an accountant am lawyer, signed the lease, and call the architect. In the lease Capaldi negotiated for six months of building time to get the salon ready, as she found a respected hairstylist manage the salon while she learned the ins and outs of salon ownership. Her manager also helped her start the salon.

Finding good people was hard at first for Capaldi. “Stylists and nail technicians were hesitant at firs work here because they did know who I was,” she remember. Her salon manager helped her for a few stylists with established clienteles who would rent space in salon. “It took me about a year establish my own reputation. Then I got a lot of good people,” she says. As the salon grew, Capaldi started giving staff a choice between booth rental and commission, and now the salon has a mix of both.

About two years after the salon opened, a 1,500-square-ffot space opened up next door and Capaldi took it, expanding the salon to 4,500-square feet and adding spa services. When another adjacent 1,500-square-ffot space became again. The complimentary cappuccino bar Capaldi had started out with was so successful, Capaldi decided to branch out and add a cafe in this space. Less than a year later, though, Capaldi tore out the cafe, and in its place added a few more hair and nail stations and another pedicure spa (for a total of five). “I tried the cafe, but it meant dealing with chefs and was harder to keep everything clean and after a while I just couldn’t deal with it,” she says.

Even better, because the salon’s clientele grew right along with the salon’s new business comes from client referrals, but Capaldi also advertises in local magazines and the yellow pages. And she capotes newcomers to the area through a direct mail campaign. “I hired a photographer and five models and did full-face style shots that I had made into postcards.” Each of the five postcards features a different style shot in full color on the front, while the back of the postcard describes the salon and offers a different special. “Every month I mail a different postcard to all the new homeowners,” she explains. “It takes about three months to get their attention.”

Capaldi also gives away at least 10 days of beauty each year to different charities for balls and other fund-raisers. “It’s for a good cause and it brings a new person into the salon,” she says, happy that she can benefit both the community and her business at the same time. After all, making an impact is her goal.

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