Business Management

Reaching New Heights: The Old Fashion Way

A salon's prestige is built on excellence, not image.

Randy Currie apologized for the noise on his end of the telephone. It wasn’t the roar of blow dryers or even the buzz of clients chattering while they got their nails done. This noise had the distinct sound of a baby demanding his father’s undivided attention. Currie was at home, in charge of the baby while his wife went to work ... as a hairstylist at Currie Hair-Skin-Nails. “We trade off,” Currie explains. “I still manage to do a lot of writing and working while I’m home.”

The owner of Currie Hair-Skin-Nails in Glen Mills, Pa., is most definitely at home in the salon industry, a place he has wanted to be ever since college;. His enthusiasm for and dedication to the industry is visible in the small things, like fresh flowers in the salon at all times, as well as in the big things like nurturing NAHA winners in his midst. Nail technician Jacqueline Bicow, who manages Curries nail area, won the North American Hairstyling Awards’ Natural Nail Makeover category last February, and the salon has been promoting her achievement ever since. “I would never have thought to enter if Randy hadn’t encouraged me,” says Bicow. Curries salon has thousands of clients, books more than 150 new clients each month, has 46 staff members, and grosses about $1.5 million in sales a year. Yet despite its size, Currie Hair-Skin-Nails is a place where clients feel welcome; and recognized. No one is in the salon for more than five minutes before; she is offered something to drink. Promotions throughout the year give clients the opportunity the win free gift certificates, services, and even expensive watchers. Carrie still works 30 hours a week as a hairstylist, as does his wife, Mary Ann. “We are able to have a high level of professionalism yet still keep that small salon feeling,” Currie; explains. He is not at all interested in creating an “exclusionary” feeding that only serves to alienate clients.

 

A Case Of Perfect Timing

 

Currie has an amazing talent for being able to capitalize on the times. His salon, like most businesses, grew because of its owner’s ability to adapt to new markets and to recognize good ideas. As a young man, Currie was introduced to the Vidal Sassoon philosophy of hairstyling, both at school and in Sassoon’s ground-breaking book, Sorry I Kept You Waiting, Madame. “He was a pioneer in the ‘hair-as-fashion’ concept,” Currie says. Currie, who had dropped out of college to attend beauty school and was working in one of the area’s prestigious salons, was very anxious to start a salon of his own with the same focus. He didn’t waste much time, but moved in with relatives and saved every penny he earned. In 1978, he opened a salon called Razzle Dazzle in a small shopping center. “Hey, I was young, and it was the ’70s,” he says in defense of the salon’s name and its decor of burgundy and gray with fluorescent lights. He was happy to be next to a gourmet meat market, figuring it would attract a steady stream of affluent women from the neighborhood, some of whom would want to get their hair done. Sure enough, many of them became his clients, walking away with Dorothy Hamill wedge cuts and Farrah Fawcett ’dos.

By the late ’80s however, eating red meat was no longer politically correct, feathered hair was extinct, and the shopping center was looking a bit worn. After 12 years in the same place, Currie had long since outgrown his 1,400-square-foot shop and decided to relocate. This time, he chose a site in an upscale mall with national chain stores like The Gap and Ann Taylor. His lease price more than doubled, however, so a cautious Currie took only 1,400 square feet. But the changing times wouldn’t let him stay small.

“The ’80s were a time when people started thinking of themselves more,” Currie says. ‘They had stressful jobs and they wanted something that would help relieve the; stress.” When Currie moved to his new location in 1990, he somehow found the space to increase his nail and skin care services. Within one year, however, he had to double the salon’s size; and increase the number of nail technicians from one to three. Professionals from nearby Wilmington, Del., which is home to most major banks as well as DuPont, started coming in for facials and manicures, in addition to hair services. In another two years, Currie added 1,080 more square feet and installed two hydro-pedicure stations.

One: thing Currie didn’t spare any expense on was his lighting system. Instead of using fluorescent lights, a mediocre staple at many salons, Currie hired an architect to create a warm, artistic environment with lighting. Mirrors are framed with incandescent lights, and there are “bridges” of lights throughout the salon that cast shadows and highlights along the walls. Skin tones and hair color come alive under this nattering light, Currie explains, and it is noticed by customers and employees alike.

 

Doing Nails Naturally

 

At nearly 3,900 square feet, Currie Hair-Skin-Nails now houses its own private nail area with six full-time nail technicians, including manager Bicow. Bicow and her staff are kept busy giving manicures that are as relaxing as they are beautifying. Looking at the nail service success, Currie frankly admits that his first experience with nails was a disaster. “We hired an independent contractor in 1982, and it just didn’t work out,” he says. The nail technician came and went as she pleased, and Currie could never count on her being there if a walk-in client wanted a service. A year later, Currie hired a full-time nail technician and made her an employee with an hourly wage. To promote; the nail business, Currie gave free manicures to his regular hair clients. “The nail technician still got paid, and we were getting clients to try her out. The results were wonderful,” he says.

While Currie Hair-Skin-Nails does offer all types of nail services including acrylics, the salon focuses on natural nails. At first, acrylic services were downplayed because the odor was too overpowering in the smaller locations. Today, the nail area has its own separate place in the salon, so odor is no longer a problem. However, most clients prefer natural nail manicures or fiberglass extensions. A “basic” manicure includes a soak with glass beads to finger in the bowl, a deluxe band massage, and the sound of soft music and water splashing in a fountain in the background. Bicow pays close attention to sanitation and trains every nail technician in proper implement disinfection and workstation cleanliness. “Randy pretty much gives me full reign of the nail area,” Bicow explains. “I keep him updated on what we’re doing and what’s going on in the industry.”

Recently, Currie Hair-Skin-Nails’ nail salon won the Readers Choice award in the local newspaper. Bicow was happy, but she should not have been surprised. Her clientele alone has jumped from 160 to 220 a month in just four years.

 

Employees Feel At Home

 

Working for an award-winning salon like Currie Hair-Skin-Nails would be a coup for many ambitious beauty school graduates. But since turnover is very low — and standards are very high — only a few people join the team each year. According to Currie, the only time staff members leave is when they move out of town or have children. “We don’t lose employees to other salons,” he says proudly.

Currie takes pains to make his salon an enjoyable place to work. He is on the floor most of the time, available to anyone who needs to talk to him. Employees are paid a salary plus commission, and they are entitled to up to $500 a year toward continuing education expenses. He also arranges for educators to come to come to the salon and give training sessions.

When a potential employee comes in, she is given the salon’s policies and procedures manual to read and a complete tour of the facility, and she’ll undoubtedly notice that all of the staff members wear black and white uniforms. One of the biggest image problems of salon staff, in Curries view, is the stereotype of a “gum-chewing bimbo” or a “lady-chaser.” The uniform shows potential employees that professionalism is given the highest priority, especially in a salon such as Curries that caters to professional people. “Job candidates usually go through three interviews; by then they have a clear understanding of the salon’s high standards, and they either tone themselves down a bit, or they don’t come back.”

 

Success Has Its Ups And Downs

 

Currie’s enthusiasm for his salon and for the beauty industry is infectious. But sometimes it gets the best of him. “Last summer, I had a great idea to put a kiosk in the mall and sell nail and skin care products,” Currie recalls. He invested in the kiosk, mall space, and inventory. He even purchased and installed a computer imaging system that would show passersby what they would look like with different hairstyles and hair colors. Within a few months, however, it was clear the enterprise wasn’t going to work. “I needed to have an esthetician there full time to do consultations,” he explains. “And, although there is heavy foot traffic in a mall, much of it is from people who are just there to look around. The overhead was just too much.” Currie learned a lesson, though — his strength lies in keeping things where he can maintain control over them.

One of Curries plans for the future includes expansion — and this time it’s serious. A huge bookstore recently vacated its 12,000-square-foot store in Curries mall. Nine rooms would house complete spa treatments including hydrotherapy and massage. A child care center is also in the works. Currie was captivated by a children’s activity center he took his oldest child to one day, which had colorful plastic balls and tubes. He decided it would be something fun to do in his own salon — until he got a construction quote for $75,000. “I almost fell out of my chair at that one,” he says. A scaled-down children’s center is now in the plans, with “old-fashioned” toys like blocks and a playhouse. “If something comes up and it seems doable, I’ll do it,” Currie says. And while things haven’t always turned out the way he planned, still most of Curries risks have paid off. “I just have to remember that my salon was not built overnight. It takes years before you get to the level you want to be.”

In two decades of salon ownership, Currie has seen many beauty styles come and go. But he understands that the client underneath all the sculpting gel and fiberglass wraps hasn’t changed much. She wants an elegant salon to give her the look she wants in pleasant surroundings. Currie and his staff are most happy to oblige.

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