It was pure frustration that caused Mario Tricoci to announce to his wife, Cheryl, “I am giving all of this up and we are going to start all over again with a new salon.” This was 20 years ago, after what he calls a “fruitless” meeting with his partners in a chain of beauty schools and hair salons.

While many wives would have said, “Are you crazy?” her response, he says, was simply, “If you are going to do this then you go to Richard Himmel and have the best designed salon you can.”

Richard Himmel was at the time a renowned interior designer, well known for his design work on homes of the rich and famous. The Tricocis’ idea was to open a salon in Woodfield Mall in Chicago, then one of the largest malls in the U.S. “At the time there was no independently owned salon in any mall,” says Cheryl. “It took us years to have the malls listen to us because they just kept saying we couldn’t afford to do it. When they finally gave us the go-ahead, we knew we wanted something different, so we called Richard Himmel. We didn’t want to use a salon designer because then it would be just another salon in a mall. We felt we really had to take steps in a new way.”

The first few times the Tricocis called, their messages went unanswered. Finally, Cheryl says, she confronted the receptionist, asking if she had given him the messages. “She finally called back and offered us an appointment He was skeptical at first, since he was accustomed to doing homes for the biggest of the big. He asked, “You want me to do a hair salon, a beauty shop?’“

After they explained their thoughts about a European-style salon, Himmel said he couldn’t believe they had called him, but added that he was on his way to Milan and that while he was there he would visit some salons. “He called a few weeks later and said he had it all fig­ured out,” Cheryl remembers.

As they worked together, Cheryl says Himmel gave her the most important advice she’s ever received on salon design, advice she follows religiously even today. “He wanted to do everything in real light colours and I kept saying, ‘No, you can’t do this. It’ll show dirt and wear too quickly.’ Finally, when he wanted light carpet I said, ‘Absolutely not, you don’t understand: This carpet has to last 10 years.’ He gave me a very stern look and said, ‘If you can’t afford to replace this carpet every three years, you won’t be in business.’ He said that if we wanted to stay in business, we would have to redo the business from top to bottom every three years.”

At first Cheryl resisted the idea, but after looking at other businesses, she realized that the successful ones are always repairing and replacing what they had, and she acquiesced “Now I have the attitude that I’m happy we have the traffic to wear these things out,” she says.

“It Can Be Done”

For the past 20 years, the Tricocis have taken Himmel’s advice to heart not only for salon design, but for their salon concept as well. From that first 1,000-square-foot salon (which has moved out of Woodfield Mall to a nearby shopping center where it occupies a 10,000-square-foot building), Mario Tricoci Salon has grown to a chain of 12 Mario Tricoci Hair Salons and Day Spas, three Tricoci II makeover salons for haircuts, color services, and makeup, and three Cos£ mall kiosks that retail hair and makeup products as well as offer makeovers.

The Tricocis opened their first day spa in 1986, after much urging from Cheryl. “When we travelled or when I could get away on my own I would go to a destination spa. It just felt great,” she remembers. “We travelled a lot to Europe and South America at the time, and you have to understand it’s not a beauty concept there, it’s a health concept. I could see the difference in people. I kept saying it could be done, and Mario and I had many conversations about why we couldn’t do it.

“I didn’t know a few of them already existed in the U.S. Then we went to Las Vegas and I saw a day spa in one of the hotels. That did it. We came right back and went to the architect.

“In Las Vegas it didn’t matter if the spa made money because it was just there to keep people at that casino. But I knew it was time to bring this service to people. The destination spa, as wonderful and relaxing as it is, is a place most people just don’t have the time to visit. A woman today is working full time, running a household, and raising children. Even if she could stretch the money, how could she stretch the time?”

Cheryl says everyone’s main concern was whether there would be enough clients to support a full-scale day spa. “A lot of people argued that spa services aren’t for the average person, that you have to have a lot of money for these services.” Although she didn’t admit it, she, too, was concerned - until she spent a few minutes with their first “day of beauty” client.

“When her lunch came I introduced myself and asked how she was enjoying herself. She said, ‘I can’t tell you what this means to me.’ She had tears in her eyes. She explained she was a single mom of three boys, working both a full-time job and a part-time job and going to Cub Scouts and T-ball. All her vacations involved camping. She was living in a male zone. She said she felt exhausted, that she had lost her femininity and her life.

“At the end of the day I asked what she was going to do and she said go home and hug her boys and get back to her life, but that she’d definitely be back She said, ‘All day everyone worried about me, and no one ever worries about me.’

“I had tears in my eyes, too, at that point. She is our basic client. We never could have opened so many locations without basic, everyday clients like her.”

“It’s a Need, Not a Luxury”

Knowing and catering to its core clientele is the secret to the Tricocis’ success. “We’re interested in the corporate clientele,” Mario says. ‘We relate well to the career woman and career man. Spa services are a need rather than a luxury. If clients feel good then they go back to the office and do a better job. When they feel wonderful then they can go on with their life, really and truly feeling renewed.”

To draw the corporate clientele, the Tricocis choose their locations very carefully. “All of our locations are near a highway, a big shopping center, and a large corporate area,” says Cheryl By targeting a corporate clientele, the Tricocis have realized a profitable offshoot by becoming a popular spot for corporate meetings and events.

“Companies also use the spa as an event for spouses. Other companies buy services as sales incentives. And we have a lot of doctors who buy packages for patients” Cheryl explains.

The Tricocis woo corporations through mailings, phone calls, and visits to local companies. But the day spas’ clients are their best selling tools. “They come and see what we do and say they’ll talk to their company about using us,” Cheryl says.

Up the Corporate Ladder

In targeting a corporate clientele, Mario Tricoci Hair Salons and Day Spas has become a corporation itself, growing from its first salon with six employees plus Mario doing hair and Cheryl running the front desk to a corporation with more than 1,100 employees.

“Today I spend the majority of my day working with all the division leaders, planning, and putting together promotions. Mario oversees the hair division and he spends a lot of time finding new locations. Together we also spend a lot of time in new locations developing the department heads and the staffs.”

The Tricocis credit their staff for much of their growth and success. “We have a great deal of respect for our staff -I treat the staff as if they’re my clients,” Mario says. “If they like what they do, they do it well. If they do it well, they’re successful and then we’re successful.” From the Tricocis’ success, it’s obvious their employees really like what they do.

Nails at Mario Tricoci

“Natural nails are getting a lot of interest right now,” says Fabien Guichon, spa and nail department director for Mario Tricoci Hair Salons and Day Spas. “We offer a lot of natural nail services, including sea salt manicures and pedicures, as well as aromatherapy manicures and pedicures, We offer hand treatment?, such as hand facials and paraffin wax treatments. And of course we have all the different artificial nail services such as acrylics and fiberglass and silk wraps.

“Something we are trying to teach our nail technicians is to look at the client as a whole rather than just her nails and do what is going to make her look beautiful.”

Guichon, who emigrated to the U.S. from France draws on her background as a facialist and spa therapist in running the spa and nail departments. “I come from a background of looking at the client as a whole, not just a nail client. That’s why we’re expanding facial and massage therapy services in the nail department. People are taking services as a part of their life now and not as a luxury, so they expect to be treated as a whole person.”

Responsible for the training and continuing education of the chain’s 72 nail technicians, 42 facialists, and 46 massage therapists, Guichon says her days are anything but typical. “It’s a growing company, and there’s always something new coming up with new treatments and new locations. This industry is growing so much and we have to try and stay ahead.”

Fortunately Guichon has a great team, thanks to a quality staff who all have gone through Mario Tricoci’s training program’ “Everyone goes through our program. First they assist for awhile to assimilate into the salon; then we start them on natural manicures and pedicures. Once they master that they go into the specialized manicures and pedicures we offer” Once they pass those services, the trainees move on to artificial nails and retailing. It takes one to five months for them to complete the training, and no one graduates until they pass three quizzes and a final exam administered by the nail department manager in that salon.

In addition to the training program, all nail technicians take continuing education, usually “taught by Guichon or the salon’s nail department manager. When an individual nail technician is having a problem with, say, lifting, she is I taken off the service and provided with additional training.

While the standards are high, nail technicians have plenty of opportunity for growth within the corporation. “You can change to a new salon, you can become a company educator; or you can move up to department manage” says Guichon. “Or, you can change departments. I have one nail technician who decided to go into skin care so she went to school, then trained in our skin care department and now she’s a facialist”

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