Choose Beauty: Kelly Cardenas
Cardenas works with the staff of his co-owned Chicago salon two days a month. They patronize businesses like The Four Seasons restaurant, to experience topnotch service.
Kelly Cardenas is a happy, positive
guy. A really happy, positive
guy. And why not? He has a great
family, two namesake salons (Chicago
and Las Vegas), an advanced academy
and a great career. But donât think: âbig
shot.â His mind is on turning his employees
into millionaires and creating an incredible
Cardenas grew up in tiny Lompoc, California, where he, his mom and two brothers slept on mattresses on the floor of a one-bedroom apartment. Even as a child, he had joie de vivre: His favorite memory is when his mother made a baseball out of sewn-together socks because she couldnât afford to buy one. Back then, money was so tight, it was either momâs âone-fingerâ hair cut or try clippers on himself, which got him hooked on hairdressing at the age of 13.
âI wanted to control my own cool factor; I was really competitive,â recalls Cardenas.
Later, at Santa Monica Beauty College, where he loved socializing but found clinic clients were âmostly Golden Girls,â his hair was subjected to more experimentation. Adding red over bleached hair, then trying to shampoo it out led to âlooking like a gigantic pumpkin â¦ I donât know why I never thought of re-coloring it.â
John Paul Dejoria, CEO of John Paul Mitchell Systems and Kelly Cardenas.
Today, he sports dreadlocks, which came about when he permed his much-beleaguered hair with pipe cleaners, and it locked on its own.
Working and following Jeanne Braa and then Robert Cromeans, at hair shows, heâd sit in front and pass Cromeans his card, which eventually led to him being hired at Cromeansâ Santa Monica salon. In barely a year, he was promoted to director and started doing platform work. Later, he opened both Cromeansâ Las Vegas operations.
|Kellyâs Surprising Secrets|
Favorite Pastime: âBowling! My highest score is 267.â
Guilty Pleasure: âI used to lock the doors, close the curtains and play Spice World on PlayStation.â
Nickname: In the 4th grade, Cardenas was a break dancer named Baby Fresh. âI was pretty good back in the day.â
Commission or Salary?
Commission. âIn no other business can you decide to double your income next week by working harder.â
Bucket List: Open a salon in every state, make my first millionaire stylist, go on the Pro Bowlerâs tour, appear on Russell Simmonsâ Def Poetry.
After 10 years, the two parted ways
over a management decision, but they
remain close. In fact, once every six
weeks, Cardenas works at Cromeansâ
Santa Monica location; he was invited
back for his energy.
Creating a Brand
In his own operations, Cardenas likes to hire for young minds (not the same as chronological age). When he needs inspiration, he gets with his beginners, who have yet to learn limitations. They all wear black and need approval for cut and color changes. Why?
âThey have to attract real-life clients, who may get turned off by aggressive looks,â says Cardenas. âOnce theyâre well-established, they can change their look or introduce tattoos, which must be covered until then.â
From home-base Las Vegas, Cardenas travels to Chicago and San Diego regularly. His advanced academies are held four times a year in Chicago, Vegas and two other âsuper-cool cities,â like Honolulu. Heâs successful and busy, yet predictably, he only gets his brag on when he talks about his staff: How one just bought a house on a stylistâs income and another, when stuck out of town with no rental, went out and bought a car.
âThe most satisfying part of my job is seeing others growânot just professionally but as good husbands, wives and community members,â notes Cardenas. His advice to struggling stylists is: Go all in. Too many have distracting second jobs, he says. Which brings him to his favorite saying: Commitment eliminates options.
Cardenasâ dreadlocks became his brand identity.