Solo Artist

Solo Artist Ann Riordan: Valuable Lessons

Victoria Wurdinger | October 15, 2015 | 10:02 AM
A background in teaching other stylists helped Ann Riordan build business fast.
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Stranded Beauty and Barber, which opened in May, 2015, is one of the first rental salons in Chicago’s Lincoln Park area. Riordan pays $1,100 for her chair there.
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Younger men love Riordan’s trendy cuts, which are priced at $35.
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Natural looking balayage is just one of Riordan’s specialties.
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To guarantee satisfaction, Ann Riordan teaches every client styling techniques and home hair care.

Ann Riordan has been renting a chair at Stranded Beauty and Barber Salon in Chicago for just two months, and her business is booming. Once a “little afraid” to go solo, she says she doubts she’ll ever go back to working under commission. “Working at a Gold Coast salon, I made 30 cents on the dollar after commission, product charges and taxes,” she recalls.

Thanks in part to her background as a former educator for Aquage, then Rusk, she brought at least 200 of her clients with her to her new Lincoln Park location. Forty percent of them are men, which she attributes to being technically strong, enthusiastic and positive. And, those men book every four weeks like clockwork.

What Clients Want Most

Surprisingly, not a lot of stylists specifically set aside time to teach clients how to style their hair at home. Riordan does, and says that her strong ability to teach others is a huge client keeper.

“For every new cut-and-styling client, I book one hour for the first visit, so I can include home styling lessons,” says Riordan. “Subsequent visits are 45 minutes, but I still take the time to show them new tricks.”

Most clients lack the patience to blow dry and section hair, and don’t know how to over-direct it for volume, but once Riordan shows them how—and the results—they get it.

“They also tend to slap product on in front without distributing it evenly,” says Riordan. “With every visit, I ask my clients if they have issues or problems, and what they liked and didn’t like. And I always suggest changes, so they don’t get stuck in a rut.”

Business Bests

With 25 years of experience, Riordan knows all the best ways to get and keep clients. What’s worked for her in the past and in her new position:

  • During the holidays, give your best clients a gift certificate for free haircut, which they can “gift” to friend—no one has to know they got it from you for free.
  • To get her new clients to return, Riordan gives them a punch card—if they come back for five color services, they get 50% off the next visit.
  • Prepare gift baskets of products, enter clients’ names in a drawing to win it every time they pre-book, and hold drawings every 1- 3 months, based on how long you’ve been building business. “About 70% of my clients pre-book now,” says Riordan.
  • Reward existing clients, not just new ones. “Loyal clients tend to get forgotten. If clients refer someone, I give the new client 20% off, and I also give 20% off to the client who made the referral.”

Riordan uses to send client newsletters. “They also gave 25 people who moved into the area recently a free haircut with me. It’s like they won something fun, and it’s a better way to build a business you can retain, than using Groupon, which attracts people looking for discounts.”


Online Learning: Sam Villa YouTube videos

Fave Hair Show: Smaller ones with true education, like CosmoProf shows

Color Technique I Love: Balayage, for men and women

Trend Prediction: Lose waves for women

Best Add-On: A hint of color--$50 for a 15 minute balayage service

Products Clients Love: Aquage volumizer and defrizzing serum

Money Saver: Save all your business receipts and learn from an accountant what is deductible. Also, Chase card scanner—at less than 2%, it’s better than Square.

Must-Have Tools: Texturizing shears and razors—you must give the hair movement.

Best Advice to Renters: Don’t get lazy. Even if you only have three clients in a day, do something to build your business the rest of the day. 


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