Tobias Rice’s clients moved from college to careers, as he moved from school to a chain to a Salon House Suite. Growing together can be a "Crazy Beautiful" thing.
2010 beauty school grad, Tobias Rice was initially afraid to give up his retail manager job’s salary, which he maintained through school. To get over his novice’s jitters, he worked on friends and former clinic clients, while he built his confidence pressure-free. When he was finally ready to work in a salon full time, he built business fast in a budget chain, but after 2½ years, his hairstylist friend Stephanie Beleza convinced him to work independently in a shared space at The Salon House in Champaign, IL, a truly college-driven town. In a boldly confident move, he intentionally moved 15 minutes away from his previous chain (a big deal in Champaign), to find out who really valued his talents.
About 75% of his clients, who are 60% male and 40% female, moved with him—they were growing into their careers, just as he was. In a sensible dollar-saving move, Rice and Beleza share a suite and are separated by just a shampoo bowl, but the spaces have two different business names. Rice’s is Azpo Hair, named for his grandfather’s Native American heritage.
To get even more clients, Rice worked the local business circuit, in which he had long been a popular figure. Explains Rice, “I’ve lived in Champagne a long time and often volunteered for local businesses and made friends with business owners. I showed up for local band shows and soft restaurant openings. We always cross-referred one another, and once I opened my own studio salon, it became more formal, with business-card sharing. It’s all about who you know. Also, I am pretty heavily tattooed, and tattoo artists will come up to me on the street. I go visit their business and meet the rest of the tattoo artists; then we refer one another.”
With a uniquely youthful style and an artistic mind, Rice not only maintained his college-student clientele as they began working, he added others in their 20s and 30s to his roster. Many of them saw his work on the street or at local events. So what makes his style stand out in a crowd? It’s young-minded, individual and reasonably adventurous, just like his clientele.
A self-taught artist who created “dark” yet brightly colored sculptures, spray paintings, jewelry, colored-pencil drawings and more serious paintings (think skeletons or pop-art marionettes in neon for a not-so-dark feeling), Rice went to cosmetology school to move straight to hands-on art and avoid tons of theory. As a result, he is naturally experimental. For instance, he took hidden layers traditionally done with shears and began doing them with razors, even evolving to razor-over-comb techniques to add direction to men’s short cuts. Short-haired women love the look, too. When it comes to color, he balances warms and cools, creating everything from plum to grape from violet, and basing his reds on how tan a person’s skin tone is.
“I always ask clients what they are into, and how far they are willing to go with their looks,” says Rice. “Then, I suggest what will look good. If someone brings in photos, I only use them as a baseline; I don’t follow or mimic them.”
His finely tuned eye and local rep soon built him a steady clientele that keeps him busy about 35 hours a week. His work also got him notice from a local distributor, who he recognized on sight as a fellow hair artist. Once the two started chatting, Rice, who was looking for new and unusual lines, connected with IDhair (new from Denmark), took a class with Linda Quebec and is in line to become a local educator.
He’s also a budding film hair and makeup artist, which naturally came about through local connections. A friend who is a horror film producer asked him to do hair and makeup for the indie flick “Devotion,” and he was thrilled to work with fun B-list actors and actresses. Says Rice of his work, “A trick I learned on set is to look past face shape and skin tone when going dramatic. Look at a face as a blank sheet of paper and build something from there. I always carry white powder and foundation with no shine or shimmer; they’re great for wiping out facial features.”
Now, he’s exploring more ways to advance his artistry in film work, and even got asked to act in a horror film, his favorite genre. No doubt, his performance will be dark but colorful.
Why The Salon House: It’s affordable for young artists, and they also offer an instant Web presence.
Biggest Challenge: What to do with down time. I check out Sam Villa, Toni & Guy and European artists online, and network to build my film work. Stephanie and I also experiment on one another’s hair a lot—we’re each other’s guinea pigs.
On Clients: I have a steady base of about 110 clients. The men come back every 4 weeks on average, while women come back every 6 weeks.
Rebooking Strategy: I’m breaking my former chain-salon clients of the in-and-out mentality by contacting each individually. I figure out how long they should to wait for the next cut, write their name in my book that many weeks in advance, and when the week approaches, I contact each one and set up a time for them to come in. This way, I always know ahead of time what my week looks like. About 80% pre-book with my method. When I do all the work, I get loyalty in return.
Pricing: To keep it affordable for young people just starting their careers, I charge $18 for a fast men’s cut—the average is $23. For a woman’s cut, color retouch and blow-dry, which takes about 1½ hours, I charge about $70.
Favorite Tool: I love my 7” Centrix Roc-it Dogs