Illusions of Shirlington is pleased to announce its 25th anniversary serving clients across the D.C. area. Under the leadership of owner Irma Wheeler, Illusions has become a fixture in the Shirlington community and an icon of creativity and customer service in northern Virginia.
After immigrating to the US as a child, without her parents and with only the clothes on her back, Wheeler worked her way up on the salon world with sheer determination. She faced years of setbacks, exploitive managers, and simple bad luck, but she was eventually able to open her own salon in a tiny Shirlington Village space on April 1, 1993. She launched with a team of five employees, used furniture, and her 12 year-old son Justin cheering her on.
Today, Justin Wheeler is a top stylist in his own right and remains Irma’s inspiration and right-hand man. She now manages a team of 21 stylists and has opened a second location in Georgetown while the Shirlington salon operates 72-hours per week to keep up with demand. Irma still works as an artist as much as she can. “Cutting hair and creating will always be my passions, not managing,” she laughs.
Wheeler believes her successful quarter century reflects Illusions’ commitment to customer-focused, honest service. “Trust is a huge part of a good client relationship,” she says. “You have to be willing to admit when something doesn’t turn out the way you want and make it right for your client. Even if a client is perfectly happy with her hair, knowing you really want the best for her and that she can come back for a tweak if needed creates peace of mind and a positive customer experience.”
“We also don’t sell anything we haven’t tried or don’t believe in,” she adds. “Clients know if we send them out the door with home care products, they will love them.”
Even beyond products, her long partnership with Goldwell has been a real asset over the years. Great educators and training opportunities in particular help her and her staff stay motivated and on top of the latest trends. “Goldwell education was a lifesaver when we opened our second location,” she recalls. “We really struggled to find good stylists, and Goldwell helped us get them up to speed and up to our standards – we’ve finally turned a corner!”
“We at Goldwell are thrilled and honored to celebrate this important landmark with Irma and her team,” says Trevor Attenborough, president & general manager of Kao Salon Division, North America “We are proud to be associated with her salon and to help her stylists realize their creative visions every day.”
Wheeler has seen it all and learned a lot over the years, so when it comes to running a successful salon, she has a few great tips for stylists and potential entrepreneurs:
- Listen to what is going on in your clients lives so you can help them update their styles over time.
- Customize hairstyles for every client and take the time to understand each client's hair type issues, behavior, profession, and lifestyle – always keeping in mind age and facial features.
- Try products on clients before they are sent to the shampoo bowl; address products that are needed for their hairstyles.
- Keep your salon immaculate, clean and organized.
- "Build Your Toolkit" with constant education so you can offer current trends - never stop learning.
- Hire excellent front-desk employees as they make the first and last impressions of your salon.
- Maintain an environment where employees are satisfied and can focus on clients.
On April 15, Illusions welcomed more than 250 guests to a champagne anniversary celebration at the Shirlington location. The after-hours party will spilled out into the street, and Wheeler gave out goody bags and gift cards to spend at neighboring businesses as a thank you for 25 years of community she has felt in Shirlington.
“Being part of this area has been amazing, and it’s one reason why we try to show our support for local charities and organizations like the Humane Society and Suited for Change,” she says. “It wasn’t always easy, but I’m very proud of what we’ve accomplished and so delighted my son is following in my footsteps. Stay tuned, because he has his own entrepreneurial plans in the works!”
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