Profit in Texture
“There’s a salon on every street, but if you specialize, you set yourself apart,” says Kim Wicks of Frontenac Salon. “Our salon chose to specialize in naturally curly hair. It’s been huge—it has really helped us through this recession.”
With a large population of people with wavy, curly and kinky hair—people willing to spend a lot of money to make their hair look its best—this trend is only likely to increase.
“Embracing one’s naturally textured tresses has become more of a way of life and less of a trend,” says Mahisha Dellinger, creator of the CURLS line, which is in texture-specializing salons around the country.
Here’s a look at some standout curly salons—from a one-chair stylist to a salon that recently opened a second location to accommodate the demand from curly clients.
Curltopia opened in Smyrna, Georgia, in May 2008 as a salon where “it’s all about making peace with your hair.”
“We know how difficult it can be to find a stylist who can work with curly hair,” says Curltopia’s Flavia Medina, who opened the salon with fellow curly girl Tricia Joyner.
Inititally, they envisioned a small salon with one chair. But demand grew quickly, and today they have seven stylists. All stylists must be licensed and experienced and must assist a senior stylist for six months before working on their own. During this training period, they learn what types of products and cuts work for different textures.
Curltopia sends clients home with a prescription of what products they should use and how they should use them—education that is especially important to curly clients. They like to see their clients two weeks later for a follow up.
“We want to make sure we’re teaching them about product use,” Medina says.
Curltopia, like many curly salons, attracts a diverse clientele, who travel to the salon from as far as North Carolina, Florida and Tennessee.
“There is nothing that walks in that door that we can’t handle,” Medina says. “We’re not a black salon or a white salon. We’re a hair salon.”
“It started small,” says Tonja Chagris, who opened the salon six years ago with two other people.
Chagris, who has curly hair herself, worked as a hairdresser for 17 years.
“I wanted to address curly and textured hair,” she says. “It was an immediate success. We had an article in the newspaper, and we were not prepared for the crowds. We couldn’t even let the people in. It was scary.”
Today, the Paul Mitchell salon has seven stylists, all trained in working with curly and textured hair. Although the salon does have curly clients, 90 percent of its clientele has textured hair.
Chagris believes the curly niche has helped the salon survive and thrive, despite tough economic times.
“It really has kept us afloat,” she says. “We consistently get new curly hair people, and they are willing to travel. It enables us to draw from a larger area.”
But the curly world does have some challenges, she says. The curly client tends to be gun shy, usually having many a bad haircut in their past.
The Curl Ambassadors
Curly tops Caroline Muir and Betty Di Salvo were frustrated by the difficulty they had finding stylists who knew how to work with their hair. They heard similar frustrations from other curly friends and family.
“We realized it was time to provide a place that specialized in naturally curly hair,” says Muir.
In October 2006, the duo opened their first location in downtown Toronto. They opened a second salon in the Toronto suburb of Vaughan in November 2009.
The Curl Ambassadors' clientele travels from as far away as Vancouver and Chicago,
“Our clients’ motto seems to be ‘Have curls, will travel,’” says Di Salvo.
For other salons considering focusing on texture as a niche, Muir suggests locating in a cosmopolitan, multicultural area.
One of the most important things, says Muir, is to recruit the right stylists for the salon. It’s not enough to be well trained.
“We’re looking for those who want to really care for curly hair with all their heart,” says Muir.
San Diego, California
Beverly Neeland learned how to do a wet set when she was three years old, playing with her stylist grandmother’s tools to create styles. She began cutting hair when she was still in grade school. She intuitively knew how to work with curls, perfecting her technique on her mother's hair.
“My mother would come home from the hairdresser with her wavy hair, and I would fix her bad cuts,” says Neeland. “I had a knack for hairdressing.”
Although Neeland always wanted to be a hairdresser, her father convinced her to get a college degree. She gravitated toward the world of theater, working as a stylist, costume designer and wigmaker for professional theater companies for 15 years.
While working on wigs, she would style them dry, cutting them based on what they needed rather than any particular formula.
She never lost her desire to be a professional hair stylist. So when she had the chance, she got her cosmetology license.
At beauty school, she began externing at a salon and naturally gravitated toward curly clients.
Neeland said she initially hated salons because of her own traumatic experiences with stylists who would roll their eyes when she would sit in their chair with her thick curls.
“I started thinking, what if I opened a salon and just worked on curly people,” she says. “Having my own understanding of what it’s like, I thought I could make my clients more comfortable.”
She rented space at salons in Sacramento, specializing in naturally curly hair. Earlier this year, she opened a studio salon in San Diego and has teamed up with another stylist who specializes in curls.
Neeland says focusing on this niche has been a definite selling point for her
“When they find out I only work on curly hair—I don’t even have a round brush in my salon—they relax,” she says. “It’s a deciding factor for them. They feel comfortable before they come in.”
She gets most of her clients through word of mouth, an especially powerful tool in the curly world. She recalled one of her clients who was stopped by a curly woman who wanted to know who did her hair. Suddenly, she found herself with 10 new clients who traveled more than two hours to get their hair cut by her.
But working with curly clients also has a down side, she says. They tend to go longer between cuts—an average of every 12 to 14 weeks rather than every six to eight weeks. Some of her clients only come in once every two to three years, she says.
“I feel like I have to have more clients than the average hairdressers so my book stays full,” she says.