Solo Artist

The Full-Circle Career

Victoria Wurdinger | December 15, 2015 | 1:52 AM
Paul Orlandi believes in dressing the part of a seasoned professional.
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Orlandi’s premium Salon Lofts suite with windows brings him lots of walk-in traffic.
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One of Orlandi’s New York Fashion Week styles. Ponys, braids and beachy waves were popular, he says.
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Orlandi preps a model backstage at NYWF, where speed and precision were paramount.
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After owning a salon for 14 years, Paul Orlandi went solo to re-focus on educating. The payoffs were huge.

Years ago, Paul Orlandi was a Matrix educator. But he quit teaching and traveling to spend more time with his young family. Over a decade later, as a salon owner, he found that managing 24 employees had him pulled in too many directions. So, he went solo to reclaim control over his hours and get back to educating. In going full circle, he sought out a situation with a strong support system, and found it in Salon Lofts.

“Their online booking system lets me gather emails from clients who use it and market to them with an easy template and mass mailings,” says Orlandi. “ And, it sends clients 24-hour appointment reminders.”

Orlandi also got premium space—a large suite with large, street-level windows—all for $325 a week. When naming his new salon, he came across a Greek work, “meraki,” which describes what happens when you leave a part of yourself in your work because you love it so much. So, Meraki Hair Studio at Salon Lofts was born, and nearly 100% of Orlandi’s clients joined him there.

That was just seven months ago. Today, Orlandi is an educator for Keratin Complex and he has reclaimed his time. He now works 40-to -45 hours a week instead of the 50-to-60 he did as a traditional salon owner. Best yet, he got to work backstage at New York Fashion Week (NYFW).

“It was the highlight of my career,” says Orlandi of the experience. “Keratin Complex had mass-mailed educators and invited them to send photos of their work. The next day, I was accepted on the team. It was a huge honor.”

During NYFW, Orlandi worked with 20 others from 11 a.m. to about 9 p.m. Each morning, they set up, and checked the postings of designers and number of models for the day, as well as photos of the hairstyles they had to re-create. “It was a lot of teamwork and very fast-paced,” recalls Orlandi, who styled hair for Marco Marco, Anthony Rubio, Anjè, and Quyhn Paris, among others. “Seeing a model coming down the runway and knowing I did her hair was a great experience.”

Lessons Learned

As a former salon owner, Orlandi naturally had the business skills required to operate his suite. “I knew how to run a salon, track and order inventory, and work with an accountant,” says Orlandi. “But what’s challenging about working for yourself …is working for yourself. There is no one to do a blow dry while I shampoo out a color. I had to adjust bookings until I got used to that.”

Another adjustment: Even with online booking, some of Orlandi’s clients prefer to text message him, others prefer to call personally, and he naturally accommodates whatever they want.

With years of trying and testing marketing tactics, Orlandi says that years ago, he’d give clients $10 for each referral or a free cut for three referrals. Now, he’s re-slanting the idea with the recognition that people love to get something for free and want immediate gratification.

“My new twist is that I give clients a percent of the first visit of any referral,” explains Orlandi. “If the new client gets a $50 haircut, the person who did the referring gets 20% of $50 or $10. If the new client books a $350 smoothing service, the person referring her gets 20% or $70. I’ll give them cash or let them apply it to a future visit or products.”

Another promotion that is so popular that he “wouldn’t dare stop doing” is his holiday gift card offer. Once a year, all gift cards are 20% off. Clients will ask what they spent last year and if it is $850, they will buy $850 in gift cards, at 20% off. “They can give them to their children or friends to use for visits; the only restriction is that they can’t use them until after January 1st,” says Orlandi. “As soon as December rolls around, people start asking for them.”

On average, Orlandi sees 56 clients a week, and most return within six weeks. While about half pre-book, many others drive over or call on short notice, but Orlandi likes it that way. “It would drive me crazy to know what every single day was going to be like,” he says.

Besides, his way makes it easier to take days off to educate, or to clear the books to style at New York Fashion Week. “That’s something I could not have done if I still had an employee salon.”

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