How the Tough Got Going

by Victoria Wurdinger on Monday, January 18, 2010

Luke O’Connor

Big or small, specialized or not, all salons start with a spark in a stylist’s mind. Lukeand Rona O’Conner started off with a silver-screen vision they worked hard for and came to share. Today, they co-own Lukaro in Beverly Hills, where they coif and color celebs like Debra Messing and Brooke Shields. Luke, who spent decades in film and television, is a spokesperson for Suave; Rona colors celebrities in the salon and out—for films like “Pirates of the Caribbean.”

In Branford, CT, Gina Rivera, owner of Hair’s Talent, always wanted to specialize in multi-cultural hair—AKA curl.

“I have a passion for curl, maybe because my own hair is poker straight,” says Rivera. “When I started out in the late ‘70s, I was often the only non-African American at certain shows. I learned everything I could, from how to shampoo curl to how to relax it. I’m all about healthy curl.”

Gina Rivera

Rivera’s 26-year-old salon was the first to offer Japanese Thermal Reconditioning (TR) in New Haven county, in 2000. Today, clients come to her five-employee operation from Greece and France, Virginia and St Croix, proving you don’t have to be a New York mega spa or a celebrity hot spot to enjoy success and a global rep.

The O’Conners also spent their time in the trenches, learning from Vidal Sassoon. “I was the perm king before I was a curl king, which helped a lot,” recalls Luke. “I worked in the Beverly Hills Sassoon location, and Vidal would come in and talk with everyone, while he got a manicure. He was open to any question.”

Maybe that’s why Rona’s management style is to share and re-share. She says the secret to keeping staff is to teach and tell all—never hoard knowledge. “I train all my assistants to be my hands,” says Rona. “I trust them so much, I can guide them through any appointment via my mobile. I give good phone color!”

All three agree that what it takes to make it as an owner includes a love of learning, a passion for hair and a grasp of finance and management. So, learn (everything you can) and share (ditto). Here’s what else these super-successful owners say helped them traverse the winding road to the top, which you can use, too.

Develop Artist-to-Owner Transition Skills

Luke O’Conner says you need systems in place if you expect to be a business success. They should include how you hire and fire, train and treat your staff, as well as details regarding the way clients are greeted, consultations are conducted and services are delivered. Of course, he adds, take business classes! Rivera says you should either understand the business end or hire someone who does. (Partnering works, too.)

Work the People Factor

If you think clients complain, just wait until you have employees. The O’Conners advise openness and honesty, which builds trust. Rivera knows that a confident staff is a happy one, and she teaches each employee her systems. “Our curly haired clients will try anything and want solutions,” she says, “I teach my stylists how to create a hair plan for each person.”

Be Prepared to Overcome Challenges

In Beverly Hills, the O’Conners saw many a great salon fail because of booth rental, which dominated Beverly Hills in the ‘80s and ‘90s. Today, the area is about half rental. A good name, a reputation for honesty and consistent service (which isn’t possible in a rental op) saw them through. Far ahead of the multi-cultural curve, Rivera had to prove herself to African-American clients before they believed she could do their hair.

Do Something New and Tell the World

Recently, Rivera devised a way to perform TR services on traditionally curly African-American hair: Hint: You need 4 inches of regrowth, then treat just the regrowth, in stages. She plans on teaching it to other stylists and salons, and will promote classes through her website. It’s all part of promoting her brand, as a salon for healthy, curly hair.

The O’Conners say no matter how “big” you are, keep promoting yourself locally. Stay involved with your community. Recently, they raised funds for a local charity aimed at foster youth, the United Friends of the Children. Clients got a complimentary blow dry and a Sebastian gift bag when they bought gift cards for foster children. More than twice the amount of people the salon could hold showed up, just to donate.

Heed This Final Advice

Research everything. If you have downtime, find something to do that promotes your business. Keep staffers busy with business-building, too. Don’t think you know it all—you can always learn at least one thing from any class, any show. Finally, remember that clients want problem solving and personal attention, and when the clients have curl, this is doubly true. You have your plan for beauty success, and they want theirs, too.

Hair’s Talent

Thermal Reconditioning in Connecticut

Healthy Black Hair Care Consultant

Wednesday, September 29th, 2010 at 8:54 pm
Gina Rivera Hair's Talent~~~Thermal Reconditioning and Healthy Hair Care Specialist
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