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Grooming for Success : More Than Cut and Dry Options in Salons, Shops, Parlors

Buzz jobs, flat tops, hair extensions, color weaving, and sun glitz are all part of the booming hair industry that generates billions of dollars annually throughout the nation.

In North County alone, there are more than 600 beauty salons and barber shops.

“The beauty industry isn’t just going into a salon and getting your hair whacked off and blown dry,” said Tony Ray, beauty director at the La Costa Health Spa and Resort in Carlsbad. “You don’t need a haircut, you need a look,” said the 27-year veteran in the business who created what has become known as the “La Costa look.”

The look that Ray touts is individualized. If a person looks their best with a short, precision cut, then long, curly hair would be all wrong. And the look doesn’t stop at the head, but rather extends to make-up, nails, clothing and accessories.

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Today, coordinating hair style with lifestyle is important. The working woman wants a hairdo that goes from bedroom to boardroom in 15 minutes. The male executive wants a clean look that is acceptable in a conservative corporate environment, yet still has pizazz.

Less individual, but equally popular, is the trend to look like someone else--especially a movie or recording star. The younger set wants the M.C. Hammer or Julia Roberts look. And the real young set, said Cece Moore, owner of Kids Kuts salon in Encinitas with a laugh, wants to look like Bart Simpson.

Although the war in the Middle East touches everyone, military influence in North County is particularly strong. The Marine look is not only patriotic these days, but it is the style and attracts people who may never don a uniform.

There is no magic to finding the perfect hairdo or stylist, says Marilyn McDonald, owner of Poway Academy of Beauty. “If you see someone with hair that is in good condition and has a style you like, ask for the name of their stylist.”

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Although salon advertising is growing, especially in the franchise market, word-of-mouth still remains the top marketing tool.

Today, the typical shop serves a cross-section of customers--male, female, and children from all ethnic and economic backgrounds.

“During the 1960s when the Beatles were popular, guys started going to beauty salons because of their long hair,” says Dave Miranda, co-owner of Golden Razor Barber Shop in Escondido. Although barbershops lived through the transition, the era introduced unisex salons.

It is a complex industry that is constantly undergoing change. Over the past decade, the booth rental concept caught on, and some stylists pay a monthly fee to work at a particular shop. Booth rental prices vary, but generally range from $100 to $200 a month. Other shops work on a salary and commission basis. At J.C. Penney’s salon, for example, top-producers can supplement paychecks with bonuses or Hawaiian vacations.

Prices to the consumer are as varied as the salons and services they offer.

For instance, a haircut at one salon may be $9.95 and at another $36. But the cheaper cut may not include a wash and blow dry. Prices for children jump around according to the child’s age--a cut for an 11-year-old might be $14, and one for a 3-year-old $10.

When you get into the big-ticket procedures--such as perms and hair bleaching or tinting--the price is determined by the brand of the products used as well as the skill of the stylist. If you are cost-conscious and don’t want to be surprised when the primping is finished, it’s advisable to ask first.

Salons have different personalities. “When I have my hair done, I feel like it’s my time,” says Mary Jo Becker of Oceanside. “I probably wouldn’t follow my hairdresser if I didn’t like the atmosphere or people at the salon.”

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According to experts in the hair industry, salons nowadays fall into six general categories: full service; children’s specialty; department store; budget franchise; barbershop and neighborhood establishment. The following six North County salons were selected to illustrate each category.

FULL-SERVICE SALON

La Costa Health Spa & Resort is well-known for its posh facilities that attract people from all over the world. What many locals do not know, however, is that the beauty salon is open to outsiders--non-guests of the spa.

Wanting to attract people in the community, Ray, the beauty director, says the salon offers its neighbors a 25% discount on most services.

“You can come in the morning between 8 and 1 and have a manicure for $16.20,” says Ray. “There is a 15% gratuity added, so you don’t have to tip if you don’t wish to.”

Full service at La Costa focuses not only on what the salon offers, but more importantly on how it’s delivered.

“Service, that’s what the ‘90s is going to be,” said Ray. “You pay for the service and the knowledge that what you get is the very best.”

Designed by Ray, the shop showcases the best at La Costa. A color scheme of soft peach and pale gray provides a relaxing atmosphere. A well-designed air-conditioning system vents odors in the so-called chemical room where color is mixed and applied.

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Additional rooms are spread throughout the salon for manicuring, make-up education, make-up application and retail sales. A private room is available upon request for male customers. Facials are accommodated in another large section of the shop.

Stylists all wear white shirts and black skirts or slacks. Cleanliness is paramount, according to Ray. “I just spent $30,000 on sterilizing equipment,” he says.

New customers are encouraged to consider a beauty consultation for $25.

“I have clients that can’t afford to come in every week,” he says, “so they come here for their hair color and go someplace else for their cut, or vice versa.

“If it’s something you want, you can afford it.”

La Costa is at Costa del Mar Road in Carlsbad. The salon is open daily 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Calls: 438-9111.

CHILDREN’S SPECIALTY SALON

You need an appointment if you want to take your child to Kids Kuts. While other shops are sitting idle during these rough times, Kids Kuts is booming. Receptionist Linda Carter laughs and calls herself a wonder woman for working there.

Set in an Encinitas shopping center along with Play Co Toys and Stride Rite, Kids Kuts is in the midst of kid’s country. In six short years, Moore and daughter Becky have built a business that is open six days a week and employs 12 operators. The shop serves 75 to 125 children daily.

“It’s fun,” says Moore--a bubbly, young grandmother who loves the hugs. “You can’t get that from adults.”

A third of Kids Kuts’ business is devoted to adults. “We work well on fine hair,” says Moore. “And we do people who don’t even have children, but like our work and enjoy watching the children.”

The 1,000-square-foot shop is a rectangular play and work room that is virtually childproof and includes a large playhouse. Customers sit on park benches in a small waiting room. This area also contains combs, stuffed animals and hair decorations that can be purchased.

“We are told that our selection of custom-made bows is the best in the country,” says Moore.

Giant burgundy-colored painted bows and framed pictures of teddy bears decorate the walls. A large model train runs on a track suspended from the ceiling. In the very back of the shop, a washer and dryer operate nonstop. A huge box of lollipops sits on the floor and is partially hidden from curious eyes.

“Everyone gets a lollipop when they’re finished,” says Moore. “If they can’t have candy, they get a sticker.” Moore spends $400 a month on lollipops.

Finding skilled stylists who can work in this environment is not easy, according to Moore, even though her employees keep 60% of what they make. “We work on moving targets,” she said, “so our stylists have to be very good.”

When it comes to style, Kids Kuts rivals any salon in North County. It does the latest styles. “We specialize in French braids,” she said. “We teach the parents how to do it also.”

Stylists remain with all clients until they are finished--even if that means a two-hour perm. “You have to build up trust with children,” she said, “and that requires our full attention.”

Kids Kuts is at 282 El Camino Real in Encinitas. Hours are Monday-Friday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Saturday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; closed on Sunday. Appointments are necessary. Calls: 436-6273.

DEPARTMENT STORE SALON

Although many department stores are discontinuing hair salons, J.C. Penney is moving ahead full speed. Of the 1,600 stores nationwide, 863 have salons, and many gross more than $1 million annually.

J.C. Penney’s salon at North County Fair grossed more than $800,000 last year, salon manager Connie Christmas said. Even Christmas’ receptionist grossed $46,000 scheduling walk-ins and selling hair care products.

J.C. Penney’s salon operates within a corporate-like environment. Management provides direction for 24 hairstylists. Skills are sharpened through training manuals and weekly teaching sessions. Stylists are taught basic marketing techniques that help increase sales.

And those who stick with the company receive valuable perks. “We offer full benefits to our stylists and terrific incentive programs,” said Christmas.

The bulk of J.C. Penney’s customers are walk-ins, and many take advantage of advertised specials. “We always have something going on,” said Christmas. “Military personnel get their haircuts free of charge--we support our servicemen.”

The 16-chair, train-style salon accommodates a full range of clients. Some people are surprised to find that 45% of the customers are male. J.C. Penney’s “weekly ladies” can still get under a hair dryer, and children get special attention. “We do lots of kids,” said Christmas. “When stylists are working on children, they have a little more working room.”

J.C. Penney carries the full line of Sebastian, Nexxus, and Paul Mitchell hair products. “We have other salons sending people to us because we have whatever they make in these product lines.”

J.C. Penney also has two manicurists and facilities to do waxing and ear piercing.

J.C. Penney is in North County Fair shopping mall in Escondido. Hours are Monday-Friday, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Saturday, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Calls: 480-4500.

BUDGET FRANCHISE

Chains are often labeled “the factories of hair care” where customers are treated like numbers, and stylists are fresh out of school. Yet Fantastic Sam’s is a growing franchise, according to Allan Singer, who owns one in Encinitas and another in Solana Beach.

“Customers get good service, the right price, and they don’t need an appointment,” says Singer, emphasizing that time is important to people today.

Singer is not a stylist himself. He bought two franchises after discovering that his usual $20 haircut was no better than the one he got at a Fantastic Sam’s, for half the price.

Although Singer’s stylists do perms and color, most clients come in for the quick $9.95 haircut, he says. “We’re recession-proof,” says Singer. “In difficult times . . . people who normally pay $20 may end up trying us.”

Shops differ in size, but all have the same orange and gray color scheme and use Helene Curtis hair products with Fantastic Sam’s label.

Employees work on a customer-percentage basis and, according to individual franchise owners, some provide health insurance, paid vacations and other benefits. People from the regional franchise office in San Diego frequently visit each salon, paying close attention to the quality of stylists, working conditions and cleanliness of the shop.

Marion Jacobson, a senior citizen from Old Encinitas, says she likes Fantastic Sam’s because she can get her hair done when she’s “in the mood.” But one thing bothers Jacobson; who is Fantastic Sam? “He probably doesn’t exist,” she laughs.

According to Singer, Fantastic Sam does exist, and he’s Sam Ross from Memphis, Tenn. “Ross actually began cutting children’s hair, and he did such a good job that the parents would say, ‘You’re fantastic, Sam.’ ”

Check the telephone book or call the regional office at 944-7556 for information on Fantastic Sam’s in your location.

BARBERSHOPS

The barbershops in Oceanside are being hit hard by the Middle East war--their regular customers are stationed thousands of miles away.

The Golden Razor Barber Shop in Escondido is not dependent upon military customers and it’s business as usual for owners Dave Miranda and Manuel Estrada.

Barbershops are different from the typical beauty salon. Operating out of a small shop with two cubicles, Golden Razor offers its customers a more secluded atmosphere.

“Our customers want privacy,” says Miranda. “Some of them have toupees, so we like to make them feel comfortable.”

Comfort means a well-worn barber chair, sink, mirror and small television set. There are no perm rods, roller trays, or expensive hair products for sale. Instead, Miranda’s skill comes from 30 years of using electric clippers and shears. “We just cut and style hair,” he says. The bulk of Miranda’s business is generational.

“See this little boy,” says Miranda, pointing to a photograph of a toddler sitting on a booster seat in Miranda’s barber chair. “His father sat on that same booster over 20 years ago.”

Miranda says barbers and bartenders have something in common: “We’re a gigantic ear for our customers.”

When parents express concern about their children’s hairstyle, he tells them to be patient and that the stage will pass. “I remember giving a Mohawk to one of my customers,” Miranda says. “Today he comes into the shop . . . dressed in a shirt and tie.”

Customers talk a lot about the war. “They’re 100% behind what we’re doing,” he says.

Discussions about sports are still big topics, though. High school football is a hit in Miranda’s shop, and his customers still recall when San Marcos High School made it to the California Interscholastic Federation playoffs in 1988. That was the year the head coach lost a bet with the team.

“He told the kids he’d get a flat top if they went to CIF,” says Miranda. “I still remember when the coach took off his hat in front of the home team after I’d given him a haircut.”

Miranda averages 20 customers a day and charges $7 for haircuts and $12 for styling. Because he sees more than 400 regulars a month, Miranda works by appointment only.

Golden Razor is at 250 West Woodward. Hours are Tuesday to Friday, 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.; Saturday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.; closed Sunday and Monday. Calls: 746-9200.

THE NEIGHBORHOOD SHOP

Continental Coiffures in Escondido is a “bread and butter” salon, according to owner Rose Sewall. Clients come in weekly for a wash and set. Time moves slowly in Sewall’s salon. Rollers, hair dryers, and back-combing are still in style.

“My customers don’t want a brush in their hair until they come back to see me,” says Sewall.

For 15 years Sewall has worked out of a one-room shop on the corner of a busy intersection; a nearby Laundromat encourages a steady flow of foot traffic. Clients are comfortable in the salon’s 1950-ish setting in which aqua synthetic leather chairs and trays of brightly colored rollers have withstood the test of time.

There are no name-brand products in open view. That is not to say Sewall uses lesser products on her ladies, most of whom drive expensive cars and expect the best. “I use what I’m comfortable with,” she says, “and my customers don’t want me to try anything new.”

The average age of Sewall’s clients is mid-70s, but the backbone of her business has come from an 85-year-old woman from Rancho Bernardo. The woman found Sewall at another shop more than 20 years ago. She had just relocated from New York and was looking for a stylist when she came upon Sewall. “She’s been with me ever since and is indirectly responsible for almost all my clients.”

“All it takes is one good customer,” says Sewall. Although Sewall only works Wednesday through Saturday, she finds it difficult to get away from the salon. “My customers don’t understand that I can’t always be here.”

And whenever Sewall thinks about doing something else, her husband discourages her from making the change.

“He knows my customers are like family,” she says. And as long as Sewall’s favorite customer from Rancho Bernardo keeps coming, it’s a good bet her “bread & butter” shop will stay just the way it is.

Continental Coiffures is at 610 W. 9th in Escondido. Sewall works by appointment only. Her hours are Wednesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Calls: 746-4100.


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