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Management Practices

Joel Warren Partners with Saks Fifth Avenue to Create The Salon Project

Stacey Soble | October 27, 2017 | 10:37 AM
PRG's Bruce Teitelbaum and The Salon Project's Joel Warren reveiw design swatches as they plan the interior look of The Salon Project.
Photo By Shawna Christensen Photo 1 of 3
As a stylist, educator and salon owner for more than 30 years, Joel Warren brings a wealth of experience to his collaboration with Saks Fifth Avenue.
Photo By Shawna Christensen Photo 2 of 3
A rendering by the design firm RPG of The Salon Project by Joel Warren within Saks Fifth Avenue shows the interactive makeup stations, the communal services table, and along the back wall, the specializec stations with integrated shampoo bowls and retail shelves. 
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Joel Warren is determined to revolutionize the traditional salon concept, and he’s doing it within the doors of Saks Fifth Avenue.

As a stylist, educator and co-founder of New York’s Warren Tricomi Salon, Warren has more than 30 years of professional beauty experience, and he’s well aware of the mounting business pressures that have made salon ownership challenging for the past several years.

“When the current salon model with a manager, front desk staff, assistants and commissioned hairdressers evolved, the world was a different place,” Warren says. “Minimum wage was lower, there were fewer labor department restrictions, and an owner’s dollar stretched further. There was money left at the end of the day to take home as profit and to reinvest into the business. And there were fewer concerns that the stylists you’ve built up to $2,000 a week on a 50% commission would go down the block and join a salon suite.”

Warren also believes the current model has strayed away from a focus on the client—that today’s salon guest is constantly being handed off to an assistant for a shampoo, a colorist for color application and the front desk for payment, booking appointments and even retail.

“Sometimes the stylist will have one vision for the client’s style, and the colorist another, and they will be recommending different techniques and products—it leaves the client frustrated,” he says.

When Warren left Warren Tricomi in 2016, he had the opportunity to pioneer his new streamlined salon ideas with Salotto Beauty, a new six-chair salon in the South Beach area of Miami. Describing his concept as a blend of Apple, Sephora and a high-end salon, Warren strives to elevate hairdressers as artists and empower them with more control over the client appointment; treat clients to a more serene, bespoke, seamless experience; and streamline the salon’s systems allowing for more profit and reinvestment into the business.

This fall, Warren’s concept manifests itself as The Salon Project by Joel Warren, a series of salons within Saks Fifth Avenue. The first recently opened as a 3,000-square-foot salon inside the Saks in Long Island, New York, and two more are planned to roll out by 2019—one at the retailer’s flagship store in Manhattan, New York, and another in the Houston Galleria. Plans are in the works for outposts in at least 10 more Saks Fifth Avenue stores.

A Client-Focused Experience
At The Salon Project, stylists will tend to their clients from check-in to check-out. When a client walks into the salon, they will be greeted by a tablet-carrying concierge who will check her in. Her stylist will come up to the reception area, greet her and escort her to the station for a consultation. Using augmented reality technology, the YouCam program and a tablet at the station, the client will be able to virtually try on a series of hair styles, colors and even extensions.

Once the stylist and client determine a cut-and-color strategy for the appointment, the client will be turned around to have her hair shampooed at the sink that is built into the station. As the stylist executes both the cut and color services, she’ll be able to talk to the client about an assortment of retail that will be integrated into the station. At the close of the appointment, the stylist will be able to ring up any retail purchases for the client and book her next appointment right at the station.

“Who better to book a client’s next appointment than her stylist who knows exactly when she should come back and how much time she’ll require for the next visit?” Warren says.

Although it’s true that in Warren’s new model, stylists won’t have the ability to service as many clients each day, they will be making more money from each one.

“A stylist may only have a handful of clients a day, but those will equal multiple clients when they purchase color, extensions, retail and makeup from the stylist,” he says. “As a bonus, this model will eliminate a lot of chaos from the stylist’s day while allowing her to be more profitable.”

Naturally, Warren’s concept requires a well-rounded, highly-educated team. He has plans for a revolving education program, with a series of outside educators who will rotate through the various Saks-based salons.
In addition, with the relationship to Saks, staff will also get exposed to fashion education on clothing and accessory trends.

An Innovative Concept
To create his new concept, Warren tapped RPG, an award-winning New York design firm recognized for its ability to invigorate the brick-and-mortar retail experience, elevate the power of brands and compel consumers to shop and purchase. RPG is responsible for building the retail presence of brands, such as Bluemercury, Birchbox, The Glossary at Barnes & Noble College, Beauty Brands, Bliss and Glowhaus at Bloomingdales.

“With a retro-meets-modern casual glamour, The Salon Project will incorporate unexpected touches and contemporary twists,” says Bruce Teitelbaum, CEO of RPG. “Rich finishes and textures will be combined in a grand yet light-hearted way, to foster a connection and confidence between the stylist and the Saks client.

Mixed materials and finishes, such as lacquered surfaces, wood, stone flooring and hand-screen wall covering will project a sophisticated and high-spirited appeal.”

Teitelbaum and Warren agree that the technology will play a key role in the magic of the personalized appointment.

The salon will employ simple, relatable technology methods, including color-matching scanning systems, virtual image resolution, real-time imaging through augmented reality, uploading of digital images and wearable technology.

“Through the guidance of the stylist, the client will be able to virtually sample hair and makeup looks until she buys,” Teitelbaum says. “This transformative technology turns passive shoppers into active buyers, while fostering client engagement and loyalty to The Salon Project.”

Interactive Retail
The highly specialized experience will not be limited to the clients with hair appointments. At The Salon Project, guests can visit a central communal table to receive nail services, massages and product demonstrations, all while charging their personal devices.

Three makeup stations will be equipped with augmented reality, encouraging clients to experiment with beauty products. VIP treatment rooms will provide a level of privacy to clients desiring keratin treatments and extension services, as well as skin-care services.

Throughout the retail area, products will be displayed and tested from surrounding étagères, encouraging the client exploration of a curated range of both nationally known and niche brands.

“Our innovative sell system allows for complete flexibility, including effortless pop-ups for special events,” Teitelbaum says.

Warren sees the retail area as an incubator for new products. “There are numerous hairdressers who come up with great product ideas but have nowhere to sell them,” Warren says. “It’s one thing to develop a product and a whole other business getting distribution. Eventually, The Salon Project will offer these artists the ability to tap into a large network of salons where they can introduce new products. With the flexibility to establish pop-up throughout our retail area, we will be able to showcase and promote these products, supporting them though social media.”

A Stronger Business
With his experience owning and managing 20-30 salons during his lifetime, Warren understands that in the current salon model, payroll equals a high percentage of overall costs. By accessing technology and making the stylist responsible for the guest’s entire appointment, Warren is eliminating as much payroll as possible while still curating a specialized experience.

“With payroll more than 60%, it’s impossible to make a profit,” says Warren, who says his concept will bring more money to the bottom line.

Warren believes as he elevates stylists’ positions to overall beauty experts, they’ll be less likely to be attracted to the independence of the salon-suite market.

“If they want to go they will, but it will be to a totally different kind of working experience,” he says. “I’m giving them the greatest location to work and the best training available—it’ll be hard to leave after that.”

In addition, Warren will have the support of Saks to make the salon as strong as possible. The retailer’s former salon concept frequently put beauty in lower-traffic areas, but Warren, who will be renting the salon spaces from Saks, will have a say where The Salon Project locations will reside within the store. For example, in the case of the new Houston location, the entrance to the salon will be right in the middle of the shoe department.

In addition, the salon will be able to leverage the strong marketing team at Saks, giving them the ability to send massive email blasts to Saks customers and the opportunity to design cross-promotions.

“Saks shoppers will even be able to cash in their loyalty points to get their hair done or enjoy a blow-out service,” Warren says.

Beneficial Partnership
Saks is helping Warren build a stronger salon concept, and he in turn will help drive traffic to the retailer.
“There are only a few businesses these days that bring in traffic, such as hospitality, food and beverage, medical and beauty—those are all services that you can’t get online,” Warren says. “Especially when buying makeup and lipstick, clients want to try on colors, and they need the tactile experience. I’m giving clients something that other places can’t deliver—experts that are trained in every aspect of beauty.”

According to an interview with Saks President Marc Metrick, who was quoted in a story about the salon in WWD in July 2017, a high-touch environment combines with a strong, integrated retail component will draw clients into the salon.

“What we’re trying to do is bring what we’re calling the new luxury to life,” he said. “One, it’s differentiated, and two, it’s a seamless, high-touch experience for our customers. It’s new and it’s nowhere else. We’re saying to customers, ‘Hey, we don’t just want you to buy things with us—we want you to experience things with us.’”

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