Cultivating and Harnessing CreativityInnovative ideas that build your staff—and your brand.

LET’S FACE IT, sometimes when
guests come in asking for “just
a trim,” your über-creative and
forward-thinking styling staff
lose it a little bit, at least internally
while they continue smiling
into the mirror. It’s not that
they don’t want to make clients
happy—in this economy, who
can afford not to give a client
what they want—but doing the
same basic cuts day after day
can defeat artistic imaginations.

Even if they can’t regularly
explore their talents on clients,
other innovative outlets await.
To get your creative juices flowing,
we’ve tapped seven different
salons, sharing their strategies
for inspiring creativity and their
tips for bolstering business while
keeping their stylists’ brilliance
on the cutting edge.

Performing Virtual Makeovers

Guests might be wary of anything called a “makeover,” but visual aids
can help put their minds at ease. Paul Kenneth Salon and Spa in Woburn,
Massachusetts, utilizes a makeover website during consultations to review
cut and color ideas with clients and discuss any concerns before the service
begins. Jackie Maniaci, who co-owns the salon with Paul Kenneth, says
having a tool to show clients their potential results has been a boon for
business—and creativity.

The site,, is free and easy to use. Simply upload a clear
headshot of your client, or select from the roster of “real woman” models,
then digitally style the photo from a menu of hair styles and colors. Not only
can clients “try out” a dramatic color or cut risk-free in the salon, they can
even test looks on the site from their own home. To access, they just follow
the link on the Paul Kenneth website and enter a user ID and password as
supplied by the salon.

Cultivating and Harnessing Creativity
“Makeover technology helps improve communication and open up new service opportunities,” says Maniaci, co-owner of Paul Kenneth Salon and Spa.

Though Maniaci initially wanted to create her own
makeover site, it proved too costly.,
though fairly basic, easily interfaces with the salon’s
website and has proven its value. “It’s great for clients
who come in here bored and wanting a change, but
they don’t know what they want. Their stylist will pull
up the site and say, ‘Let’s look.’ Many times, what they
see on the screen may be too big a change, but they’ll
end up with something close to it.” Previously, wishywashy
clients posed a problem as they occasionally
ended up dissatisfied with their new looks. “Before,
they might say, ‘I didn’t think it would look like this!’
With the site, we’ve definitely gotten more satisfied
clients, as well as reduced re-dos.”

The salon has been so happy with the results that
they incentivize stylists to make virtual makeovers
part of every appointment. The first team member
who uses the site 10 times in a month gets a
monetary reward. “It absolutely increases client and
stylist creativity,” reports Maniaci. “We’re constantly
promoting it.”

Hosting a Photo Shoot

There’s nothing wrong with a little
friendly competition among staff,
believes Melany Beirne, owner
of Ohana Salon in Fort Collins,
Colorado. She has her staff team
up and challenges them to create
avant garde photo shoots around
a theme—then posts the photos
so clients can vote on their favorite
look. The prize for the winning
team? Bragging rights around
the salon, which is enough to
encourage every stylist to push
herself and constantly “think
outside the box.”

“Most of our shoots are inspired
by editorial work that we love,
or by ideas from staff that push
outside our comfort zone and daily activity,” says
Beirne. “It’s a great opportunity to try that amazing
style you saw in W magazine, or just simply revisit
skills that we don’t necessarily use on a daily basis.”

Her key to getting staff excited and enthusiastic
about each challenge is to include them in the
process every step of the way.

Cultivating and Harnessing Creativity
Cultivating and Harnessing Creativity
“For our ERA photo shoot, each team drew an era and had to create a photo that looked like
it was originally taken at that time,” says Beirne, owner of Ohana Salon. Here is a shot for the 30s/ 40s era.

The timeline is a strict one: Three months
prior to a shoot, staff get together to outline its
purpose: Is it directed toward clients? Is it for
inspirational purposes? Two months prior, teams
are assembled for hair, make-up and wardrobe,
and each collaborates on creating storyboards
with inspirational images or materials they plan to
use. A model call is also announced at that time,
and model selection begins. One month prior, a
dress rehearsal/practice is scheduled for a full run-through
to ensure everything is in place on the day
of the shoot.

Not only do these shoots draw new business, it’s
expanded career opportunities for staff, who now
have the experience and connections to get jobs
doing editorial work for local magazines. And it will
only grow from there, says Beirne. “Recently we
submitted photos for a competition being held by
a publication with Nick Arrojo, and we are looking
forward to entering Goldwell Color Zoom in 2011.

Watch out, NAHA, because you’re next on our list!”

Celebrating with the Community

Halloween is a favorite holiday at Phia Salon in Columbus, Ohio.
But rather than pass out candy, stylists joined their small business
association, Short North Business Association (SNBA), for HighBall
Halloween, a huge street party reminiscent of Mardi Gras. There
they created over-the-top hair styles for the main event of the
evening, a runway show featuring outrageous couture fashions from
10 local designers.

Cultivating and Harnessing Creativity
Creating outlandish hair for a local Halloween celebration lets stylists “be creative in a way they don’t get to be in a salon,” says lead stylist Sunshine Stricker of Phia Salon.

Though community-based, the event was a big undertaking for
the salon, says Elizabeth Bella, who owns Phia with her husband,
Mike. Lead stylist Sunshine Stricker was the salon liaison responsible
for most of the coordination with SNBA. Eight to 10 stylists also
brainstormed ideas with the designers, who were open to their
suggestions, no matter how outlandish. Ultimately, says Bella, the
planning enforced the camaraderie of the team and, in particular,
boosted the confidence level of new stylists.

“Everyone was really excited for the event,” agrees Stricker. “We
were creative in a way you don’t get to be in a salon.” It was also an
unqualified success, with the fashion designers thanking the salon team for taking their designs to the next level. The neighborhood
loved it, too. “It got a big group of people interested in the salon and let them know what we’re about,” says Stricker. Not only did the
salon help raise $40,000 for the SNBA, it also secured 42 new clients with a $31 average ticket on their first visit.

But the biggest benefits, like bringing the community together, were intangible. “The event is ideal for growing business, but more
than bringing me new clients, it’s made my current clients excited to see me,” says Stricker. “They see our name around and say, ‘Hey,
that’s my salon.’ I’m really proud of our whole team.”

Staging Style Interventions

Seek out potential clients who are already undergoing personal transformations, recommends Kendirian, co-owner of Atelier
SAV. “They are trying to change themselves already, so they are open to you.”

Though Atelier SAV in Glendale, California, is a relatively new salon, staff have already
been involved with editorial work, TV and hair shows, reports Shoushan Kendirian, who
co-owns the salon with partners Ani Baburyan and Virginia Martirosyan.

But still, stylists continuously sought out creative outlets. “Doing clients every day
is one thing—they always want one inch off,” laments Kendirian. “It’s hard to explore
your creativity, since clients keep you in a box.”

Fortunately, the salon came up with a novel solution to exercise their creative
muscle—they grab members from their local gym for spontaneous style interventions.

“We randomly choose someone, or the gym recommends people to us,” says
Kendirian. “A trainer might suggest someone when that person has come a long way.
We want people who are working on themselves. We don’t take a fl awless 10 since she
doesn’t need us!” The lucky candidate then gets brought to the salon for a full style
makeover—including hair, make-up and even counseling on self-esteem.

Since the salon selects people who are already in the process of change, the
creative element becomes truly transformative. “People are more open because
they’ve neglected themselves and are not sure what to do. They listen to us,” says
Kendirian. And it shows in their final results, which are anything but boring: “When
they lose the weight, they may go for that bold red.”

The salon performs the interventions completely free of charge, but they do get
a return on their investment. “The guests are a walking advertisement for us. They
come back and bring ten people with them!” But that’s not the greatest reward for
her stylists, adds Kendirian. “We love the whole transformation process—and we love
seeing happy people.”

Working with High Fashion

José Luis Salon in Austin, Texas, knows the power of
fashion. José Buitron, who co-owns the salon with Bill
Pitts, says their work with local fashion designers and
bigger names like Richie Rich has inspired his team to
dream big. “This is high fashion, it goes above and
beyond the chair,” he says. It even goes to Paris: That’s
where Buitron worked with the Oribe team last July on
the Giorgio Armani Privé collection shows.

Cultivating and Harnessing Creativity
José Luis stylists work on models backstage with Oribe at the Armani Privé show.
“I don’t see how anyone could not be involved in fashion shows,” says co-owner Buitron.

When prepping for a fashion show, Buitron’s core
team first meets with the designer to study the clothing.
They then conceive two or three looks that are presented
to the designer—whichever look they ultimately agree
upon is selected for the show. The next step? Practice,
practice, practice, says Buitron. “The look should
become quick and easy to do. The more prepared you
are, the easier it is. Without preparation, it’s total chaos.”

Preparation is so critical that April Lyn Graffeo has
developed an entire system around it. At Indra Salon
and City Spa in Andover, Massachusetts, which she co-owns
with José Batistine, aspiring editorial and runway
professionals undergo an “honors seminar” that includes
extra education in styling techniques, training in event
preparation, and marketing and branding education
such as utilizing Facebook as a promotional tool.

To keep them organized, stylists receive prearranged
binders with information on all their upcoming editorial
and fashion shows. They are also required to carry a
digital camera to document their work; later, these
photographs will be edited for use on Facebook and
in their personal portfolios. After six months, successful
trainees have the necessary experience to do national
runway work and earned a resume title of “Editorial and
Runway Professional.”

Needless to stay, stylists love the combination of hair
and fashion. “It’s a release of creativity that we all need
to have,” says Buitron. “It’s not always there with clients,
but it’s definitely there for fashion shows.”

Creating Your
Own Marketing

Cultivating and Harnessing Creativity
Stylists collaborate on photo shoots at Bell Tower, reports owner Carolyn Helms, from concept and photographer coordination to styling hair, make-up and clothes.

Every year at Bell Tower
Salon, Medi-Spa & Store
in Wyomissing, Pennsylvania,
Carolyn Helms and
her staff organize two
photo shoots that provide
images for all their advertising
including postcard
mailers, billboards and
digital marketing, as well
as the salon website and
Facebook page. Handson
involvement keeps the
stylists current with trends,
but more importantly, it
helps take their career to
the next level.

“I encourage constant
photo shoots for stylists
on an individual level for
their own portfolios, image
and brand building,”
explains Helms. The entire
process, including brainstorming
ideas, photographer
coordination and execution,
takes about three
months, and is a team effort
guided by Helms. Additionally,
the salon often
stages smaller, impromptu
photo shoots in two-week
time frames for one to two
stylists at a time.

Staff calls these shoots
the “ultimate reward” for
providing a superior guest
experience every day, says
Helms. What makes them so great? “It’s being able to do whatever
you want without limitations. It’s about experimenting and expressing
yourself.” And her staff is now ready to express themselves to
a larger audience. Though they already participate in contests for and Intercoiffure, their big-picture goal for 2011 is to
enter NAHA.

Nurturing a creative project can be challenging for owners who
are not stylists, admits Helms, so partnering up with a working stylist
is critical to helping the process move forward. It’s not always
easy, but the time she spends studying and working with her team
is worth it: “They are always excited to do it again.”

13 Tips to Get Started

As you explore your own creative idea, consider these words of inspiration wisdom.

  1. Plan your creative schedule
    at the beginning of the
    year so you can determine what
    fi ts your budget. While virtual
    makeovers or style interventions
    require minimal investment,
    large events can be costly and
    demand hours of commitment—
    meaning your staff has less time
    for paying clients.
  2. Begin coordination for a
    big runway show at least
    six months to a year in advance,
    says April Lyn Graffeo of Indra
    Salon and City Spa. Producing
    an in-salon photo shoot can take
    up to two to three months.
  3. Before signing on for any
    event, make sure your staff
    is on board. “We ask staff for
    their buy-in,” says Elizabeth
    Bella of Phia Salon. “If they’re
    not willing to commit, we turn
    down the opportunity.”
  4. For shows or photo shoots,
    designate a lead stylist or
    coordinator to take charge of
    planning. She will meet with
    other event organizers, secure
    scheduling, communicate the
    look you’ll be creating, and keep
    management and staff up to
    date as details are set.
  5. If you’re partnering with a fashion
    designer, creating a “lookbook” is key,
    explains Graffeo. This is an inspiration or
    storyboard that will outline the hair styles
    you plan to create, so you can all make sure
    hair and clothes complement each other.
  6. Make preparation part of training: Hold
    classes on the looks you will be creating,
    and have apprentices work on headpieces or
    wigs as part of their program.
  7. Plan ahead. “If a model doesn’t have
    good hair, you better have extra clip-on
    hair,” says José Buitron of José Luis Salon.
    And streamline your toolbox: “Bring only the
    products you need—anything else will just
    get in the way.”
  8. Have faith in your team. “I had three
    staff members frightened of updos,”
    reports Bella. “Doing them at events
    allowed them to get over their fear, and two
    of them have found that updos are actually
    their strength now.”
  9. Don’t forget to include your current
    clients in your creative ideas. Inviting
    them to shows or having them judge shoots
    not only enhances your reputation as a style
    powerhouse, but gets them excited to keep
    coming back to your salon.
  10. As a general rule, stay current on
    your clients’ lives so you know when
    they are most likely to be open to dramatic
    style changes—think recent grads, career-changers
    or those jumping back in the
    dating pool.
  11. Encourage new or timid stylists
    in particular to join in the fun, as
    creative events “trick them into networking,”
    explains Bella. “They don’t even feel like
    they’re marketing themselves.”
  12. Don’t underestimate the power
    of team-based accomplishments.
    “Camaraderie is so important,” adds Bella.
    “There is a real feeling of professionalism, of
    working together.”
  13. Whatever your creative route,
    document it with lots of pictures!
    And show them off on your website,
    Facebook page, Twitter, around the salon,
    and in staff portfolios.