For a one-time wanna-be cowboy, B.J. Norwood’s decision to enter the beauty industry was an unusual one.
“Twenty years ago, I was a diesel mechanic in the oil business. The industry bombed, and there I was with a crew of 30 men,” says Norwood, who now owns Norwood and Co. salon in Arlington, Texas. But his propensity to work with his hands and an early exposure to the beauty industry through his hairdresser mother led Norwood to cosmetology school.
“I decided I was going to be the first western cowboy in the beauty industry,” he laughs.
Although his uniform of Wrangler jeans and a cow boy hat raised some eyebrows at hair competitions, it was Norwood’s attitude towards women’s hair that really set him apart. “Everyone was doing the typical Texas bleached hair. Women wanted their hair to be like cotton candy—easy to mold.”
But Norwood thought perms and peroxide were damaging his clients’ hair, so he cared for women’s hair from a man’s perspective. “I like simple, soft and sexy. No muss, no fuss,” he says. “My philosophy was that I was not going to destroy my clients’ hair I was going to make it healthy.”
In 1986, Norwood attended a master class at the Vidal Sassoon Academy in California, where he discovered that the academy’s philosophy of blow-and-go hair was in line with his own beliefs. He gave his clients natural, low-maintenance styles that could be recreated at home with a brush, dryer or finger styling. Clients loved the results and word-of-mouth brought more business to Norwood’s already full schedule.
For 15 years, he worked 50-hour weeks at a large-commission salon where he was the first one there in the morning and the last one out at night due to his super-sized client roster. But despite his popularity with clients, he was unhappy.
“I was embarrassed by all the other hair going out of the salon. The owner would hire just to fill a chair, and often these hires resulted in shoddy work,” he says.
“It was just numbers—get the clients in and out every 30 minutes. It wasn’t for me, I wanted to be proud of where I worked.”
So he set a goal to open his own salon. In 1998, opportunity knocked when Norwood found a building with abundant windows and wide-open space—exactly what he was looking for.
“I wanted to keep as much open space as I could, so I put in the smallest break/inventory room possible, two bathrooms and a changing room. Everything else is open, with a cement floor. It’s almost like a skating rink,” says Norwood. “Very simple and very clean.
NUTS AND BOLTS
While equipping the salon, Norwood found some dilapidated old stations from the 1960s. He purchased them, cleaned them up, and now the terra cotta-colored stations contribute to the retro, spare atmosphere in the salon.
The stations also allow for flexibility in design. Norwood pulls them around to reorganize on a regular basis. In fact, nothing in the salon is nailed down except the three shampoo bowls. Even the reception desk and three faux walls are moveable. Artwork changes with a rotation of student artists from a nearby college.
“I love change,” says Norwood. “How can I tell a client to change her hair if I don’t like change? Nothing in life is permanent—not our decor, not our services, not our clients’ hair styles.
“We don’t do permanent waves or permanent color because of the peroxide. We do semipermanent color because it keeps hair shiny and healthy and still covers gray. For texture, we’ll scissor it in. There are no curling irons in the salon, and we use hot rollers only for special occasions. We can meet most women’s needs with this approach.”
Norwood’s staff profile is not the norm, either. “We’re serious about hair. These are careers, not part- time jobs as supplemental incomes. We’re not commission. I pay hourly, and we’re all here 40 hours a week. We use the TLC approach—if you don’t have a client, you’re either teaching, learning or cleaning.”
Norwood’s partner is his son, Travis, who has been with him since the salon opened. Travis plays a vital leadership role as floor manager while Norwood serves as CEO. Norwood’s wife, Susan, helps in reception and his daughter-in-law is the accountant.
In five years of business, with virtually no paid advertising, hard work and word-of-mouth has paid off for Norwood and Co. The salon has made the SALON TODAY 200 list twice, and was voted one of the best salons in the area by a local magazine.
“Our success comes from integrity. We don’t cut corners, we don’t cheat and we do just fine.”
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