OWNER TO OWNER: The David Rios Salons’ Secrets to Providing 5-Star European Service for the Country’s Most Demanding Clients

May 2, 2018 | 8:08 AM
Salon Owner David Rios balances European sophistication with fun at his D.C. salon.
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A big, bright haircolor bar is the social center of the salon.
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“A-list” retail products from Kerastase, Shu Uemura and L’Oréal Professionnel place the salon in a sophisticated niche.
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Rios (left) calls partner Didier Martin “the man behind the curtain.”
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The décor is elegant but not stuffy, which suits the owners and their wide mix of clients.
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The clients in Georgetown range from students and professors to diplomats and politicians, and the David Rios Salon is set up to handle all of them with warmth and style.
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Many of the country’s most brilliant, talented and powerful people live and work in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, D.C. They’re politicians, diplomats, attorneys. Also professors and students at the nation’s top universities. So, if you’re servicing these people in your salon, you had better be at the very top of your game.

David Rios, Didier Martin and their team at The David Rios Salon and Spa have been earning rave reviews in their Georgetown neighborhood since the salon opened six years ago. Rios is a European-trained stylist who got his start working in posh salons in the French Riviera, and his strategy has been to bring the same European quality and service to his clientele in the U.S. that made him successful in France. How did this classically-trained French hairstylist build a salon that has become recognized as one of the finest in the U.S., with a huge, and highly demanding clientele? Here are eight secrets to his success.

Dial Down the Snootiness. The connotation of a European salon sometimes comes with the assumption of a certain snobby element. But not at David Rios Salon. “I worked in Cannes,” he explains. “Like all salons in France, we focused on high quality work and we charged high prices. But we were also cool and laid-back, and that’s what I wanted to duplicate here. We’re not cold and snotty. We’re friendly. We’re with our clients from the minute they arrive until the minute they leave. We give our clients a great experience.”

Hire for Skill and for Style. The team at the salon is international—there are staffers from countries like France, Romania, Poland and Israel, as well as the U.S. “The stylists reflect our mix of clients,” Rios comments. “Some are younger, others reflect our older clients and have been in D.C. for a long time. When we hire, we look for a variety of things—experience, how a person works, quality of work, their professional goals, their personal style. They need to fit in. But we have a good reputation so it helps to hire good people.”

Create a Color Bar. The large hair color island in the David Rios Salon is a unique feature that supports the friendly vibe of the salon. Rios believes it’s an essential element for his brand. “Everything is open,” he explains. “The stylists don’t go to a small room to mix color. All the tubes are there, people talk while we’re mixing color, the artists can give each other advice. Clients socialize; it’s stylish and friendly yet still professional.”

Partner with a 5-Star Brand. Rios believes a strong product partner is essential for every element of success, including the service aspect. “I’ve worked with L’Oréal Professionnel since I was a kid in France,” Rios says, “so in America I wanted them on my side. They are number one in the world, with money to invest in research, great products, great education. They enhance our customer service with the point system we can use for education, backbar products, robes, towels. Now that we’re at the Black, invitation-only tier as a L’Oréal Exclusive Salon, we’re entitled to more benefits than ever.”

Perfect the Consultation. In today’s world of Instagram-centered hair color, more and more people are experimenting with their hues…and that’s leading to a surge in corrective color services in salons! Rios knows color correction can be a huge win for salons—in terms of revenue and enhancing a business’s reputation. Color correction success, notes Rios, and indeed any success with demanding clients, is all about the consultation. “You have to listen for key words so you’re clear about what a client wants. You have to talk through what you have to do to repair the hair,” he says. “You have to talk about price and you must be confident. I’m very confident, and when I start cutting someone's hair they know it’s going to be ok.”

Train, Train, Train. Education in Europe is very different, and Rios brings that point of view to his salon in D.C. “I trained in France and it takes five years to get a license,” Rios says. “You train on color, cutting, styling, behavior, attitude. So, I conduct trainings for our staff to observe my work and my attitude. We also bring in strong L’Oréal Professionnel educators and we send our artists to the L’Oréal Academy in SoHo.”

Make the Shampoo Bowl a Luxury Destination. In Europe, the shampoo experience is elevated and pampering, and the Rios team offers that same level of treatment. Five shampoo assistants are trained in the salon’s signature approach that combines shampoo and conditioning with massage. “It’s head therapy,” Rios says. “Also, the assistants are very knowledgeable about our products.”

Take Retailing Seriously. In addition to stocking a wide array of what he feels are the finest products available from L’Oréal Professionnel, Kerastase and Shu Uemura, Rios puts as much emphasis on keeping his clients’ home regimens up-to-date as he does their hair. “I’m always talking to them about changing their products,” he says. “Sometimes they’ll use something for years and I know we have something new they’ll like more. I don’t want them to get stuck. And I welcome feedback. It helps me to get to know my products even better.”

For more information about David Rios Salon and Spa visit


Salon name: David Rios Salon and Spa
Owners: David Rios and Didier Martin
Website: www.davidriossalonandspa
Location: Washington, D.C.
Established: 2012
Square Feet: 3,000
Number of Employees: 27
Number of Stations:16 plus an open color bar
Retail Lines: L’Oréal Professionnel, Kerastase, Shu Uemura
Color Line: L’Oréal Professionnel Shampoo, Cut and Style: $100 to $250
Single Process Color: $100 to $125
Salon Software: Millennium and Demand Force
Best-Selling Products: Kerastase Shampoos and Conditioners
Newest Products on the Shelf: Kerastase Aura Botanica collection; Shu Uemura Blow Dry Beautifyer Thermo BB Crème
Newest Services: Smartbond Treatments

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