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Owner to Owner: 6 Salons: Failure Is Never an Option

September 11, 2018 | 10:24 AM
For 6 Salon Owners Tomy Lulgjuraj and George and Johnny Nikollaj, it has always been a matter of do or die. “We never had a Plan B,” they say.
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6 Salon’s marketing and merchandising helps the business stand out in a fun, irreverent way in their salon-dense area. Salon design, branding, and website: M1/DTW
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The 15-year-old Royal Oak salon looks sleek and modern to this day.
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The award-winning décor in Royal Oak features “floating” salons that prevent hair and debris from accumulating on the floor.
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“6” branding is prominent at both 6 Salon locations—Birmingham and Royal Oak, MI.
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The Birmingham, MI location echoes the stylish, minimalist esthetic of the 6 Salon brand. Salon photography: Jeffrey Kilmer Photography
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When George and Johnny Nikollaj and their cousin Tomy Lulgjuraj opened their first 6 Salon location in Royal Oak, MI in 2003, they readily and cheerfully admit they did absolutely everything wrong. They did no research. They rented their space with a handshake from the owner of the building without looking at any other options. They established the salon 15 miles from their existing base of clients. They hired an architect who had never designed a salon. Their eyes, in George’s words, were bigger than their wallets. Yet today, with two locations, 6 Salon is a thriving business, employing more than 70 people. So, what went right?

Get to know 6 Salon.

 

Simply Put—Failure Was Not an Option. Like many entrepreneurs, all three of the guys were born to parents who instilled them with “unbelievable drive” and boundless work ethics. “There was never a Plan B,” the guys say. “We’re workers. To this day, we all work behind the chair five to six days a week. We’re on the floor all the time. On Mondays we’re owners. Sheer drive is what got us through and gets us through, 100 percent.”

 

The Culture is Strong. The drive and work ethic of the three 6 owners informs the culture for the entire salon. “When our stylists see us grinding it out, it motivates the whole team,” they say. “George starts at 7 a.m., three days a week and works until close. We’re in the trenches with everyone. Decisions don’t come from an office—they’re made by us as hairdressers. We never expect anything from anyone that we wouldn’t do ourselves. And everything we do is for the benefit of the clients in our chairs.”

 

The Team is Homegrown. Most of the staff has been part of 6 Salon since the beginning, and everyone was “raised at home.” The owners visit beauty schools for potential employees and note that several staffers got their start as non-professional employees. “They were working here in other capacities, fell in love with what we do and became licensed through our apprentice program,” the owners explain. “In fact, if a stylist comes in from another salon and offers to bring his or her clients, we decline. That’s not our culture.” This approach is a huge boon to client retention. “Clients know everyone and know where they were brought up,” the owners comment. “It helps them feel confident and it helps young stylists build quickly.”

 

Only “Nice” People Need Apply. This is another important factor that contributes to the 6 Salon culture. “Nice” and “happy” aren’t just hollow words when it comes to working at 6. “When we say we look for nice people,” George explains, “we’re asked, ‘isn’t everyone nice?’ The answer is no. People may be pleasant but a client knows if you’re just going through the motions. You have to be genuinely kind and love your job and happy to be here and nowhere else.” The happiness factor pays off in more ways than one. “If we’re proudest of anything,” say the owners, “it’s all the relationships that have been built here. We’ve had friendships, marriages, lots of kids. We all have kids; our staff has kids, and everyone met at the salon.”

 

Training is Ongoing. Nobody is too “senior” for education at 6 Salons. New stylists are “house-trained” and every quarter, attendance is mandatory for everyone for an in-salon class. Guest educators span the spectrum from established platform artists like Jason Backe of the Ted Gibson group; to the renowned Frederic Fekkai; to salon owner, business expert and Intercoiffure President Frank Gambuzza. The three owners are very clear—even if a stylist is busy today, trends will change and they will be left behind, so education is essential. “They’d better have a pretty good reason to miss a class in our salon,” the guys note.

 

Split Shifts Accommodate Growth. They also motivate individual stylists. Here’s how it works at 6 Salon. Stylists are classified via a level system—Level 2, 4 or 6—based on productivity. The Level 2 and Level 4 stylists share stations and work split shifts—9 a.m. to 3 p.m. or 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. This keeps a majority of the stations active at all times. The Level 6 stylists have earned the right to command their own stations—no sharing—and can work any hours they wish. Some may opt to work four days a week, for example, and some may also be willing to let another stylist use their station, but the Level 6’s always have first choice.

 

Cheeky Marketing Has Created a Unique Brand. It’s estimated that there are between 50 and 60 salons within a two-mile radius of 6 Salon’s locations, so standing out is a challenge. The owners have managed to do so, thanks in part to their irreverent marketing and branding. “When we first opened, we didn’t put up a sign,” they remember. “We just put six red lights in the window of the salon, like an underground club. It generated buzz.” Since then, the marketing has continued to be edgy and hip—always playing off the eponymous “6.” Plus, the owners edit the brands for the locations. “You can equate our Birmingham location to Midtown Manhattan,” they explain, “and Royal Oaks is like SOHO.”

 

L’Oréal Professionnel is a Valuable Business Partner. The owners can’t remember exactly how their partnership with L’Oréal Professionnel came about, but they know it’s been a team effort from the very beginning, and it’s one they value. “No matter what we need help with, they’re always just a phone call away,” say the owners. “And the larger we grow, the more it benefits both parties.”

 

A Snapshot of 6 Salons

Owners: George Nikollaj, Johnny Nikollaj, Tomy Lulgjuraj

City, State: Royal Oak and Birmingham, MI

Website: sixsalon.com

Established: 2003

Average square per location: Birmingham, 4,800/Royal Oak, 3,700

Average stations per location: 21

Employees: 70

Treatment Rooms: Rooms for waxing, microblading and spray tanning in Birmingham.

Retail: L’Oréal Professionnel Serie Expert, Kerastase, Shu Uemura, Bumble and bumble

Hair Color: L’Oréal Professionnel

Average Price for Shampoo, Cut and Style: $76

Average Price for Single Process Color: $66

Salon software: Phorest

Awards: Salon Today Salon of the Year; NAHA Salon Design of the Year; Real Detroit Weekly and Hour Magazine Best Salon; Hour Magazine Best Blowout; Tiffany Awards Hairdresser of the Year (Tomy)

 

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