Denise Taylor remembers one story more vividly than the rest from her 30 years in the beauty industry.
One day, an African-American woman walked into the beauty salon where Taylor worked at the time, a salon that serviced almost all white customers. The woman tried to get an appointment, but nobody in the salon knew how to work with African-American hair. The customer was essentially denied service because of her race.
“I swore to myself then that when I opened my salon, it would be something where everybody from all walks of life could be serviced in one location,” Taylor said.
She and her husband opened the Great Looks Hair Salon eight years ago. Great Looks, which is located in the Mercer Mall, bills itself as a multi-cultural salon — a place where stylists are trained to work with any hairstyle and any texture. Now the salon is changing its name as part of the couple’s expansion plans. Starting September 1, Great Looks will become a franchise named Diverse Styles.
“I felt like having a multi-cultural hair salon is definitely something that’s needed, not only in the area but in our industry as well. Having a salon that can service all textures of hair without looking at race is something we need in our melting pot world.”
On Monday afternoons at noon, all the stylists gather for weekly training on the latest trends. On the Monday a reporter visited, the lesson covered shampoo and hair styling products. The stylists were lined up in the back of the salon behind solid black sinks while clients sit in chairs, tilting their heads back so that their hair hangs over the sink.
“Always analyze the scalp first,” said Jade Bain, one of the educators appointed to teach stylists the ways of multicultural hair work. “You’re going to have to do several different kinds of shampoos; maybe two or three. I have one client that needs five or six. It all depends on the texture of the hair.”
Each stylist takes a handful of shampoo and begins running it through their client’s hair, massaging it deep within the strands yet working carefully. Jade inspects their work, continuing to offer instruction. “You want to make sure you’re rinsing really good, especially the hairline. When it’s not rinsed really good, people will get dryness and flakiness right there.”
This level of personalized instruction was attractive to stylist Leah Hammawacker. She learned about Great Looks through her mother and quickly came to appreciate the educational opportunities the salon offered.
“I like the training. I feel like in school they don’t teach us how to do all types of hair textures. We learned mannequin textures (in school),” she said. “We didn’t learn techniques for servicing everyone’s hair like we do here.”
Taylor is betting that the same educational formula will work in other stores. She’s been preparing to create a franchise for several years, slowly stepping back from teaching and letting experienced stylists handle more of the coaching.
“It’s hard to hold and wear that many hats,” Taylor said. “In order to do a great job in expanding this heart and soul of a multicultural salon, I need to step away from the chair. That’s why we need to have this team of educators in place.”
Even with the ever-expanding to-do list of running a franchise, Taylor has found the time to keep one foot in her trade, doing hair twice per week and supervising some of the training sessions. Monday’s session began in the customary way, with each employee telling one another, “I’m going to learn something from you” before hugging.
Team and education are the two most important things to Jenifer Kelly, a veteran of the beauty industry and Taylor’s right-hand woman. Every week, Kelly learns something new, which she attributes to the salon’s multicultural commitment.
“I did some textured hair in my previous years but not African-American hair,” Kelly said. “Bringing the concept of multicultural into it opened my eyes up to the fact that hair is hair. Its exploded my creativity.”
Great Looks is also committed to serving people who have lost their hair because of either Alopecia Areata (unnatural hair loss) or, more commonly, chemotherapy treatments. Wigs, head scarves and scalp massages are just some of the ways the salon tries to help those who don’t have their hair anymore. It’s a personal cause for Taylor.
“My mother is a breast cancer survivor herself so 10 years ago when she was diagnosed, I had to take that walk and journey,”
Taylor’s next journey starts in September when Great Looks becomes Diverse Styles.
“We just went to the International Franchise Show – the largest in the country – and one of our competitors came up to us who has 2,000 locations,” she recalled. “I said, ‘with our model, I don’t know that we’d have 2,000 locations’ and he said to me, ‘well, you never know’.”