Our Baby on the East Coast. Tops Hair Salon’s Evolution: from the 80s to present day.

Nancy could not believe it, she now lives walking distance from the beach, her dreams had become a reality. Her husband just accepted an offer to work as an engineer for NASA for the new space shuttle program. Nancy is officially a resident of the Space Coast! She did have one worry  on her mind and that was,

“will she ever be able to find a hair salon that felt like back home?”

So how do you find the best hair salon in town in the 80s? Word of mouth of course, forget the newspaper. Her friend did tell her about this new salon in Rockledge, Florida called Tops Hair Salon. It already had a good reputation amongst the community because the owners’ oldest sister, Jung-Hi, already owned a salon in the Mall. But this was the fresh new spot to be, twin sisters, Min Wermuth and Mae Choss were fired up and passionate, and ready to make a name for themselves. Min had recently stepped away from the corporate grind and Mae had graduated at the University of South Florida and was ready to rumble. Tops was set up to be the salon of the 80s where people came to feel great about themselves, emotions were elevated, and where business was done ethically with integrity.

Nancy soon came in for her appointment, Madonna was jamming out in the background, the walls were decorated with jet black hard geometric shapes with splashes of electric turquoise and magenta with a gold tinsel accent. The air was clean with a slight hint of permanent wave and the service she received was thorough and genuine. It felt like home, Nancy Loiselle became a lifelong client with Tops Hair Salon.

This was my moms goal of her first business when she opened in 1985. To own a place where she could be herself, create a culture that fit with her belief system and make others feel genuinely appreciated and accepted. The marketing back then really was straight forward. You had newspaper, yellow pages, radio and to this day the best form of marketing still, word of mouth. The business established a fantastic reputation and it grew steady and organically. Min quotes “the marketing was to serve my guest so well that they could not stop talking about me.”

As time went on more stylists were added to the team and eventually the business became too big for the current location they were at, so it was time to start looking for a new location. The building that really stood out was actually an orthodontist selling his free standing building. So we had the option to purchase the property that we would work from instead of paying rent. After really looking into the pros and cons, and crunching some numbers, Min believed that what fit her business philosophy the best was to purchase the building. This ended up being one of the best decisions for us. I love that in our industry you have the opportunity to work as a very creative stylist, but also a savvy small business owner. At this new property, lets call it the “Eyster building” we had so much more freedom with what we could do with the space. For many years the salon carried a full Brighton retail line which did so well and the guests loved it. Again I love the versatility of our industry that we can own a salon, own the property, and have a retail store within the salon. Tops had many great seasons and flourished all through the 90s.

Now fast forward to the Y2K and the 2000s this is when I got to really become part of the Tops team. Sure I grew up in the salon as a little kid eating Little Caesars crazy bread in the breakroom, playing with perm rods and sweeping up hair. But now I actually had something to bring to the table. As I was a TSPA student myself my mom had me working the front desk and shampooing guests. This is where everyone of our teammates begin, at the shampoo bowl, no exceptions. And I just have to take the time to say that a good shampoo can make or break a stylist. It can go overlooked and it is such a crucial and intimate part of the guest experience. With me now in the building often, and mom seeing some fresh blood coming up from the next generation, mom was ready to take the salon to the next level. The first change that I actually made was to get us a credit card machine, we stayed on a cash only basis for as long as we possibly could. The next big leap we made was to get away from using a paper and pencil appointment book and switch to POS and scheduling software system. I got to say it was a little sad when we had to throw away our foot long eraser, that thing always made me chuckle, but the new Mac desktop was a pretty sweet swap. The client rolladex got imported into the new system one by one, along with our client history book and formula notes. Retail and inventory was next to get that as automated as possible for the time being. Then came the webpage, the social media plan, the review based websites, and also our referral program, new guest packets, loyalty program etc. The corner stone to personal growth in our industry was also cemented into the foundation of the business and that is a consistent continuing education program/calendar.

After these key elements of running a small business in the 21st century were laid, it was time to focus on creating an associate training program. This is when the true flame to our next chapter of growth and giving back was ignited. How we define an associate program is, it is a “masters degree” to your cosmetology school degree/license. As a new graduate, it is where you first learn the salon’s pace, expectations (from guests and co-workers), and culture. You can only take in so much when you are in school and this gives the recent graduate the opportunity to be connected to a seasoned veteran stylist and learn how the flow, juggle, and operate as they do. Once an associate graduates the program, they then earn a spot as a level 1 stylist with an actual station assigned to them. A stylist is then coached on a growth plan referred to as the level system to go from a level 1 stylist to eventually a level 4AA. In this growth a stylist can literally more than quadruple their income, and receive their own associate to grow, encourage, and pour into. The next post I will go into the intricacies of what it takes to jump levels, this also will portray the beauty of the system because if you want a promotion all the numbers are laid out for you, you just have to to have the moxy to hit them. I will also cover, from a salon owners perspective, why it is so much better to have a handful of level 1 and 2 stylists versus a couple level 4+ stylists. Signing off for now.

-Richie Wermüth – Co-Owner, TSPA Ft. Myers