She Pampers Her Clients
Eleven years ago, Celeste Trapp left her position at a marketing agency in Portland, traveled abroad and returned to open Hair M in downtown Portland. Catering specifically to men’s grooming by providing haircuts and spa services, Hair M became a sanctuary for men by offering pampering haircuts, hot towel shaves, scalp massages, massages facials, manicures and waxing.
A year later, she used the same successful formula to open another location in Beaverton at Cedar Hills Crossing. In 2009, she opened Y Chrome in downtown Portland on Washington in between 6th and Broadway, an old school barbershop that offers $25 haircuts, shaves, and shoe shines with a pool table upstairs and local microbrews.
Now after more than a decade of “treating men like kings,” women will get the opportunity to experience Trapp’s ultimate pampering as well, with the opening of Hair M | W in the Pearl District earlier this year. On one side of the newest location is Hair M, with a four-chair barber lounge and seven chairs for luxury services. On the other side is Hair W, Trapp’s first ever women’s salon offering make-up services, a large menu of coloring services and techniques, facials, massages, couples treatments, hair extensions, eyelash extensions, sugaring, aromatherapy, pampering haircuts with long scalp massages and aromatherapy, neck rubs, and complimentary nail polish changes.
Before getting in the chair and experiencing the difference myself on the men’s side of Hair M | W, I caught up with Trapp in the Pearl to discuss her unique business approach.
How did you first become interested in the hairstyle industry? Was it something you had planned from an early age?
The idea started one day at a local spa. Typically, spas cater to women for the most part and this particular spa would have you soak your feet while wearing a robe before your service. I found myself in a room with a gentleman about 10 feet away, and we were just looking at each other in our robes soaking our feet. For a fleeting moment I thought to myself, this doesn’t feel right. He must be mortified right now. He should have his own place. That was how the concept for Hair M originally got started.
Do you think your timing gelled well with the development of Portland’s emerging hipster and beer cultures — that men’s grooming became more prevalent or important recently?
We cater to men that appreciate good service, many of which are professionals. We also have hipsters, retirees, blue collar men, we have all demographics. I love seeing diversity in our clientele, it shows that we’re catering to a large audience who appreciate our high level of service. Everyone at the end of the day loves to get treated well and have a good experience. Nobody has really come into the market as we have, as a premium, high-end salon catering to men offering all the services we offer at the level we offer. That’s pretty much been our niche.
But you never had any background cutting hair yourself or providing any other luxury salon services?
No, never. For most salons, the owner is a stylist so they’re trying to do both. For me there’s just not enough time. With opening a new business I worked seven days a week. I ran the desk. I did all the marketing. I did all the bookkeeping and administrative work. I rolled up my sleeves and did everything. I cleaned the floors. But as far as working behind the chair, there just wasn’t enough time. It’s definitely an advantage we’ve had that I’m able to work on the business, not in the business. Now I enjoy not having to roll up my sleeves quite as much.
How do you think your MBA has helped with business development? Has that been an advantage in the process of starting salons?
I think having any business and marketing experience is pretty powerful. I can’t say that my MBA professors would approve of everything I’ve done because sometimes there’s just not enough time in a day. I could’ve done some things a little bit more by the book maybe, but at the same time I’ve just trusted my gut too. So you have to kind of balance that out. I definitely think my marketing experience has allowed me to bring a different skill set to the mix. I invested heavily in advertising from the very beginning which helped us build our clientele quickly.
Can you elaborate on how your marketing experience has allowed you to bring something to your businesses that may be unique or different?
My experience brought an appreciation for design and brandingWe recently rebranded, but our previous brand had an old world feel to convey the feeling of old world luxury. So the feel was warm tones and we used a crown. Our tagline was “Where Every Man is King.” We really used that mission statement. We took it to heart. What was great was that our clients and our staff knew it, and they understood what that meant. When we opened up Hair W we realized, okay that’s not going to work with a Hair W. We needed a new brand that connected both Hair M and Hair W but still had either a masculine or feminine feel to it. Plus I was ready to move on from the old world identity and into the “new world” with a clean, modern look. Our new tagline is “Experience the Difference.” The word experience I think can be overused a lot, but we take it to heart. It is an experience. From the time you pick up the phone, click on the website, or walk in the door every little bit of your time with us is part of the experience. We really have a team of people who are committed to making sure it’s really great. It’s not just me. It’s a company-wide conviction that we really want everyone to really be happy. It’s very rewarding.
Have you faced any obstacles when starting any of the locations? How did you overcome those obstacles?
The biggest obstacle I would say is always the financing end. When you’re first opening a new business it’s hard to find anyone to lend you money so I sold my house and took about $100,000 in credit card debt to launch the business. Luckily it paid off. Now I go through the SBA and that can be a big pain with a lot of hoops to jump through, but in the end you forget about all that…until you do your next one!
How did you go about finding out exactly what men would want in a haircut and added services?
At first I started with the basics of good service. I myself appreciate friendly, attentive and competent service and so it was important to me that we deliver that. Our clients really appreciate having a salon that is masculine, yet sophisticated and with a friendly team of professionals who are highly trained in men’s services. They don’t complain much about the pampering touches like long scalp massages and complimentary beer on tap either! It believe it was a combination of all those factors that set Hair M apart from the rest since the beginning.
Men aren’t usually accustomed to that high level of relaxation and service. Are people ever surprised or confused about the caliber of services you’re offering?
Because we catered just to men initially, some people started to get the wrong impression about what that meant. We always welcomed women to come in. They would wait for their husbands, boyfriends, or sons, and we would offer them a glass of wine, and make them feel welcome. Once women actually came in they would realize the experience men enjoyed was professional and they generally expressed jealousy that they didn’t have the opportunity to have a similar pampering experience. We often heard women say that they wanted to have a place like Hair M for themselves, which is the foundation of why Hair W was started.
How does Hair M and Hair W differentiate itself from other salons and barbershops?
One of the things our clients love about us is our attention to customer service and the details. We care about each and every client’s experience and we coach and train our teams to deliver the level of service that makes us stand out. A big part of our culture is developing our team to be the best they can be and set the expectation that “wowing” our clients is part of what we do, no exceptions. Our teams love seeing all the incredible reviews. It reminds them of how many lives they touch every day in a positive way and it is very rewarding. The fact that we are a team is also a differentiator. The Portland market has become predominantly a chair rental industry. It is hard to have a team culture when everyone is looking out for themselves and trying to make ends meet. With all of our staff being employees, we are able to invest in a lot of education and incentive programs to help create a win/win environment for staff and clients. We have also always offered insurance and paid time off which gives our staff peace of mind. A big differentiator is also our pampering service menu. We aim to always take the extra steps to make each service relaxing and enjoyable. I love when I hear clients say they no longer look at getting a haircut as a chore. Another unique thing we offer is a membership program. Since day one we have offered memberships which save clients up to 20 percent. It’s a great way to reward clients for their loyalty. But I have to say our commitment to the health and happiness of our team is my biggest priority, without them we would not be able to offer the level of service our clients have come to expect.
I know that you’re beginning to hold events at this location. Do you do that at the other locations too?
We love having events, and the new Pearl Hair M|W location is the perfect place for them. With 4600 square feet we can host a great party! We recently had a huge Hair is Art event. That event was actually a partnership with About Face, to focus on the artistry of hair and makeup and bringing it all together with amazing fashions and beautiful models. Every First Thursday at Hair M|W we also do an event with local musicians and artists, many of which are from the Falcon Art Community. It’s fun getting involved in different aspects of fashion and art, combining other things that are interesting to our clients too.
What makes Hair M | W a uniquely Portland business? What are your links to Portland and the state of Oregon?
Well I grew up here so I am an Oregonian at heart. I love living here. But what makes it unique to Portland besides that? We serve local microbrews on tap, that might be of interest to some! But, I will say that we have clients who travel and live in other states, some near, some far, who make a point to get their haircuts around their business travels to Portland because they can’t find this at home. I’ve had people leave reviews who have traveled the world and they’ll go to the nicest hotels and go to the nicest salons, and they’ll say nothing compares to the experience they have at Hair M. To me I just feel proud. Here we are in Portland and people who are traveling the world say they can come here and get this experience that they’re not able to get at even the most high-end places in the world. That feels pretty cool to me.
What are some important things to keep in mind for those starting a new business venture?
Start with branding. Your logo, your business cards, your sign on your store, what you’re putting in your window to promote a sale. Originally people would walk into Hair M and say, “Is this a franchise?” I always thought it was funny but it was partly because what they saw was professional branding. It’s kind of sad that they think that because it’s professionally branded, it must be a franchise, because people can’t run their own business and have that design. Now there are so many different avenues to get design done in a pretty tight budget, so there’s really no excuse for a business not to invest money there. People perceive quality with brand. So if you put a tacky poster with scotch tape in your window people might think less about the services or products you’re selling. It’s a subconscious thing. For me coming from a design agency background I really value what a brand does for a company. Although our brand has evolved it’s evolved in a way that continues to give confidence in what we’re offering. So that was definitely a big takeaway from my past I brought to owning a business.