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Saks Fifth Avenue Taps Joel Warren as Exclusive Salon Partner

The Warren-Tricomi cofounder's new salon concept, called The Salon Project, is set to launch in at least ten Saks doors.

Joel Warren has a vision for the future of hair salons — and it’s going to play out in Saks Fifth Avenue stores.

Warren’s new concept, called The Salon Project, is a salon-shop hybrid with a strong emphasis on personalized services and retail enhanced by augmented reality — a model Warren sees as a solution to the flagging salon business.

Saks has tapped Warren, a cofounder of Warren-Tricomi, as its exclusive salon partner. Warren and Saks will launch The Salon Project in three of the retailer’s doors — including the New York flagship and the Houston Galleria — by 2019, with plans in the works for more outposts in at least ten Saks stores. The first, a 3,000-square-foot space located inside Saks Long Island, is set to bow in mid-October.

“What we’re trying to do is bring what we’re calling ‘the new luxury’ to life,” said Marc Metrick, president of Saks Fifth Avenue. “One, [The Salon Project] is differentiated, and two, it’s a seamless, high-touch experience for our customers. It’s new and it’s nowhere else.”

Warren’s idea for The Salon Project was born out of his frustration with the traditional salon model — a client walks in, is greeted by a receptionist, taken to a chair by someone else, is shampooed by an assistant, and then the hair is cut and colored by separate stylists and colorists. The established way of doing things, said Warren, impedes customer satisfaction with the salon experience and makes retail inconvenient and an after-thought.

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Salons have a lot of things that make them confusing and they’re not great at selling product,” said Warren. “People were getting disappointed with what was going on — clients getting their hair colored and then scurried around trying to find another chair. The whole system wasn’t working, [and] I came up with a better one.”

The Salon Project concept is designed to streamline the salon experience for both hairdresser and customer. Warren has been testing the concept with Salótto Beauty, a six-chair South Beach salon — unaffiliated with Saks Fifth Avenue — that he opened in January, after leaving Warren-Tricomi in late 2016. “I really fine-tuned the system [with Salótto Beauty], and now I’m taking it to Saks,” said Warren.

At The Salon Project, customers are greeted, shampooed, cut, colored and styled all by the same Warren-trained hairdresser. “People want to forge relationships with the folks that handle them,” said Metrick. “You’re going to have one point of contact, one person who knows you.”

There are no shampoo stations in The Salon Project salons — sinks are set up at each chair, as are an assortment of retail products that hairdressers can talk about and use as they work. Mirrors and iPads equipped with augmented reality technology will be used if a customer wants to virtually try on a cut, color or extensions or learn more about a product. And hairdressers can complete retail transactions with customers via iPad.

“The retail is right there at the reach of their hands,” said Warren, who noted the salon will carry about eight to ten prestige hair brands, including his own, a “problem-solution” line he is developing now to launch by the end of the year. Products will be merchandised by specific issues — curly, fine, oily, etc. — instead of by brand.

Metrick believes that offering a retail component integrated throughout the salon, as well as a high-touch environment, is key for drawing customers into the salon area — he said in most locations the salons will not be situated on the beauty floor. “We’re saying to our customer, ‘Hey, we don’t just want you to buy things with us — we want you to experience things with us,’” said Metrick, who noted that this strategy is aligned with the retailer’s goal of “de-compartmentalizing” its stores.

The Salon Project will encompass more than just hair. In the Saks Long Island store, there will be three makeup stations — also equipped with augmented reality — as well as a communal table for manicures, pedicure stations, two private rooms for extensions and VIP services and three rooms for skin-care treatments. Warren is developing a makeup line, Kiss and Makeup NYC, launching with 24 stockkeeping units in the lash, lip and brow categories, to be sold at The Salon Project. He said he sees The Salon Project becoming a brand incubator and retail outlet for other Indie lines founded by hairdressers.

Both Warren and Saks Fifth Avenue could not comment on financials, but industry sources estimate The Salon Project could do $6 million in sales in its first year in business with Saks.

Warren’s deal with Saks is coming on the heels of the retailer’s collapsed partnership with John Barrett, which resulted in an $11 million lawsuit against Barrett— industry sources say the suit has since been settled.

Saks Fifth Avenue, Joel Warren to
RPG ceo Bruce Teitelbaum with Joel Warren

RPG, New York-based firm that develops retail spaces, designed The Salon Project’s build-out and mid-century modern interior along with Warren. Bruce Teitelbaum, chief executive officer of RPG, noted that The Salon Project was designed with the goal of pulling customers into the salon space. “Customers currently in Saks, with the old salon method, are [thinking], ‘I’m not getting a blowout or haircut so I don’t need to come in here.’ [Now], we’re engaging them as a beauty destination for all types of opportunities.”