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The Secrets to Survival in New York’s Salon Business

New York hair salons come and go, but Pierre Michel is marking its 50th anniversary this summer by staying fresh with services such as multicolor unicorn hair.

Survival is tough in the salon world where fickle shoppers flock to the latest hot styling spot. But Manhattan’s Pierre Michel Salon has found a chameleon-like strategy to keep its clients coming back as validated by the celebration of its 50th year in business this summer.

WWD discussed what it takes to go the survive in the whirlwind of the salon world with Pierre Ouaknine, co-owner of Pierre Michel Salon.

WWD: Fifty years is a milestone in the salon world where many legendary names have disappeared. What’s your secret?

Pierre Ouaknin: I would say the fact that we constantly reinvented ourselves — moving to different spaces over the years, keeping up with all the new hair trends, etc. Also — we make our salon into a one big family feeling. At Pierre Michel we have created a family more than a group of coworkers. We have employees who have worked here for more than 25 years. I would like to think that this family setting keeps everyone happier and makes Pierre Michel an easy place to work for and therefore reflects on the clients when they are visiting us.

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WWD: Discuss where you have moved around the city and why?

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P.O.: Our first location was a small shop on Madison, which was our “starter” salon. From there, we moved to 6 West 57th Street — a bigger location which at that time in the late Seventies, early Eighties was a very popular area, a lot of the popular disco clubs such as Studio 54 were in that West Side area. During the late Eighties, we were offered a space in Trump Towers and a second smaller salon space in Plaza Hotel, which we accepted because not only were the Tower and the Plaza beautiful locations, but also gave us access to more clients from the hotel and the Trump Towers office spaces and shops. Our next move was a little bit down 57th Street to the corner of Lexington Avenue. At this time, 57th Street from Madison to Lexington was the home of all the top salons…this move was decided by the fact we were getting busier and more technicians were coming to work for us and we just needed a larger location when we discovered this 7,000-square-foot available space.

Our final move to our location right upstairs from 135 East 57th, we decided we were ready to revamp and we were going to update the space we had when our landlord [Charles Cohen] informed us he had this space available. It was 3,500 more square feet and allowed us to add technicians and extend our nail area and private rooms so rather than update downstairs, we decided to build a brand new salon and get the benefits of more space with a more current look — we went with our reinvent ourselves theory to the max!

WWD: Can you delve into what it means to reinvent yourself?

P.O.: We have meetings with our p.r. and staff throughout the seasons to stay on top of the times and make sure we are providing the most up-to-date to our clients, including social media changes, new products or new beauty trends. We also make sure the salon space is always evolving, either by rebuilding and moving every 15 years or by doing a remodeling.

WWD: What have been the biggest changes in what clients want over the years? Where are we headed? What’s next?

P.O.: Every era has their own hairstyle trends, but we have witnessed the “comeback” of so many styles — we have magazine covers that we did in the late Seventies early Eighties and you will see Farrah razor cuts and Mia Farrow or Twiggy pixie cuts and now we have clients coming in asking for those pixies again.

The biggest change is obviously that now there are more products, treatments and extensions available to the clients. Twenty years ago, if you wanted longer hair, you had to grow it out. Now you just add some extensions. There are now machines, products, treatments, hair colors that can make anything possible.

We have just started working with the Japanese companies Milbon and Hoyu, Milbon has reinvented healthy hair with secrets that have long been used in the salons of Japan. Hoyu has perfected the new color trends of pastel colors and neon colors from multi colored unicorn hair to something less subtle as a few colored streaks.