Disruptive concept could morph Delaware’s hair care industry with mini rental salons

Kim and Jim Provo stand in front of the building that will house their salon suites come October. (Photograph by Fred Bourdon)
Kim and Jim Provo stand in front of the building that will house their salon suites come October. (Photograph by Fred Bourdon)

By Kathy Canavan

Just as William Levitt tipped housing with his turn key Levittown homes complete with appliances in the 1950s, Kim and Jim Provo could tip Delaware’s hairstyling industry come September.

The Provos will open a suite of 24 mini hair salons on Kirkwod Highway, a complete context switch for the industry, where most stylists either work for salon owners or rent booths from them.

The couple’s success depends on the number of experienced stylists with established books of business willing to ditch their current arrangements. Two months out, that number is already 12..

The Provos plunked down a $75,000 franchise fee and $700,000 in construction and lease costs to build My Salon Suite at 3620 Kirkwood Highway, next to the Panera Bread. Because Jim works for the Small Business Administration, they did not apply for an SBA loan, to avoid any conflict of interest.

The salons are turn key rentals with features important to stylists — instant hot water, ventilation, easy-clean drains, specialized storage, resilient flooring, and parabolic lighting to show true hair color. Each suite is outfitted with the equipment stylists need, from tilting shampoo bowls to hood-dryer chairs.

“By renting one of our salons, they’re essentially going to be able to own their own salon. We help people have the dream without having the money,” Kim Provo said. “We’ve both been business owners, and we both are very interested in helping others start their own business.”

While neither of them knows the hair business, they know the arithmetic. Kim Provo is an investment adviser who works with members of the armed forces at her own First Command Financial Planning office in Dover. Jim Provo is a business-development specialist with the SBA. His father was a builder, so he segues from balance sheets to building codes without a hitch.

If their concept proves attractive to stylists, they could be perfectly positioned, because hair industry revenue is expected to grow at an average annual rate of 3.2 percent, according to IBIS World, making it a $58.7 billion business by 2019.

The number of operators is expected to grow at an average annual rate of 5.5 percent.

The Provos, who charge $225 to $349 per week for their 140-to-240-square-foot salons, advise young stylists against moving to their suites. Their ideal client is an older stylist with an established book of business and at least $800 a week in tickets.

“If they’re doing $800 a week or more, they’re probably going to be a stable client for us and they’re probably going to make money,” Jim Provo said.

The My Salon sales pitch is that hairstylists keep 100 percent of their tickets, unlike employees and booth renters, but some top salon managers say there are other factors to consider.

“It’s basically booth rental in sort of a condo building,” said Michael Hemphill, owner of Michael Christopher in Wilmington. “I’ve had a couple stylists in years past do booth rental. They’ll jump ship because it’s like, “Oh. Let me do this. I’ll make more money. They’re looking to increase their incomes, but what they find out is you don’t necessarily do that, because they lose all our benefits, insurance, paid sick days. We’re constantly doing education here. All of a sudden, that goes away. Now they have to do their own books, make their own appointments. They have to be the scheduling coordinator, the shampooer, the bookkeeper, and the stylists — and they have to do their own laundry.”

Emon Zaki, operations manager at Sheri Zaki in Greenville, said many stylists and many clients like the open salon atmosphere where they can observe other stylists and just people watch.

“In our salon, it’s teamwork and it’s learning from each other and it’s being out when the client can also have the experience of being able to look around,” Zaki said. “People who have a book of business, are they going to want to drop what they’re doing and walk into a space that’s just them and a mirror?”

The Provos think so. They are already scouting for a location on Concord Pike to build another salon suite, because clients generally will follow a stylist about three miles, they said.

“We’re the first in Delaware, but there are hundreds of these around the country. It wouldn’t be so popular if the stylists and their clients didn’t like it,” Jim Provo said.

Local salons are buzzing about their moves, and so far there’s no shortage of interest from stylists.

They had an insomniac who texted at 1 a.m. after she saw their ad on Craig’s List.

They had a stylist so excited, she called a 7:10 a.m.

And, as they were leaving their construction site after this interview, a muscled, tattooed, hard-hatted construction worker approached them. “Are you the people who are building the hair salons?” he asked. “I have a sister …”

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