Paul Labrecque Salon and Spa’s spellbinding success from the beauty guru namesake himself
My partner, Brian Cantor, and I launched Paul Labrecque Salon and Spa three decades ago when we were in our twenties. As two recent, naive Manhattan residents fresh from the United Kingdom, we were living with a lot of passion and without much caution — if any. From the beginning, I visualized and provided a unique flair for what was to become our company and brand. At the same time, my (future!) husband displayed his keen, business-savvy skills.
Brian knew we needed to make money. Quickly. Both of us knew hair and hair products very well, as I had recently completed my educational training at the renowned Jingles International Hair Academy in the U.K. When we moved to Manhattan, Brian decided to visit different salons around town to find out if they might be interested in selling belts a friend had imported from Israel.
He thought they might like to add a little variety to their retail options aside from just selling hairspray and shampoos, typical items one would expect to find at a salon. But the belts were also a cover for his big research project. Based on his experiences observing and interacting with professionals and clientele at the different salons, he could immediately identify what could work for us creatively and translate into cash. As the two of us continued to grow as a team, Brian recognized which neighborhoods would best suit my style and personality.
As he was walking around town, hustling the belts, he found the perfect place for us on Columbus Avenue. In the 1980s, this part of the Upper West Side was reinventing itself into a retailer’s paradise. Back then, pioneers like Robert Marc Eyewear and Charivari were part of the trendy mix.
We knew we would fit in well.
Brian’s best piece of advice for any entrepreneur is to know what your brand is, who you are, what you stand for and what you want to do. Once those points of differentiation are identified and settled, you can determine where you want to set up. Take time to locate and visit a specific neighborhood or city that will support your brand and help your business grow through consumer interest, actual clientele, sales, special employee skill needs and so on.
For example, if you are creating a blow-dry bar, launching in a business-focused neighborhood where women can step out for 30 minutes at lunch may be a great place to start. You would assume you’re going to see immediate interest as soon as you open. But for our luxury salon and spa, we wanted to be more of a destination place where clients take more time to relax and take care of themselves. So a residential neighborhood with lots of residents who can afford to do this made more sense. The first location choice for your business is crucial.
Of course, real estate isn’t always easy. That’s why our most significant piece of advice is to think outside of the box. Be creative when it comes to setting up your perfect work area. Everyone knows space in Manhattan is a luxury. We are lucky in our line of business since we don’t have to stick to traditional concepts. If you have a following or the confidence that people will find you where you settle, the possibilities are endless, and there will be many opportunities for space that could turn into quite a value in the long run! Once your budget and the size of the area you’ll need to work in is identified, find a great realtor and fabulous designer so you’ll be ready to start creating your vision.
Initially, Brian thought the space for our first salon was way too small. I had spent an hour on the street looking into its window when a young man on a bike came up to me and asked if I wanted to go inside and check it out. It was at that moment I found our realtor.
I brought Brian back, and he was slowly able to understand my vision of the 200-square-foot space. Its vaulted ceilings, changing room, bathroom, shampoo room, room for three chairs, window and a ladder that led to an office loft were all perfect. We then secured a loan of $50,000, and Brian created a solid plan.
We were officially in business.
We quickly grew from three employees to 30, moving next into a bigger space on the Upper West Side at the Reebok Sports Club. At this time, we also opened a spa, becoming Paul Labrecque Salon and Spa. We knew we wanted to work with a selection of handpicked premium retail partners such as Biologique Recherche. Anytime you decide to expand, keep in mind that you must have an audience or clientele. For instance, we benefited from our new location because we attracted all of the gym members.
Early on, I taught Brian that you have to not only physically demonstrate how products work, but you also have to know why they work and why using them makes a difference. All of this, mixed with a lovely and inviting visual display, will entice customers. Brian and I are big on education and training. We only hire people who want to learn, talk and genuinely know a lot about the services we offer, the products we use and how to make the entire experience the best it can be. We have a class every Monday night for our team. Brian and I also chose a lot of our product and retail partners based on the education they, in turn, provide to theirs.
We now have three luxury service locations: the Rittenhouse Hotel in Philadelphia, CORE: Club in New York City, and the Royal Poinciana Plaza in Palm Beach, Florida. Plus our website, paullabrecque.com, our fast-growing online business where we curate the best in haircare, skincare and makeup.
Social media plays a big part in connecting with our customers and creating relationships with the “PL” community. It is critical to share our work lives and expertise with our customers, giving them insight into our day to day and introducing them to all that’s new with our business. Social media enables us to personalize our business on a much higher level and customize the beauty experience. It also gives us a more global approach to our business. We have access to so much more information from around the world and our company can also connect with a much broader audience 24/7.
More and more technology is also becoming available for our service side of the business. We have always embraced the newest and best in beauty products. Now new technology is possible like never before, from products that are driven by science to actual technology that helps us deliver better services and more results-driven beauty experiences. Biologique Recherche Skincare has taken the lead in this area over the last two years.
New non-chemical formulas for hair straightening, advanced hair color technology, a more extensive range of hair color options and techniques, sophisticated hair addition and extension systems, hair and scalp therapy, and hair loss treatments with micro-needling, LED light therapy and PRP are making a real difference in how clients approach beauty.
The science of skincare has made some significant advances in the last few years with more advanced product formulations and technology to support them. Micro-current lifting facials, micro-needling for skin, LED light therapy and precise treatment protocols are setting the standard and raising the beauty bar in the skincare category. It’s all about customized treatments designed specifically for each client’s unique beauty needs.
The vegan beauty movement is also taking hold. New technologies and formulations are producing compelling products in this category. We work with many brands, including Londontown Nails and Biologique Recherche, that continue to make advancements in this area.