Blue House Salon keeps it simple

June 29, 2009

Salon keeps it simple Solo stylist relies on word-of-mouth, not ads The Yellow Pages list 1,303 beauty salons in Indianapolis. The sheer number makes them seem insignificant, a dime a dozen. Hair is hair, right? How can one possibly stand out from the others? For starters, The Blue House isn't in the Yellow Pages, or anywhere else in selfpromotion land. Owner Phil Salmon, 37, spends no money on advertising, a cardinal sin in the business world, and yet Salmon, one of thousands, is making a sixfigure salary.

Although the math says cutting hair is a rough gig,

Salmon S has more than 400 clients, all

of whom found him through word-ofmouth. He's a busy man. And yet he ha sn't raised his prices since he opened Th e Blue House in 2002 because he believves he's found the balance between passion and profit.

Salmon S acknowledges that hair stylists aren't known for their business sense. "It doeesn't matter how successful I am," he said, "it's really tough to get people to take me seriously."

BBut Salmon didn't begin his career as a serious businessman. He began it 14 years agoo as a bright-eyed assistant at Skinner's Hair Design in Broad Ripple. Owner John Skiinner has been in the business for more than 30 years.

It's easy to tell Salmon learned his technique from Skinner from the way he crouches down almost to the floor as he carves the back of the blonde bob he's working on. He tosses the hair to the front, to the side, every which way, just likee Salmon does. It's so he knows the hair cut will look good even when the wind is blowing it about.

" Phil came in as a young kid with so much enthusiasm, like he still has. He'd stand behind me watching, even dancing sommetimes. I could tell he really loved thiss business," Skinner said.

YYou have to have a passion for it in order to make it as a single-stylist salon, like Salmon has, said Skinner, who envies that solitude.

"Hairdressers tend to be very anxious people. I can see why [Salmon] loves that peace." He said. "The key to making it on your own is to know your clients, so they trust you completely."

Salmon didn't realize it, but he was building The Blue House's client base even then. Many of his clients from Skinner's still come to him. One of them is Kim Cline, executive producer at Road Pictures, a local film and video production company.

Cline met Salmon because Skinner was booked up one day in the mid-'90s.

"I never knew what he was going to look like when I'd get there, a green Mohawk one day, new piercings another. That tattoo on his chest? I witnessed that process," she said. "It's so interesting because his parents couldn't be more Howard [and Marion] Cunningham [from "Happy Days"].

She knows his parents, mostly because they drive from Greenwood frequently to see him. His dad will re-caulk the windows in the living room cum studio as his son shampoos and snips a few feet away. Salmon lives upstairs.

Salmon bought the two-story abode when he was 22 and lived in the space his salon now occupies and rented the second floor out. When he opened Blue House, he used his savings for the startup cost.

"I don't believe in credit," he said.

Like many of his clients, Salmon has experimented with a variety of hairstyles, ranging from a shoulder-length mane to his current 'do, a conservative cut, meant to show off his natural curls. He arrived at this look by following his own style mantra: Go with what God gave you.

"I think everyone looks better if we go with what they're born with. Blondes usually look better as blondes and brunettes usually look better as brunettes. Nature knows best," he said.

Nancy Vaidik was one of Salmon's first clients At Blue House. Sporting a blonde bob with baby bangs, she credits Salmon with "saving" her hair.

Her two daughters, one of whom used to have dreadlocks, live in Oregon and Boston, but return to Indiana once every six weeks for what they call "some Phil love."

"They don't come home to see me," she said.

Salmon said that when he gets one new client, it's common to subsequently see that person's family and friends. But his popularity has also been his biggest challenge.

"I used to take Polaroids of everyone, to track their style changes, but before too long I was just too overwhelmed with little square pictures. And that gets expensive," he said.

Salmon knows he's operating at capacity-clients like Vaidik and Cline have learned to make an entire year's appointments in advance. To expand, he'd either have to take on employees or raise his prices.

But he doesn't intend to do either, at least for now. Instead, he'll keep working 12-hour days, six days a week.

"I'm happy, and I love what I do," he said. "I have no reason to be greedy."

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