In this weeks edition of Crazy/Beautiful- This Stylist's Life, we are thrilled to feature one of the top stylists and salon owners in Indianapolis, IN area, Greg Lee of G Michael Salon. Enjoy!
Noblesville, IN, a suburb north of Indianapolis, is known as the middle of the Corn Belt, which is why walking into this salon for the first time is such a shock. Tucked away among the sprawling farm fields is a luxe and modern oasis for all lovers of hair. Greg Lee hit the genetic jackpot with his latest brainchild, G Michael Salon, which is immediately evident by the first class customer service and impressive fleet of elite stylists seen there.
Greg’s vision hasn’t always included cuts and color. During his years as an undergraduate, Greg had law school on the brain and accepted a job as a bailiff for the Marion County Superior Courts in order to pump up his resume. But after getting a dose of the reality of the legal world, Greg realized it was time to reevaluate what his true passion really was.
It was a nice spring day when Greg, and future co-owner of G Michael Salon, Joe, decided that the Monon, a bicycle and pedestrian trail in Indianapolis, would be the perfect place to hash out ideas for the future. Even though neither had any experience in the beauty industry, they both kept coming back to the idea of opening a salon. It was one of those now or never moments where the answer to every question was “why not?” So they did it. And after only 6.5 years post-cosmetology school, they are both able to reap the benefits of having the courage to follow their dream.
Loxa: Did you always have an idea that this was what you wanted to do?
GL: When I had hair (Greg is currently sporting the clean and low maintenance bald look) I would go to the salon quite often because I kept my hair really, really, blonde. Every time I went in there I always admired how much fun the stylists were having, which is exactly what I wanted.
Loxa: Have you always had an artistic mind?
GL: I am of both minds. I am artistic but I am also very analytical. I analyze everything. So I really see both ways, which is not the norm. There are so many artistic people who are unable to think numbers, which makes it impossible to run a business, but luckily I am not one of them.
Loxa: Where did you attend cosmetology school?
GL: I started applying to schools and got accepted to the Aveda Institute in Indianapolis, IN, which is where I got my initial training.
Loxa: You have been incredibly successful so far. What is your secret?
GL: The key to our success has really been that we both have a strong tenacity and resolve. When I set my mind to something, and when Joe sets his mind to something, we are going to go at it with full force. You just can’t stop me when I am in that frame of mind. Even when I am not at work I am thinking about work. I am thinking about how we can grow and what our next step should be. I am thinking about where the market is heading and how we can stay one step ahead. I am thinking about what can we do to be better than we were the day before.
Loxa: After graduating from Aveda what was your next step?
GL: I worked at a salon for 2.5 years.
Loxa: What made you decide to move on?
GL: The owners were outsiders of the hair industry. They didn’t do hair or even know how to do hair. They also owned other companies so the salon wasn’t their main focus. Working there I had so many thoughts of how to make the salon better, but being younger and fresh out of school they weren’t receptive to my business ideas. I bit my tongue and did what I needed to do, until eventually an opportunity to start my own place came.
Loxa: What feelings did you have while making the decision to leave the salon?
GL: After being there for 2.5 years I was scared to leave, but I knew there was a learning curve and that I would be able to figure it out.
Loxa: What advice would you share with someone beginning his or her first job?
GL: Even though you are part of a unified team, if you want to be successful you have to set yourself apart. The way I did that was by only taking one client at a time. Never having to squeeze someone in allowed me to build relationships.
Loxa: Tell us about the first salon you owned.
GL: The first salon was tiny and only had one chair. It was so small I didn't even have room for a receptionist, so I would have every call forwarded to Joe so that he could do the scheduling from home. There were times that he would have to pull off the side of the road just to ensure an appointment was booked. We had to take laundry home every single night and do load after load, but those are the kinds of things you do when you want to become successful. Successful people do the things that unsuccessful people don’t want to do. Even though we were small, we always made sure to maintain a larger than life attitude wherever we went. That definitely helped our reputation.
Loxa: Did you ever want to give up?
GL: I wouldn’t say that I ever wanted to give up, but there were certainly challenges along the way. But when you are that small, the challenges aren’t as great as they are when you get to the size where I am now. It is crazy to think about how much we have grown.
Loxa: What do you look for in a stylist?
GL: At lot of salons will do technical interviews where they have a candidate come in and give a cut or color, which we tried for a while, but it really wasn't useful for me because I am going to teach you a new style anyway. So what we look for are personality traits. The experience of a guest is based solely on how the stylist interacts with them, so we put a lot of emphasis on finding conversationalists. I have very high standards for my stylists and I don’t apologize for those. I let them know up front that they represent an image and when they walk in this door it is like stepping on a stage. People are looking at you and watching you at all times, so you have to keep yourself at the most professional level.
Loxa: What training does a new stylist have when they start at your salon?
GL: We are actually about to start a stretch of 13 training classes, but more than just classes I teach my stylists how to be professional and how to build relationships, and I openly teach them how to cut hair. I get a lot of satisfaction out of seeing my younger stylists rise and learn how to do amazing, amazing, hair. Our training program is not just sweeping and doing shampoos, it is being with a senior stylist every step of the way. So if they have a question they can ask right then and there. It typically takes about 3 months before I can turn someone fresh out of school into a skilled stylist ready for the floor.
Loxa: What is one thing that will automatically set a stylist up for failure?
GL: Not being able to think outside of the box. Aveda trains you to think that the Aveda way is the only way, which just isn’t the case. There are other companies, other brands, and other ways. I was criticized a lot, but I still decided to seek further education and training.
Loxa: How did you go about doing that?
GL: I decided to attend the Vidal Sassoon Academy in Santa Monica. We rely heavily on Vidal Sassoon because it is such a great foundation to have. But I also have many other influences that I use on top of that, such as what I learned from my training with Nick Arrojo from What Not to Wear.
Loxa: How cool! How did you get connected with him?
GL: I called. Tenacity and resolve. He teaches classes that anyone can attend, but I chose to do a one-on-one class with him. Educational classes in the hair industry in general aren’t cheap, but it must be seen as an investment in your future and in your career, which makes it worth the price.
Loxa: How important are guest reviews to your personal success as well as the success of your business?
GL: Very important. With technology at our fingertips the first thing we do when checking out a new company is research the reviews. But we have great customer service here, so if a guest is not satisfied we will do everything that we can to make them happy. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does we deal with it well, which helps to keep our reviews positive.
Loxa: How much of an emphasis do you place on social media?
GL: It is huge. Whenever Lindsay (salon manager) and Joe have any downtime that is what they are doing. Whether it is Pinterest or Facebook or Twitter, we are wherever people want to be. People want to see that we are involved with the same things that they are involved with. But we really take it one step farther by commenting on our follower’s pictures and posts. It is a lot of work, but it is worth it to build relationships not only in person, but online as well.
Loxa: What trends are you most excited about?
GL: I really think that ombre is here to stay. And there is this thing called sombre, which is basically ombre without such a bright contrast. So if you have really dark hair it is only one or two levels lighter. I see a lot of people wanting bright colors, like bright blues and pinks, which is great but those colors don't live naturally in hair so they won't have great staying power. I am also seeing that people absolutely love a straight top that comes down into big loose curls, and also a bit of a messy look is really trending right now. When it comes to cuts there really isn't one thing that is in, which is what is so great about the styles right now. Long, short, curly, you really see it all.
Loxa: Have you and your stylists ever given back to the community through styling?
GL: Yes, absolutely. We did a teacher appreciation night recently where we called a local high school and invited 18 teachers to come in and get pampered. We treated them to scalp and hand massages as well as a full consultation on what would be the best for their hair. It was great. Everyone loved it.
Loxa: Do you find that your clients are more loyal to a certain product, or are they more loyal to the convenience of picking up a product at a big retailer?
GL: As small as we are, we are the highest retailer of this product in the Tri-state area. We sell A LOT of product. And we do that because we educate our guests on how to use the products on their own hair, but it also has a lot to do with the performance of the product. That is very important. In my opinion J Beverly Hills is the only line that says it is going to do exactly what it does. It is an instant day and night transition.
Loxa: Favorite must-have product?
GL: I have two. The first is the masque treatment. That is something you combine with your conditioner every single time you shampoo. It is not a deep conditioner, but it is a treatment for your hair and scalp. It has one job, which is to replace the lost moisture and protein in your hair. My second go-to product is the revive oil. A lot of people were into the Moroccan Oil craze, but this takes it a step farther by adding in grape seed and coconut oil. What that does is to add some shine and soften the hair for better manageability. It is also going to strengthen the hair from the inside out, preventing damaged ends.
Just then a local camera crew walked through the door. G Michael Salon was being featured for a segment that was testing out Hot Buns, an As Seen On TV gadget that attempts to create the look of a sock bun, all without the sock. So I thanked Greg for taking time out of his busy schedule and was about to be on my way, when at the last second Joe approached me to ask for a favor. He wanted to know if I would do the Hot Buns demonstration for a model that had just called in sick. During our conversation Greg told me that the reason everyone in his salon is so positive and happy is because he truly believes you receive back what you project out. So as I sat in the chair, completely and unjustifiably terrified, I had to wonder what I had projected out in order to receive my worst nightmare back. I couldn't quite figure it out, but I do know one thing for sure, the next time I end up in front of a camera, Greg is doing my hair first.