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Village Salons, Barber Shops Surviving in Flooded Market

Shorewood is just one square mile, yet it has more than 30 shops that specialize in hair care; how do they all survive?

Shorewood's salons and barbershops are cleaning up in ways that don't involve shampoo.

The village is home to 31 salons, a number that seemingly encompasses every sort of hair and nail care shop imaginable. With so many salons in one small village, you might think competition would limit their profits, or see businesses fail; however, a 2009 village marketing survey estimated that just 20 of the salons generated a whopping $6.6 million in total sales during 2008. All but two of the surveyed salons generated $114,000 or more in estimated sales.

Three salons have closed down since the economic recession began in 2008, but the overall number of salons in Shorewood has only increased. So what is it that makes Shorewood so amenable to hosting salons?

“I have no idea,” Greg Harris, a manager at Great Clips said. “(But) if I had to guess, because there’s a more diverse community over here. People… need more pampering.”

Even with lots of choices in one square mile, there are still new salons opening their doors and pumping their barber chairs.

Great Clips, 4164 N. Oakland Ave., and just down the block, , 4407 N. Oakland Ave., are new to the village.

Great Clips markets itself as a haircuts-only place, and Zen as a full-service hair salon, but Shorewood, a community that apparently has complex taste in hair care, has given rise to a wave of shops that specialize in specific aspects of hair care.

LUXE Salon, for example, prides itself on using exclusively organic products. LUXE founder Caroline Creitlow found her niche during pre-opening research. While visiting Actaea Works, she learned that local salons used organic shampoo products but didn’t bother to market them as such.

“So I decided to open Milwaukee’s first premiere organic hair salon,” Creitlow said.

Creitlow also puts heavy emphasis on customer service.

“I’d do anything for my clients," she said. "They are my friends."

Creitlow’s experience may provide some insight into the high number of salons in Shorewood. Stylists generally work on commission, taking home half of what they make in a month and giving half to their bosses.

But, with the price of renting a storefront as low as $1800 a month in Shorewood, stylists might see a financial advantage in striking out on their own.

“It’s a fairly low-cost business to open,” Jim Plaisted, the executive director of Shorewood’s business district, said. “There’s a real entrepreneurial spirit about it.”

The factor that makes everything work, however, is the loyalty of Shorewood customers.

“I think Shorewood residents are very loyal to local businesses,” Creitlow said.

LUXE, and all the other successful Shorewood salons, have a devoted clientele.

“You get to know [the customers],” said Harris.

Because Shorewood residents are more likely to stay in Shorewood for their hair care, the village supports more salons than it might seem able to at first glance.

That may be the answer to Shorewood’s salon mystery. A business model that encourages stylists to open their own stores, a community that patronizes stores catering to their particular hair care needs and a loyal customer base that sticks with its chosen stylists.

“It’s obvious that we’ve found a niche for successful salons in Shorewood,” said Plaisted. “If the marketplace can support 31 or so, I guess that’s a good thing.”

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