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Most hair stylists come out of beauty school with dreams of eventually opening their own salon, with their own clientele, own product lines and décor. The reality? Many of them will never come up with the down payment on a salon. Instead, they’re stuck working for someone else or renting a chair, listening to “Achy Breaky Heart” on the boss’s radio and giving bowl cuts to first graders.
That was a fate that Gina Rivera desperately wanted to avoid. Her family started in the salon industry in 1929, and Gina had been working for her parents for years when her first child was born in 2003. Afterward, she decided not to go back to the family business. Instead, she and her husband Jason Rivera, a marketing exec and former member of the U.S. National Judo Team, started Phenix, a Colorado Springs, Colo. salon named after their son.
In 2007, however, they decided to move away from the typical salon plan and create a concept specializing in salon suites. “It’s hard for a young stylist to open their own salon or to manage the place while still doing hair. Our salon suites eliminate all that,” says Jason, CEO of the company. “Stylists can come into an environment and open their own minisalon, use their own products, decorate their own way, have their own music and own hours without putting up $100,000. From day one, you can make this salon suite your own.”
The concept became popular in Colorado, and the Riveras soon moved to a larger building and then opened a second location in 2009. In 2011 they began franchising, and now the concept has more than 150 units and will likely exceed 200 by the end of 2016.
Most Phenix units cover an average of 5,500 square feet, divided into 32 equal salons. Then the stylists — as well as nail technicians, massage therapists and other beauty and wellness professionals — can do whatever they wish with their minisalon. “I’ve seen some people spend a few hundred dollars and create an immaculate space,” Jason says. “Some come in with a decorator and spend $10,000.”
The concept’s franchisees typically do not come from the hair world. In fact none of them have so far. “Our franchisees are from diverse backgrounds—doctors, lawyers, and executives,” he says. “But all of them have the same goal: to create opportunities for stylists and create residual income for themselves. This is not like running a Blockbuster or something competitive, like the restaurant industry. Our average franchisee probably works less than two hours per week. The one thing you can’t buy in this life is more time. That’s likely one reason why our business is booming.”
But Jason also believes the popularity of the business comes from giving people an opportunity to take control of their own careers. “Every time we open a Phenix, if it has 30 suites, we’re introducing 30 people to entrepreneurship,” he says. “Opening a business is scary. Phenix is a partner. They take comfort in knowing they are opening a business for themselves but not by themselves.”