Use Your Head

A salon owner combs through the makings of a great salon

Holly O’Dell


Let’s say you walk into a salon for the first time, maybe on a recommendation or a drive-by. One look around should tell you the quality of the salon and its staff, right? The décor looks modern. The stylists seem experienced enough. No one is crying over a bad haircut. But there should be more to your research than what meets the eye, says Kymberly Whitaker, co-owner of Loran Loran in Rancho Mirage. Whitaker advises how to examine a salon for not only its quality, but also its potential as a long-term solution for your hair-care needs. 

Education
Loran Loran requires its stylists to seek training at least once a month. “Our focus has always been education, because that’s what keeps stylists from burning out, as well as providing the ultimate end result,” Whitaker says.

The salon also features an apprentice program, in which an apprentice earns an hour of credit toward a hairdresser’s license for every hour worked. In conjunction with on-the-job training, apprentices also attend state-offered classes on the theory of hair. Only after completing this two-year program can stylists become licensed by the state of California and assistants at Loran Loran. Assistants shampoo, mix color, and blow-dry for senior and master stylists, who cut, color, and style customers’ hair. For training on cuts and color, assistants work on volunteers during mandatory Thursday-night classes. Once assistants have passing grades on all types of cut and color and show proper communication skills with clients, they can become a stylist. The process takes a minimum of a year.

The value of patronizing a salon with an intense focus on education, Whitaker says, is that it leads to a better overall experience for the client. “If stylists care enough to go through all this education, then they’re going to care more about what they’re doing to you,” she says. “I want a stylist who’s always going to be continually educated, because they’re the ones with the freshest ideas.” 

Communication
A well-trained stylist will take into account your desires for a new style, but, perhaps more importantly, will tell you whether it will work for you. “It’s always great for customers to bring in pictures,” Whitaker says. “The stylist will look at them and say, ‘We can do this, but you don’t have the right texture of hair, or ‘We can do that, but it will be high maintenance.’ Sometimes people have unrealistic expectations. Our stylists are trained to tell them that in a tactful way.”

Your stylist shouldn’t be afraid to ask as many questions as necessary to clarify your needs, Whitaker adds. “I tell our stylists that they’re the hair doctors. People are coming to them for their advice and education.”

Product Lines
“People should be looking for consistency and high-end products,” Whitaker recommends. “One [product] line doesn’t do it for everybody. However, if a salon has 15 different lines on the shelves and not everything from each line, it’s almost like walking into a beauty supply store with a limited selection.” While every stylist seems to have an opinion on what constitutes “high end,” stick with those products that are available in salons only. Top names include Aveda, Goldwell, Pureology, Kerastase, Bumble and Bumble, and Wella. 

Receptionists

More than an appointment-taker, the receptionist at a luxury salon should know which stylist excels in which area. “The front desk should know who does short hair well, who does funky up-dos, who does hipster kids, who does fine hair, who does the St. John’s Sport crowd,” Whitaker says. “They know what each stylist’s qualifications are. Some salons rotate walk-ins according to who’s next, and I don’t agree with that.”

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