Hot Locks Salon Balances Longtime Clients With New Trends

Building customer base with new products like Color Bug is key for staying in business

Julie Hrobat has been doing something many small business owners haven't been doing much of lately.


The owner of  recently hired a few nail technicians to handle the demand for the new shellac nail polish technique.

"It's huge!" she said of shellac's popularity. "Even with the new nail techs, we're still booking pretty solid."

Shellac resonates with clients because of its guarantee of two weeks' wear without chipping, Hrobat said. That appeals to people wanting more bang for their buck.

Clients are more cost-conscious, she said. The recent trend towards longer hair means that many are going an extra week or two between cuts to save money. Ditto for color and highlights.

That can pose a challenge to an established business like Hot Locks. Hrobat said that's why business fundamentals like service, reasonable pricing and affiliations with product lines like Goldwell are key.

"(Clients) may not come as often, but they will still come in," she said. "Hair is the outfit you wear every day. We'll cut back on new clothes before we give up hair care."

Never Stop Growing

Hrobat opened Hot Locks in 1989, starting with a small salon at 31130 Center Ridge Road.

"There were four chairs, and I was the only worker," she said.

She has since expanded in that location three times. There are now 22 employees, including 16 stylists, three nail techs, a masseuse and a spray-tanner. Hrobat's sister, Denise, came on board a few years ago as marketing/advertising director.

"The business is always evolving," Denise said. That evolution involves keeping up-to-date on everything from style trends to social media.

The salon recently got a hot new product, Color Bug. Think of it as eyeshadow for your hair. It has a powdery consistency and you rub it on your hair like you're drawing with sidewalk chalk. You can create highlights, or do your whole head, in hot pink, purple or orange. And it washes right out with shampoo.

"It's not like using Kool-Aid on your hair, which some young people do," Denise said. "That can stain your hair and not come out."

A container costs $19.95, but can last 3 months or more if it's only used for highlights once or twice a week.

Once Denise posted on the salon's Facebook and Twitter pages about having Color Bug, teenagers were there 10 minutes later buying it.

Youth Power

Having a broad, multigenerational client base is key for a salon's longevity, Hrobat said.

Some of the clients who have been coming since Hot Locks opened now come for weekly shampoos and hair-settings. Daughters of clients began coming in middle school and now come when they're home on breaks from college.

Having younger stylists is important, Hrobat said.

"We serve all ages, but younger clients relate to younger stylists," she said.

Hot Locks is an "ambassador salon" for Goldwell, which means it gets new products and training first.

"Education is so important," Denise said. "Our employees are always learning something new, whether it's shellacing or how to do an ombre color."

Ombre is where hair is darker at the roots and gets progressively lighter towards the ends.

Denise said the marketing of the salon involves advertising, outreach efforts like coupons in welcome packets for new homeowners in Westlake, Avon and North Olmsted, donating gift cards for select charity events, social media, and old-fashioned word-of-mouth.

"It got out among the high school girls last spring that our updos were a few dollars cheaper than another place," Denise said. "We got huge business for prom season out of that."

One thing the salon won't do, she said, is online coupons.

"They don't bring us the kind of client we want," she said. "The people who use those, they're just looking for a cheap or free cut. They're not the long-term client we're looking for. We're about building relationships."


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