Savvy Salon KC — one of Kansas City’s only Black-owned salon chains — is all about creating a better experience for both the customer and the stylists, said founders Rickey and Lenora Leathers.
The salon — which specializes in curly- and coily-textured hair and creating sustainable career opportunities for women of color — opened its first location nearly 10 years ago in Mission and just opened a second earlier this year in Lee’s Summit, where the salon’s blow dry bar is also located. Savvy Salon also offers its own line of all-natural hair care products.
In September, the salon received $5,000 at the Hy-Vee OpportUNITY Inclusive Business Summit as the winner of the beauty, health, and wellness category of the pitch competition. They are also a part of ScaleUP! Kansas City’s 2022 cohort.
“We want to be a salon that is different than what our target market is offering,” said Rickey Leathers, who left the insurance business to commit to the salon full time in 2019.
Salon chains don’t typically cater to curly- and coily-textured hair, he continued, so stylists who specialize in those clients are often on their own. This leads to stylists double-booking appointments to serve as many clients to make as much money as possible.
“That’s great,” he added. “But then the customer feedback from that, it’s just like, ‘Ah, we put up with that because it is what it is, but we really don’t like it.’ So it’s really looking at that piece of the market and how we can do something different that’s beneficial for the clients in that way.”
Better customer service starts with providing a better working environment for the stylists, said Lenora Leathers, who graduated from cosmetology school in 2006. Inside of just renting booths to stylists, Savvy Salon hires, trains, and develops stylists. They receive benefits, which she said is rare, and they receive help with building a client list and marketing.
“We have processes and systems to help them be successful,” she said.
The salon currently has seven stylists between the two locations and is looking to hire more. For Lenora Leathers — who credits her parents for helping her learn how to run her own business when she was a teenager doing hair out their home — it’s important to create a community for the stylists and promote opportunities for growth beyond being behind the chair, such as management or recruiting, she said.
“Because some stylists, right when they graduate school, they go do it on their own,” she explained. “And they realize that it’s hard, it’s really tough. So how can we get these girls who have a passion or who are driven in the hair industry and create that sense of knowing that, ‘This is home for you. We’re going to do whatever we can do to help you to make this a career.’ … I want to create a career path to let them know that, within this company, there’s growth potential for you to be able to do other things inside of the company.”
For clients, Savvy Salon offers a membership program, which allows unlimited services and discounts on products for a flat monthly fee. So far, Rickey Leathers said, they have about 50 members.
“They love it,” Lenora Leathers said about the feedback they have received from members. “They see the results of their hair, the integrity of their hair. … Natural hair is very hard to work with. Natural hair comes in different textures and shapes and forms. But I feel like the healthiness of their hair, the integrity of their hair is (helped by) the memberships.”
Kansas City and beyond
On top of hair care services, Savvy Salon also offers its own line of products for all hair types, which can now be found in four local Hy-Vee stores (Lee’s Summit, Liberty, Gladstone, and Manhattan) and hopefully more soon, said Lenora Leathers. The partnership with Hy-Vee resulted from the salon’s success at the OpportUNITY Summit, which the Leathers said was a great experience.
“I was super excited about that,” she added about the products hitting the store shelves.
The all-natural products — shampoo, conditioner, everyday miracle treatment, deep repair treatment, 3-in-1 control hairspray, and edge control — are a system, she noted.
“It doesn’t have any harsh chemicals in it,” she explained. “So (ingredients) like sunflower seed oil, quinoa, grapeseed oil, things like that, which are really, really great for your hair.”
The products not only increase brand awareness, Rickey Leathers said, they also align with the mission of the salon.
“So the trend is natural hair,” he continued. “How do I embrace my hair the way it grows out of my head, right? So we’re really embracing that piece of it. … That’s why we love this product line because it also aligns with the whole healthy hair (component) that we focus on.”
Click here to shop Savvy Salon’s products.
The Leathers’ vision for the future of Savvy Salon goes beyond just launching their products in more Hy-Vee locations. Rickey Leathers said they are hoping to expand the chain in more locations — even in other states — and become the largest Black-owned salon chain. But they also want to change the way people see the salon business.
“Not only growing ours, but then also changing the dynamics in this industry in our specific niche,” he explained. “So that other salon owners or stylists follow suit in that way. Because at the end of the day, it is more fulfilling as the owner — and what you’re creating is more fulfilling for the customer as well — and then you’re creating roles for other stylists.”