Hairstylists adapt as number of ‘bread and butter’ customers dwindles
CAPITAL REGION Fifteen years ago, if you had tried to book a Friday appointment with hairstylist Claire Kieft, you would have likely been out of luck.
Right before the weekend, her schedule book was always filled with long-standing appointments.
“Everybody in my book was a wash-and-set, and they would come every single Friday, and that went on for years and years,” said the 62-year-old stylist, who rents space at Just Your Style by Sydney in Glenville.
Back in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, weekly trips to the beauty parlor for hairstyles that involved curlers and hood hair dryers were all the rage.
“When I did hair in the ’70s, you sprayed their hair so it didn’t move all week,” Kieft recalled. “I mean, their hair was like a helmet.”
As years have passed, those curler- and hairspray-induced looks have gradually been replaced by lower-maintenance styles that require fewer trips to the salon. Some of the older crowd still come in like clockwork for weekly wash-and-sets, but, as their numbers dwindle, stylists have been left with bald spots in their appointment books.
In February, Mr. James Hairstylist, an 80-year-old salon in Schenectady, closed as a result of declining clientele.
Michele Brisson, owner of Mary’s Beauty Salon in Ballston Spa, works longer hours since the number of weekly “bread and butter” customers has dwindled at her salon.
“You called those people ‘bread and butter’ people because you could depend on them,” she explained.
Until about five years ago, her Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays were always booked with weekly wash-and-sets.
Age and the economy have taken their toll on her regulars, and winter is traditionally slow, since many older customers migrate to Florida, she noted.
Higher-priced treatments like hair color, highlights and perms make up for some of the lost revenue, but she has still found it necessary to extend her workdays.
“You’ve got more working people now, so they want to come after work. So, you put in longer days,” she said, adding resolutely, “It’s money.”
Ladies from around age 70 on up still come in weekly to Gemmette’s Classique hair salon in Scotia, said stylist Mary Westervelt, who has been cutting hair for more than 40 years.
“They’ve taken care of families all their lives and they like to be pampered,” she said, noting that the weekly visit is about more than just getting a hairdo.
“There’s a very big social aspect, in this salon particularly,” she said. “It’s a small town and everybody knows everybody.”
Although business is still brisk, some of the weekly customers have stopped coming in as they’ve gotten on in years, Westervelt admitted, and younger customers don’t show up as frequently.
“They come in usually for cuts and blow-drys, and then maintain their hair through the month on their own,” she explained.
She makes up for the lost revenue with more involved procedures like highlighting and color jobs.
“There’s always something new in this industry,” she said.
Master stylist and colorist William Sammons, one of the owners of Gorgeous The Salon and Boutique in Schenectady, said he, too, has seen a reduction in what he calls weekly “under the dryer” customers, but he’s also starting to see a new crowd show up on that same schedule.
“We have younger people, like 30ish, who are starting to come in for blow-drys and round-brushing and straightening on a weekly basis,” he explained.
Because of that, his salon now offers a “Gorgeous to Go” service on Fridays from 3:30 to 7 p.m., when only blow-drying and hair-straightening services are offered.
Younger clients are also clamoring for hair-smoothing treatments that take up to four hours to complete, as well as new hair-coloring techniques, he said.