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The Well Done Man – Nick Penna
The Well Done Man is a biographical interview with a Bostonian who is doing exceptional things. It is meant to give insight and knowledge regarding each interviewee’s vision of success and how, beyond their obvious talents, they have reached this point in their lives and careers.
Hair is big business and few people have been doing it as long and as well as Nick Penna. As the second generation owner of SalonCapri, with locations in Dedham, Newton Highlands and Newbury Street, Nick has seen many trends come and go. I recently visited with Nick on Newbury Street to talk about the business of looking good and the keys to continuing a tradition of excellence at SalonCapri.
How did you get started in the Salon business?
SalonCapri was founded by my parents. They opened up the first location in 1967 in Hyde Park, where I grew up. So I’ve been around the business my whole life. I used to hang out with my dad in the Salon and it was always my summer job so I’d do things like sweep the floors or take out the trash. I knew I wanted to do something creative so it was a pretty natural progression for me to follow in my parents footsteps and take over the Salon.
What made your parents want to open a Salon and what is it that gravitates someone towards this business?
Both my parents were born in Italy so they were immigrants that settled here in Boston. They both had a passion to fashion, beauty and culture. This business is one part beauty, one part fashion and one part culture, it really has a little bit of everything and it’s always changing. Also, if you want to find the fountain of youth, work in a hair salon. You’re constantly surrounded by young energetic people. It’s an industry where people get started very young so you have people who are doing well very early in their careers.
Is it important to have a good teacher in becoming a stylist or is it more hands-on experience?
This is one of the rare industries, where it is almost all hands on experience. Through experience you learn how to run a Salon and work with people and being a stylist is something that is very touch and feel and happens organically. It’s very much on the job training. It really takes a while to understand the business and most of what I know is from growing up in it and hearing about it everyday.
What skills and talents make someone particularly good at this job?
You need that creative gene. You also need a passion for design and working with your hands. The thing is you’re not working on a canvas or with clay so you also have to be a people person. The first thing I ask when I interview someone is if they are a people person because if you’re not then this job definitely isn’t for you. It takes a pretty special person that can and wants to do this job because on top of having that creative gene you also need to be able to make people feel comfortable. So these are very distinct skills that don’t always go hand in hand.
What are some of the things you consider before working with a new client?
Consultations are very important to get a feel for what they like and what their personal style is. We definitely take into consideration facial features, texture of hair and coloring. You need a good read on somebody if you’re going to change their appearance for the better. Also, pictures are worth a thousand words. If you can find a look you want then we consider that to be a good tool and starting point. So a picture can definitely help the process along. Our stylists are really good at finding your look though even if you don’t have a style in mind.
What is the biggest challenge in owning a Salon?
Definitely keeping things fresh. Employees in this business are always looking for that next hot place or that next coolest thing. As an owner I’m not only trying to keep our clients interested and up on the latest trends but I’m also doing the same with my employees. Some of the best parts of this industry are the youth and the energy but it’s also a great challenge to maintain that. Millennials especially are always interested in what you can do for them right now and sometimes without all the work and the stuff in between.
Can you tell me what you love about this job?
Everything. I love the energy and the excitement. I love when I walk into one of our Salons and my customers and my stylists are having a good time. When it’s bustling and the music is right and everybody is smiling, that’s what drives me.
Who did you learn most from when you were just getting started?
My dad taught me everything. It’s rare these days that a trade is passed down through the family so it’s pretty cool that I’ve learned my career and business from my parents.
What was the biggest thing that you learned from your Dad?
Probably compassion and it has to do with our employee relations. My dad was a master at caring for the people that worked for his company. We had a family business and my dad always thought that every employee that worked for him was part of our family. I think my dad did a great job of making every employee feel like they belonged and because of that we’ve had really incredible retention over the years. It’s a fickle industry and people chair jump, especially here on Newbury Street. We’ve been able to keep every employee that we’ve started with here from day one.
So what would you say to a guy living in Boston who doesn’t give a lot of thought to his hair or where he gets it cut but might be looking to step up his game?
I’d just tell him that girls want you to. They do! Honestly, if you look at our industry as a whole, one of the main focuses right now is men’s grooming. You’ve got the Tom Brady’s or Julian Edelman’s of the world who are making dapper a cool thing again and that’s right here in Boston. Eventually that starts to trickle down. So right now lot’s of guys are looking for a little more than a high and tight when they walk into a hair salon. Boston has historically been behind the curve in the areas of style and grooming, and that’s not a misconception, but we’re catching up pretty quickly. The culture here is changing a lot.
What men’s hairstyle is in right now?
The trend right now is definitely American Heritage or back to the cocktail culture from the 40’s and 50’s. Men are getting dapper again with things like pocket squares and very groomed hair. That tousled, messy “I don’t care” thing is definitely no longer in style. Men are more well groomed and showing that they care.
How does owning a Salon in Boston differ from owning one in L.A. or New York?
On a national level the one thing that Boston doesn’t have is the celebrity appeal. For a Salon like us having customers like that gives you a lot more notoriety and probably our Instagram would look a little cooler if Kylie Jenner was on there. However what is amazing about owning this type of business in Boston is the loyalty. Bostonian’s love their home grown businesses and we are so grateful for that. We are celebrating our 50th anniversary next year and we have so many multi-generational clients. There are times when you can see a Mother, Daughter and Granddaughter all sitting next to each other. That’s incredible. If you treat Bostonian’s right then they are incredibly loyal.
How is Newbury Street treating you?
Very well but it was a grind to get started. Our other two studios are in very tight knit neighborhoods and communities and we have amazing clientele there so coming to Newbury was a completely different animal. This Salon needs to speak to a much more transient clientele and there is also a ton of competition on Newbury Street. We’ve been lucky enough that the press has been good to us. We put ourselves out there and we don’t say no to opportunities. Nothing beats good old fashioned word of mouth in this business and we get most of our new business through referrals. Also, we love working with guys because if you give them a great haircut then they will come back every 4 weeks and like clock work be very dependable customers.
Any advice for current or aspiring stylists or barbers in Boston?
Patience. Like a lot of things in life working in this industry is about building relationships and that does not happen overnight. Short cuts in this business do not work. You’ll only end up circling back to where you started but if you stay the course the rewards are much greater. It’s all about building relationships. Your clients are not your clients until they can trust you.