Lorean Cairns might not be an advocate for dropping out of college, but she makes a good case for it. After attending university for eight months in Denver, Colorado, she went to beauty school at a friend’s suggestion. “I was doing the ‘supposed to’ when I went to college. But three weeks into beauty school and I was hooked. I never went back to college,” she says, pink champagne hair aflutter.
Lorean completed beauty school and moved back to her small hometown of Durango, Colorado where she found a home at Lemon Head Salon and a lifelong mentor in its then-owner, Lenore Brieger. “She took me under her wing and taught me everything I know — a lot about hair, but even more about being a business owner.”
A close friend introduced Lorean to connections within the New York City fashion industry and she started doing hairstyling gigs for editorials and fashion week. Prompted by a breakup, Lorean left Lemon Head after six years to move to New York where she arrived with $10,000, four suitcases and a two-month sublet.
After short stints at a Ted Gibson offshoot in the West Village and Rita Hazan on Fifth Avenue, she ended up at a three-chair salon in the East Village that has since closed. A few months in, her boss told her she would make a great salon owner. “That was the first time anyone said that to me. I thought, that’s such a great idea. I could do that.”
Lorean opened the first Fox & Jane in July 2011 with her business partner, Billy Canu, eight months after moving to New York. They’ve since opened three more locations in New York and one in San Diego. At the crux of their rapid growth and success is an intuitive knack for melding decisive business practices with genuine hospitality and raw creativity. If only they taught you that in college.
WORDS & PHOTOS BY MIA SAKAI
You encountered a fortuitous meeting that helped turn Fox & Jane into a reality. Can you explain a little about that and how quickly it all came together?
My best friend’s good friend, Billy Canu, and I met at a dinner. I messaged him a year later on Facebook and said, “I don’t know you at all, but we should be best friends too.” He’s this really funny, adorable gay man so you can say things like that. A week later he was visiting from San Diego. I cut his hair on Thursday, we had dinner with friends on Friday, and on Saturday we had brunch. I told him about my idea for a salon and he was like, “I’m in.” He started his first business at 23, which was like the Netflix of gay porn, and sold it a few years later to start a marketing and SEO company. By the end of brunch we were opening a salon together. We didn’t talk for a week after that. It was like saying “I love you” during sex and after you’re like, “Was that real? Because that was really fast and furious and weird.” So I waited a week and then asked if he was serious because I was very serious. He told me to put some thoughts together and we’d chat about it. And that was it.
Once you and Billy decided to go into business together, what steps did you take to open the first Fox & Jane and how long did it take?
I starting looking for space and we were trying to figure out how much it would all cost. He gave me $30,000 for the build-out and the space, and I signed a document giving him half the company. I told my employer I was leaving his salon to start my own, but I wasn’t going to tell any of my clients I was leaving. I just wanted to go quietly. He understood but was uncomfortable with me being there, so he fired me. After that, I went straight into build-out mode. I found this amazing guy who did all of the construction for $6,000. At the same time, I was running out of money personally but also had old clients find me on Facebook asking where I had gone. Four weeks later, we opened a 250-square foot location on Orchard Street with three chairs and were fully booked our first day. It was me and two stylists I had previously worked with. We didn’t know what the hell we were doing, but we had so much fun.
What are your top three tips for running a successful business?
Don’t try to do it all yourself. Let people help you. Don’t be afraid to delegate and train, and be patient with people while they’re learning. If you try to do it all yourself, you will drown.
Treat your employees with respect and as equals. Give them the benefit of the doubt. Don’t act like you own them because you don’t. Take care of your employees; treat them like family.
Go with it
Go with the roller coaster. I say the sky is falling 5% every day; there’s always a mini crisis. Get comfortable with the ride and don’t freak out on that 5% because it’s going to happen.
In three and a half years, you’ve expanded to five locations. How did you manage to grow so quickly?
We didn’t pay ourselves very much and we don’t have any loans. We saved as much of the profit as we could and were very conservative. I paid myself on the hair I did for the first few years — I didn’t even pay myself as owner. Billy didn’t take anything. We just kept reinvesting in ourselves. When the Lower East Side got so busy that we were either going to turn clients away or grow, we opened another one in the East Village. That was in August 2012. That same year we opened San Diego in February because Billy wanted one there. In September 2013 we opened in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn. This past summer, all of the salons had six-week waitlists of 100 people. Clients were yelling at us! So I had to open the Upper West Side location. We had to relieve the tension because it was boiling over.
What’s involved with opening each new location? Do you have a formula and how long does it take?
It takes about six weeks. I have a list of everything I need to build a new one so now it’s a little more cookie-cutter. My boyfriend is an architect so for the last two locations that’s been super helpful. You have to get all your licenses from the state or city which takes about three weeks. That can be a big waiting game, but during that time you’re ordering things, getting bids from contractors, and filing your business licenses. I like each location to have its own LLC and EIN. In order to protect themselves, corporations file every location as an independent company. It limits vulnerability and protects assets. For example, if you fell in the East Village salon and sued Fox & Jane, you could only legally come after that location and not all of Fox & Jane. It’s very important to separate everything.
What sets you apart from other salons that are offering similar services at similar price points and how do you stay competitive?
Our brand reputation has surpassed the point where I have to be afraid of what’s going on in other salons. I don’t pay attention to that anymore — actually, I never did. I tend to focus on what I’m doing and not worry about what everyone else is doing. Billy is a brilliant marketing guy which has been critical to our business. He makes sure if you look up “hair salon” we’re there. It’s my job to make sure you’re happy with our services and share that experience with your friends or on social media. The goal has always been to take the community vibe that I learned at Lemon Head, the excellence that I learned on Fifth Avenue, and the cool energy of downtown New York and marry them all together. I like to say Fox & Jane is like a female barbershop — though men are welcome too. It’s super inviting, fun and upbeat, positive, and there’s no ego so you don’t have to feel intimidated to walk in.
How do you market the salons? What’s been most useful in getting the word out and attracting new clientele?
Companies should be equally grateful for and fearful of Yelp, and I think most of us are. Making sure we’re relevant on Yelp has been huge. It’s scary because you can’t control it. If we get a bad review, I personally respond. There’s nothing like hearing from the owner of a company. Then there’s the secret sauce in what Billy does online with SEO, pay-per-clicks, and ensuring we pop up in relevant searches. There’s also a lot of word of mouth. Our Instagram is starting to blow up because you can really see the dramatic color transformations. It’s like a hair portfolio. We’re also known for being on trend. I like to stay current and ahead of the curve. I look at what’s happening at fashion week, attend shows, and then train my team. Billy keywords it to make sure when you’re doing an online search for say, “balayage,” we come up. By the time it’s a trend, we’re already known for it.
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Talented stylists are arguably your most valuable asset. How do you find and keep the right people?
One of my best skills is that I can see the gem in someone and help cultivate it. It’s just something I’m good at. I’ll meet someone in an interview and as long as they have “the spark,” everything else is teachable. The first thing we tell new hires is we’re a team and we’re only as good as each other. I’m trying to build a community as much as I’m trying to build a business. My mentor told me to never work for a salon owner that names the salon after him/herself because then it’s all ego. There isn’t a lot of heart in the beauty industry, but we come to it from a place of teamwork and unity and heart. I think that’s refreshing for most stylists. I’m teaching them or they’re teaching me, and I’m their biggest fan. It’s really about that community. And you know, fair wages and respect. People are pretty happy I think.
You have 41 employees at Fox & Jane. How do you and Billy effectively manage all of them? As partners, how do you split roles and responsibilities?
I finally feel like we’re a medium-size business. When we were a small business I had to be available 24 hours a day because there wasn’t a pyramid of people to support us. Now there’s checks and balances. My GM, Julia Agalliu, is my go-to girl. She manages the five location managers, and they’re each responsible for their respective salons. The truth is it’s such a strong pyramid and everyone knows their position so well that the bigger we’ve gotten, the easier my job has gotten. As for Billy and me, I run the day-to-day operations and am more front of house. Since Billy’s based in San Diego, the staff doesn’t really know him, so I end up acting as the face of the company and he is my pillar of support. He handles all our branding, marketing, online campaigns, and website stuff. It works really well; we just vibe together and make an amazing team.
What do you hope for the future of Fox & Jane?
Billy always says he wants 40 locations. I finally got to the point where I could see us having 15. We’d like to be national. I would love to be in Austin or Los Angeles. Maybe another location in Brooklyn or Hoboken, but I don’t want to overdo the New York area. I think we’ve gotten as far as we have by not looking too far ahead and just making sure what we have is really tight and then taking one step forward. We’re going to keep growing as long as we can. And I’m going to keep taking it one step at a time. But I’m not done. I have a lot of energy for the future.
What advice do you have for a current business owner looking to expand?
No management is bad management. Make sure you have people who you trust and understand your vision before expanding. Don’t let other people hire for you because it’s one of the most important components of a business. People are everything. Understand branding. Develop a business language that works for you and your team, and then teach it and live it and be it. Don’t stray from it. Companies try to be too much of everything and appeal to everyone. But it’s important to take time mastering one thing and to stay focused on that. If you’ve got something that’s working, keep pursuing that and don’t get distracted along the way.
Ramsey, Dave. EntreLeadership: 20 Years of Practical Business Wisdom from the Trenches. New York, NY: Howard Books, 2011.
More on Fox & Jane
Jacobs, Kayla. “18 NYC Colorists Who Will Change Your Hair Forever” www.refinery29.com. October 8, 2014.
Zablah, Patricia. “Hanging Out with the Girls at Fox & Jane: Oh, and Getting Some Pretty Fab Color to Boot” www.beautynewsnyc.com. September, 2011.
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