By Andrea Nagel

Beauty Insider chatted with one of Manhattan’s best-known (and best liked) colorists and salon owners, Eva Scrivo, about what she thinks is key to operating a successful salon, building a great staff and making difficult business decisions. The operator of two salons (one on Bond Street, one on the Upper East Side), author, makeup artist and TV and radio personality explains how creating a solid work culture can lead to fabulous things.


Beauty Insider: What do think is the key to operating a successful salon?
Eva Scrivo: The typical salon business model is to open a salon and try to recruit stylists with clientele from other salons. Although it can quickly take a business from nothing to generating considerable revenue, in the long run (and sometimes not so long) it’s a recipe for disaster. That’s why, for many years now, we have focused on hiring stylists into our apprentice program, right out of beauty school or soon after, and training them ourselves. Not only does this model help us to ensure consistent quality of work regardless of who a client sees, it gives us the opportunity to truly shape them as professionals and guide them to success. I’m proud to say that with only one or two exceptions, every stylist in our company today started with us as an apprentice. It is a much slower way to build a salon business, but is the only way to make it last.

BI: How much is success due to people versus business plan?

ES: Having a business plan is good because it forces you to think through the different elements of the business, including the financials. In reality, however, very little tends to go according to plan. So the best plan is to prepare for the unexpected and for plenty of adversity. If you don’t have the stomach for it, don’t even go there. On the other hand, the people in your business mean everything to its success or failure. Just as the right people can help to take your business to the top, the wrong people can completely destroy it. It all depends on your culture, which is the most difficult and one of the most important things to build within a business. So in the end, it’s up to the leader to build the right team and continually inspire them. But getting there is usually a long and often painful process that never really ends, with many difficult decisions that have to be made along the way.

BI: How important are retail sales to your business’ success?

ES: Retail sales are very important to any salon’s success, and this aspect of our business has definitely become more challenging over the years. Most of the products that used to be exclusively sold in salons are now available online, often at discounted prices or other incentives. However, no web site can replace the product education and guidance one gets from her stylist, which is why our retail sales are still strong. In addition, we’re passionate about client education and teach clients how to properly use and layer different products, and how to style their hair at home. You can’t find that kind of personal attention online. The best recommendation is from your trusted stylist who really knows you and your hair.

BI: How important is being a full service salon in meeting clients’ needs?
ES: Since we’ve been a full-service salon for the past 12 years, I obviously believe in providing such convenience to clients, which most of them appreciate. The caveat, however, is to do everything really, really well, or not do it at all. Otherwise, it will do more harm than good to your business. Would you risk compromising a client relationship over a bad manicure? A business owner needs to understand this risk before expanding into other services. That’s why I place just as much emphasis on the quality of our nail services or waxing as I do on hair.

BI: Who is your staff’s key educator in terms of product innovation and technique advances? How often does this take place?

ES: We hold classes three to four times per month and encourage our apprentices and junior stylists to schedule additional models in their off-hours. As far as instructors, we have an education coordinator, Stephen Thevenot, who has been with us since his own apprenticeship seven years ago, and he works closely with us in designing and implementing our signature haircuts, coloring and styling techniques. I personally serve as Creative Director and teach many of the classes (including advanced classes with our more senior stylists), along with our other educators. I’m very fortunate to be a hands-on expert in hair cutting, styling, coloring, and makeup, while also having a keen understanding of all other facets of beauty, which puts me at a unique advantage when it comes to the education of our staff. Additionally, every one of our apprentices assists me personally for at least a year prior to starting to take clients, where they continue to be mentored with haircutting shapes and color formulas.

We also recently launched our advanced academy in 2014, for stylists from all across the country and beyond (we’ve actually had someone who lives in Ecuador, who has already taken three of the first four classes we offered!). The focus of the academy is on teaching the Balayage technique of hand-painting highlights and lowlights, for a more beautiful and dimensional hair color, although we incorporate hair cutting into some of the classes as well.

BI: Eva Scrivo has had some ups and down. Talk about the Meatpacking District salon, its subsequent closing and how long it took to bounce back?
ES: This happened in 2009, soon after we decided to expand to two large salons simultaneously, from one medium-size salon, at the height of the previous economic boom. Our business was going like gangbusters and our salon was bursting at the seams. It was a great example of planning your business for best case scenario and walking into a perfect storm. I can give many explanations for this set-back, such as the recession, a fire at our former salon, a bad contractor, etc., but in the end it was our fault for being overly ambitious and fearless that put us in this precarious position. Had we been more prudent in our planning, we could have weathered any and all of those unexpected adversities. My husband and I were devastated over having to close that salon – it was a huge setback in many ways and the most difficult business decision that we’ve had to make. We paid dearly for it for years after, but had we not closed one of the salons we could have lost both. Having to go through this experience taught us a lot and made us into different and much wiser business people. For one thing, we learned that some fear is good and hubris can get you into a lot of trouble.

BI: Why do think Eva Scrivo has been a mainstay in Manhattan, not the easiest place to remain successful?
ES: I believe it’s a daily (often hourly) commitment to our craft and a passion for customer experience. A few specific practices have been that we never wavered from our core business beliefs of quality, integrity, and education, no matter the state of our business or what was happening around us. For example, through the last recession, no matter how tough things may have been, we never discounted our services, compromised on the quality of our work or education or expected our stylists to work for less. We also held our company holiday party and a summer pool party every year without fail, to reward our staff for their hard work and dedication, and to maintain morale.

BI: What’s your stance on professional hair care brands selling in more mainstream outlets?

ES: Product sales have historically been the cash cows for salons. But change is inevitable, and now pretty much everything is available online. To compensate for some lost in-salon sales, we have our own online store with tried and true products that I love and personally use in my salons. As for traditionally salon-only brands that are now sold in mass outlets, I think it’s an unfortunate trend that compromises the identity of these brands and alienates their core salon customer base for short-term sales. But these things are out of our control, which makes us focus more on the aspects of our business that are, such as our work and the client experience we create.