Winter 2012 Letting Their Hair Down

An entrepreneur takes off with an extension of her former business.

Kellie Smith worked in full-service salons for 16 years and always found the process of fitting customers with hair extensions quite tedious. It wasn’t an ideal situation. “Hair extensions are not cheap, and we had to charge customers 50 percent up-front to order the product and to ensure they would keep their appointment,” she says. “It put everyone involved in an uncomfortable position.”

It bothered Smith enough to pose this question to her husband, “Why can’t there be a hair store, where people can walk in, pick out their hair [extensions] and swipe their credit card to buy it like they would a pair of jeans?” she asked. Smith continued to think about this.

Then when shopping at a mall, Smith spotted a kiosk in the common area and had an inspiration. “I realized a kiosk would be great for a ‘hair store.’ People could just walk right up to it, and there wouldn’t be the overhead of a salon,” Smith says.

Business launch

The result is the Tangles Hair Extensions kiosk, which opened in September at the Apache Mall in Rochester, MN. It offers hair extensions, made of 100 percent Remy human hair, a high grade of hair used in hair extensions.

The extensions are priced at $450 and up. Hair extensions take about three hours to apply and generally last four to six months. After that time, hair extensions need to be refitted, since new hair growth affects fit and they tend to get tangled easily.

The kiosk also offers many lower-priced, faster-moving items, including clip-on extensions, updos, feathers and crystals, and various hair accessories. The feathers, which Smith says are a hot item right now, start at $6—or $4 for a synthetic version. Updos, made with fake hair, run $15 apiece; typically, two pieces will be combined to create a fuller style.

When Smith and her daughter, Robin Wittlief, started the business, they envisioned a target market of women ages 16 to 45. But the age range is much wider than they anticipated. “With the feather extensions for little girls, and the updos—which appeal to the prom girls up to older ladies—the age range is more like 4 to 85,” Smith says.

Extension business

Tangles has averaged one high-end hair extension per week, which Smith considers an excellent start. “In the salons, we only did about two per year,” she says. Her current goal is two to three high-end extensions per week. Even though the extensions are expensive, Smith says there are a lot more customers willing to do it here in the mall than in the salon. She estimates that about 1 in 10 people who have inquired about the high-end hair extensions have made an appointment.

At first, Tangles kept the high-end hair extensions at the kiosk, but quickly moved them to a warehouse to make room for faster-moving items. Walk-in customers that request one typically will have to come back in an hour, so that the item can be retrieved. Most customers make appointments, which suits the partners better, since they can then take turns manning the kiosk.

The hair extensions are attached using a technique known as microbinding, which does not require a license. Conversely, glue binding would require a license, since it involves the use of chemicals, Smith says. Smith uses crimping beads, which are attached to the hair with a pair of pliers. The beads are the same color as the customer’s hair and blend in.

Tangles is also using the kiosk to promote a side business. “We have a ‘Glam Squad’—a select group of professional hair stylists, makeup artists and nail techs—that we send to bridal, bachelorette, sweet 16 and mommy-and-me birthday parties,” Smith says. This service is promoted with signage at the cart.

So far Smith has relied exclusively on word-of-mouth advertising. While some items such as feathers are trendy right now, Smith expects that hair accessories will always be in style.

Bernadette Starzee

Starzee, a Long Island, NY writer who covers business, sports and lifestyle topics, is a senior writer for SRR. She can be reached at .
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