DELAWARE BUSINESS PIONEER RETHINKS SALON
BY LULADEY B. TADESSE, THE NEWS JOURNAL POSTED THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 14, 2006
Michael Christopher Designs Salon & Day Spa is accustomed to giving people a new look, but on the eve of its 31st anniversary, the Wilmington salon is getting a new look of its own.
Michael Christopher Hemphill, the salon’s owner and creative force behind the improvements, has invested more than $300,000 to modernize the 6,000-square-foot salon and better equip it to meet the needs of his clients and 80 employees.
“It was beautiful before,” said Alexis Tweddell, 40, of Middletown, who has been going to Michael Christopher for nearly eight years. “The fact that he wanted to remodel and update and make it cutting edge is always Michael.”
At the salon’s grand reopening Friday, the clients will notice a “salon of the future” featuring different chambers, each with its own atmosphere, music, and furniture.
Flat-screen computer terminals sprinkled in the waiting area near the entrance and the “hair coloring theatre” give the salon a high-tech feel.
There are 25 pod stations accented by shimmering screens hanging from the mirrored ceiling. The electric plugs and hair equipment that previously rested on a shelf in front of each station have been shifted to shelves behind each station, taking away the clutter in front of clients.
And then there is the shampoo chamber. The warm, dimly lit room has a blue sky ceiling panel, a yellow hologram projected on a deep blue wall, and barely visible black sinks. Meditative music plays in the background, and the sounds of the water from the tapping sound more like small springs. “People come here not to relax, but for a relaxing experience,” said Hemphill, who caters to about 300 clients a day. “Why not make it an experience that people want?”
More salons are focusing on the convenience of clients, offering wireless Internet service for business executives who want to work all the time and a relaxing atmosphere for those who want to escape for a few hours, industry experts said.
“He is more on the cutting edge,” said Christine Kauffman, executive vice president of Veeco Manufacturing Inc. in Chicago, which designs and manufactures salons and spas. “We are not doing a lot of that kind of work.”
Ann Tasker, a former employee at Michael Christopher who recently opened Pasca Salon in Wilmington, said she expects the industry to follow Michael Christopher’s lead.
“It’s modern, and it’s upbeat,” Tasker said. “It’s what the industry is doing today.”
When Hemphill opened his business in Wilmington in 1975, the city hardly had any trendy hair salons. Instead, there were mostly mom-and-pop beauty shops. Nevertheless, Hemphill made a name for himself by winning dozens of national and international awards, including North American Hairstylist of the Year for Creative Excellence in 1997. He also has worked with stars ranging from Bruce Willis to Elizabeth Taylor.
An average haircut by Hemphill costs $100, or $45 to $65 from one of his stylists.
Michael Christopher has managed to establish not just a salon but a recognizable brand beyond Delaware. In addition, the salon has its own line of hair products.
Over the years, many new salons have opened in Wilmington — mostly by former Michael Christopher stylists.
“I consider Michael still the leader,” said George Ritzel, a former Michael Christopher employee who now owns George Marcus Salon in Talleyville.
Ritzel said Michael Christopher’s redesign makes sense.
“You need to make changes continuously to make your clients interested,” he said. “When Michael makes a change — he makes a major change. You should be doing that every few years because styles change, fashion changes looks change.”
Besides revamping the interior of the salon, Hemphill plans to expand his product line. In January, he expects to be featured on QVC, the television shopping channel, where he will introduce a new hair cleansing product mixed with a shampoo called Erase. QVC requires vendors to sell as many as 5,000 products in a minute.
In addition to expanding his $3 million business, Hemphill plans to work on a few new projects, including an e-commerce site that will sell jewelry, handbags, and other accessories manufactured in China. He also plans to work on home interior decorating projects for some of his clients.