Groomed for Growth
Spokane-based Weldon Barber plans Seattle-area expansion.
September 7, 2005
After enduring a year of trial and error typical to any start-up, Spokane-based Weldon Barber is preparing to open six Seattle-area stores within the next six months.
Launched with financial backing from Bill Nordstrom, whose great-grandfather founded the Nordstrom department store chain, the men’s styling salon company has five Spokane-area stores and one in Coeur d’Alene.
Now, an Oct. 26 opening date has been set for an Issaquah store, to be followed by shops in Kirkland and Bellevue before Christmas. After the holiday season, shops are scheduled to open in Mill Creek, Federal Way and near the University of Washington.
“We’ve learned enough to think we can now go to a pretty big, sophisticated market and begin this attempt to do what we’ve set our sights on” which is in a sense changing the entire industry, starting with men,” said Nordstrom, who, with his wife Suzette, is the majority owner of the company.
Weldon entered the market with interest booming in men’s grooming. The company wanted to create a salon for men that catered to their tastes, not a setting laden with heavy hair-product perfumes or filled with fashion magazines. Weldon has dark leather couches, large-screen TVs, and coffee tables stacked with Sports Illustrated, Newsweek and GQ. Hairstylists are called barbers but are also trained in massage because the business believes men also want to be pampered. Haircuts include neck shaves, shoulder massages and hot towel treatments.
Nordstrom resigned from Nordstrom’s in August 2000, citing a desire to spend more time with family. When he left, he was executive vice president of the company’s East Coast operations. After moving his family here in 2001, he said Spokane needs to have a company that it is known for and takes pride in, the way Seattle is known for Starbucks and Costco, and Portland is known for Nike.
Weldon Barber could be that company in Spokane, he said, with shops stretching across the country but the corporate headquarters remaining right here. And no one should scoff at a hair salon setting such a precedent or being compared to corporate giants, Nordstrom said. One need only look at how Starbucks changed the coffee industry to see that a company that treats employees well, creates a fun experience for customers, and delivers a quality product can have the same industry-changing effect, regardless of the industry, he said.
“From little ole Spokane, that is what this start-up effort really has become and we don’t know if we are going to be the industry-changer we want to be, but that’s what we’re trying to do,” Nordstrom said. “My role has been looking at the other industries where somebody has come in and turned it upside down and then the industry ends up following.”
But the company has struggled through a year typical of any start-up. Three top managers have left and the company’s new management team has struggled with “silly, laughable” mistakes, Nordstrom said. That includes a decision to make stylists wear uniforms, which led to months of heated debate before the policy was abolished.
The lesson they learned, Nordstrom said, is “Don’t implement any managerial, procedural processes, which we did a lot of.” Now, he said, managers turn to hairdressers more frequently for assistance with decisions, as they are closest to the customers.
In addition, the planned expansion into Seattle has taken six months longer than expected due to heavy competition for retail space in Seattle’s suburbs, Nordstrom said. The company tries to find space near Starbucks outlets, with plentiful parking.
“They ask for convenience,” said Weldon President Robin Kincaid, who is heading the expansion. “When we look at locations, we take that into consideration. Is it easy to get to? Can I drive right up? Is there free parking?”
Though the company is not profitable yet, Nordstrom believes it’s only a matter of time.
“Half the population of America is the market base for this,” he said. “What is the growth potential for Weldon? Well, get out your calculator and start punching keys. It’s not real scientific.”