Frank and Belinda Gambuzza
Salon Visage • Spa Visage • Studio Visage • BeStyled, A Blowdry Lounge • Frank’s Barbershop • Visage Advanced Hair Academy (VAHA)
Profile by Sara Altizer
Power couple Frank and Belinda Gambuzza each shared a passion for the professional beauty industry at an early age. While Frank spent his teenage years shining shoes and later learning the trade in a white-tiled barbershop in New Jersey, Belinda chose her passion for hairdressing over pursuing traditional higher education. Despite working in different salons in town, they had a shared clientele who went to Frank for haircuts and Belinda for color work. As chance would have it, on a trip to the International Beauty Show (IBS) in New York, they met in the airport and spent the rest of the trip together. They fell in love fast and have never looked back.
Frank and Belinda had an eye for business and prospects, they saw an opportunity to offer customer service at a level that was new to Knoxville. “We both felt strongly about what we wanted to accomplish and the level of experience we wanted to create for clients,” Frank recalls. “Together we knew we could become the market leader and provide not only world-class experiences for clients, but unmatched opportunity for stylists.”
As many salon owners learn early on, there is a lot more to running a salon that just doing great hair. You are also responsible for education, booking appointments, opening, closing, payroll, hiring, marketing, and many other tasks. To help alleviate some of the business end of running the salon company, Frank and Belinda brought on a partner, which ended up being another lesson in disguise. “We trusted a partner with some of those business office duties,” Frank explains, “But it turns out we trusted him too much. We realized one day when we couldn’t make payroll that he’d been embezzling money from the company. It taught us those necessities of running a company were not something we could ignore or pawn off. We had to be intimately involved in every aspect of our business.”
Following this experience, Frank and Belinda committed tenfold to Salon Visage and to educating themselves as much as possible on all aspects of running a business. This dedication paid off, and Salon Visage became the market leader in Knoxville. Three key elements set this salon company apart:
- Focus on education. The training for new staff is designed to provide them with every tool necessary to become world-class stylists. The continued education provided ensures that no one becomes stale.
- Opportunity for staff. The focus on education allows Salon Visage to retain and reward staff who build relationships with clients and offer them the best service.
- Commitment to continuous improvement. Longtime clients of Salon Visage recognize and appreciate the changes and improvements that have been made through the years. “The reality is, if you are not growing, you are dying,” Frank explains. “This principle applies to everything we do, so every day we’re working to get better and better. That doesn’t give anyone else the chance to catch up.”
Frank and Belinda have found a good balance on sharing the responsibilities of running a business. As a specialized salon company, Frank is the cutting specialist who oversees the design department, while Belinda is the color specialist, managing the color department. When it comes to the business side, Frank has a firm grasp on the analysis of the financials, while Belinda has a keen intuition when it comes to the staff. These two unique perspectives allow Frank and Belinda to collaborate well on business decisions, with respect at the heart of every conversation.
Joining Forces with the Best
As Salon Visage grew to be more and more successful, Frank and Belinda started teaching the method behind their success to other salon companies. “We were teaching programs that were similar to those taught by Summit Salon Business Center to salons across the country, but with little-to-no follow up,” Belinda explains. “We realized we needed the coaching infrastructure SSBC provided to be able to support salons on an ongoing basis. The leadership of SSBC has unequaled intelligence of the industry. Through our association with them, we have learned to look at our salon company differently and apply the Summit Salon Systems to enhance the success of our team. There is no doubt this relationship has made us better leaders and better salon owners.”
Expanding the Brand
Part of the success of Salon Visage is Frank and Belinda’s awareness of client demands and needs. It was this keen awareness that showed them that it was time to make a move. “Knoxville is a relatively small market, so we couldn’t just keep opening clones of the same business,” Belinda explains. “So we decided to be more things to more people by expanding our services to reach a broader demographic of consumers.”
“Expanding a brand is not about ego or need to be the biggest. Anywhere we saw a market being underserved was is where we sought to expand,” Frank says. Spa Visage opened as the demand for spa services increased, providing destination spa experiences for new and existing clients. Frank’s Barbershop opened in response to the comments of men who came to Salon Visage. Many guys were happy with the quality of work, but did not enjoy feeling like they were going to their wife’s salon to get a haircut. BeStyled was opened as the first of its kind in town, embracing the new trend toward more specialized services.
“Two locations is not just twice the work,” explains Frank, “It’s exponential, like spinning plates. The second you take your eye off one to pay attention to the other, something falls. You can’t be two or more places at once, so you must have good help.” As the brand continued expanding, Frank and Belinda found the best way to maintain control of the spinning plates was to have two things: consistency and communication.
Even though each new location targeted a different demographic, it was important to keep the message and culture the same. To ensure this kind of consistency between locations with varying dynamics and personalities, it became necessary to put everything on paper. “When we were small we could trust our gut and deal with issues as they arose,” Frank says. “It was manageable then. But the second that activity was going on at another location and we were not there, we had to know someone was ‘minding the store’ and running it exactly the way we would. The only way to do that was to translate our vision to systems and not just words.”
This consistency was born out of detailed manuals and even more detailed training. Communication was vital to this consistency and that had to start at the very top. “We have monthly meetings with our location directors and department heads to stay in tune with everything that is going on specific to their area,” Frank explains. “Then as we strategize new processes, it is their responsibility to communicate and implement that with the staff. We have created little Frank and Belindas all over our company. We also have a strong orientation week that every new employee goes through to properly introduce them to the expectations and practices of the company.”
Another key part of ensuring consistency and control of multiple locations was hiring a manager. “There is a philosophy in leadership that you can’t move up until you’ve trained your replacement,” Belinda says. “We got to the point where we were cycling through staff because they felt unimportant. We had grown too big too fast and had lost that closeness to our team we once had. The company was getting bigger than the both of us and we realized we couldn’t continue to grow unless we started relying on others to support the team and help carry out our vision.” That was when Monty Howard joined Frank and Belinda and brought his extensive management and marketing expertise to the table.
“The professional beauty industry is the best in the world,” Frank says. “The people are what make our business unique. What we do can’t be sold in a box. It can’t be manufactured, outsourced, or replaced by machines. While robots may someday cut hair, they’ll never replace the human connection clients and stylists share. This longevity combined with the phenomenal opportunity stylists have to determine their own success is unmatched in most other industries. Belinda and I are laser focused on maximizing the potential of each location by spoiling clients and taking care of our team. For our future, we want to be the best salon company on the planet! How’s that for ambitious?”
Are you interested in attending a Summit Salon® training program in your area? Click to view upcoming programs.