Karen Marie Salon, Chicago, IL

Ever wondered what exactly goes into making a successful business? Beyond the generalities like “great customer service” or “a professional staff,” we are breaking down the specifics to create a clear roadmap to success. Here, we take a good, long look under the hood of Karen Marie Salon: a hopping, eco-friendly, high-line hair salon in Chicago’s trendy Bucktown neighborhood, to give you a comprehensive look at how they achieved and maintain their success.

General Overview

Salon Name: Karen Marie Salon (KMS)

Salon Address: 1859 N Milwaukee Ave, Chicago, Illinois

Year Opened: 2009

Size: 900ft²

Average Cut & Style Price: Men’s: $48 Women’s: $70

Average Color Service Price: $100

Most Requested Cut: Lob

Most Requested Color Service: Ombré or Balayage

Most Requested Non-Cut/Color Service: Blow Dry

Most Effective Form of Marketing: Referrals and Yelp

Rewards Program: KMS offers a referral credit of $10 and a travel-sized Aveda Hand Relief Lotion.

Method of Client Retention: Quality of service. KMS has a 100% satisfaction policy with complimentary correction service. They also offer 10% off of a service when re-booking within 8 weeks.

Average Length of Client Relationship: KMS states they have had many for as long as 6 years, but when a stylist leaves most of the time their clients will follow them.

Client List Growth Rate (Annual): KMS gets around 500 new clients a year with 60% retention.

Average Revenue Growth (Annual): It depends on the staff. Years when they are fully staffed it can vary between 5% and 10%.

Mission Statement: The Staff of Karen Marie Salon believes in embracing the client’s natural texture while educating them to be confident in re-creating, managing and enjoying their hair. The salon offers an urban lofted and reclaimed space while delivering a relaxed and soothing atmosphere with top level professionalism. We at Karen Marie Salon also feel strongly about sustainability and neighborhood commitment.

Biggest Contributor to Success: KMS offers high-end service without the attitude or pretension. It has a “Ma & Pop” feel, yet with some of the best products and modern techniques gained through constant education of our staff.

Three Biggest Obstacles:

  1. Staff leaving and taking the books with them.
  2. Assistant finished training and left against their contract forcing salon to get a new assistant.
  3. Bad Yelp reviews. KMS did reach out to the customers to discuss.

Karen Marie Salon Chicago


Designer:  In-House

Method/Tools Used: KMS uses Adobe products such as Illustrator and Muse. They locked onto a crown idea and went from there adding a consistent modern typeface.

Cost: Sweat & Tears

Cost of Branding Materials (monthly): $100-$200 for postcards, business cards, posters, and signage.

Method for Maintaining Consistency: Black and white color scheme with the same typography.


Front Desk: 2011 Mac Mini with Salon Biz Software

Throughout the Salon: High-Speed WiFi to all guests.

Salon Menu

Price Determination Formula:

A few different ways.

  1. Most of the staff came in at a high price point from other places.
  2. They compared the immediate market within a mile radius offering their level of services.
  3. For some services, the backbar expense is greater than average and it is built into the cost of the service.

Services Based on Experience/Training Price Determination:

KMS will research the salon the new-hire comes from as well as their price point. They then have the new-hire bring in several models that in-salon educators judge. If they are not up to the KMS price point but show potential, the salon will start the new-hire at a junior rate and train them until they are satisfied and then raise their prices.

Karen Marie Salon Chicago


Designer: KMS did it all themselves with friends. They did have a carpenter build all of the stations. That cost came in around $200-$300/ea including mirrors.

Description in 3 Words: Urban, Reclaimed, Chic.

Personality: It has a strong character and great attention to detail. Always bounces back from setbacks with a great attitude.

Color Scheme: Reddish brown brick walls with barn wood red reclaimed stations. Concrete slab and dark wood trim. It is very earthy and urban.

Method: The walls were already there and the barn wood went well with their eco mission and blended well with the walls. The black and white of the signage and logo add some contrast to give it a more modern feel.

Chairs: Olympia Chairs. They were expensive, but German built and minimal.

Sink Bowls: KMS actually got a great deal from China (but don’t tell anyone!). They did buy new high-end heads for them that were machined in Japan. The sinks offer a high pressure with less water usage than what was supplied with the unit.

Accent Pieces: Most accent pieces are reclaimed materials from around the Midwest. They like to give life to things that may have ended up at the dump.

Flooring: They have a concrete slab to remove the need for any synthetic flooring option. It saved them money and materials. It is hard to keep clean, though.

Lighting: The salon has two tracks with a mix of Halogen bulbs and LED. They also use different wattages and degree spreads for different areas. As LED’s have gotten better, they are almost completely transitioned to them for cost effectiveness and conservation.

Percentage of Budget for Rent/Mortgage (Monthly): 10%

Percentage of Budget for Utilities (monthly): 1%

Percentage of Budget for Maintenance (Monthly): It depends. When equipment fails, it varies widely. For instance, when their washer dryer died it was $1000 to replace. On average without failure, 1%

Karen Marie Salon Chicago


Number of Employees: 10

Levels of Expertise: All the stylists are Senior or Master level. They do have one assistant who is currently undergoing education at the salon.

Qualifications/Determination: An assistant hitting the KMS floor would be a Junior as well as a new-hire who is not up to the education standard.

Team Description: Competent and talented professionals. They staff is well-rounded and everyone exceeds in specific services or styles.

New Hire Qualities:  Must be extrovert, have talent and competence with strong problem-solving abilities.

Methods for Continuing Education: The product lines the salon carries offer education all year round. Between Aveda, Wella & Kevin Murphy, there are training opportunities every month. The salon also, on a one-on-one basis, discusses opportunities with individual staff. They recently sent a stylist to NYC last year for a three-day Razor Cutting class at ARROJO.

Providers: Aside from the training provided by the manufacturers the salon carries, the salon will also pay out of pocket for fees involved, to have a salon-wide class and to send them to outside education.

Front Desk Qualities: The person working the KMS front desk is organized, friendly, well-groomed and polite and has an aptitude for problem-solving.

Front Desk Script (Y/N):The salon does have bullet points, but they encourage the front desk to have their own style.

Department Breakdown: None

Structure: Commission

Pay Structure: Stylists will start on the floor at 40-45% commission and after a few years and positive growth, they will be offered points as incentive.

Team-Building Strategies: It seems to naturally exist in the salon. They spend so much time together and are genuinely very friendly with each other.

Conflict Resolution Strategies: Management addresses it immediately before it spreads like a disease. They talk with the staff members openly, listen to them and address the issue.

Maternity Leave Policy: KMS supports them by handling their clients while they are gone and ease them slowly back to work when they feel up to it.

Health Insurance: None

Substance Abuse Policy: Oddly enough it has not been a problem in 6 years. KMS have some moms and the rest are social, but nobody tends to overdo it.

Karen Marie Salon Chicago


Retail Line(s) Carried: Aveda, Aveda Makeup, Wella, Wet Brush, Kevin Murphy, Coppola Keratin, DS Continuum

Method of Determination: Aveda and Kevin Murphy are the salon’s flagship lines. They were selected for being eco and PETA-friendly along with their mission statements. Wella was selected based on its overall performance. Coppola was selected based on its OSIA rating.

Reasons for Amount Carried: The large brands ensure you carry their full lines via contract when you start. KMS look at their sales trends and keep two of each item that has slow sales.

Profits from Retail: KMS sells between $3-4k/month. Divide that in half and their profit is $1500 to $2000. They would love to get to a point where it would cover the rent of the space.

Retail Selling Strategies: Staff is educating the client while they are in the chair.

Product Knowledge Sources/Frequency: Reps will come in and present every time a new product is introduced. When a new stylist is hired, they will spend a few hours going over the lines.

Percentage of Budget for Retail (Monthly): 10%


Backbar Products: All of the product lines.

Method for Determining Amount Used: KMS states that it is tough to determine. They train the staff and watch them periodically. When something gets low, the assistant will add it to their list. The biggest loss is in incorrectly or over-mixing color.


Color Lines Used: Wella

Reasoning: KMS states it is due to the superior results and strong education offered complimentary throughout the year

Method for Tracking Color Restocking: KMS saves box tab tops to determine what is missing.

Percentage of Overall Profits Derived from Color Services: 48%

Percentage of Budget for Color (Monthly): 4%

Karen Marie Salon Chicago


Average Age: 35

Average Income: Generally higher middle class.

Lifestyle/ Type: Professional, urban and refined.

Target Market (Y/N): Yes

Percentage of Referrals: 40% +/-

Strategy for Unhappy Client: KMS always makes sure clients are satisfied, but if they are not, they will redo the service or very rarely do not charge them.

Method of Client Removal: The most impactful client on the salon are habitual no-shows. Management will consult their stylist and if agreed, impose a 50% down/no return policy on future appointments.

Online Reviews (Y/N): Yes

Social Media Engagement: KMS is somewhat active. Since Facebook changed their policy on business visibility, it has been making it harder to reach them.

Technology Used for Contacting Clients: KMS will email and call and they have been looking in texting.

Post-Service Follow-up: Rarely

Additional Correspondence: KMS will send birthday cards that offer credit to the salon.

Social Media

Platforms Used: FB, Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr, Google+

Marketing Strategies: Advertising on Facebook to a certain radius and demographic by the salon. Present current work.

Social Media Strategies: It’s 100% organic. KMS has offered “check in” or “like” specials in the past.

Email Marketing

Type/Frequency: KMS emails specials, event and new products once a month.

Provider: MailChimp

Photo/Graphic Source:  KMS uses all in-house photography and design.

Graphic Designer: One of the owners is a graphic designer.

Email List Building Strategies: New client forms from which the data is added to MailChimp.

Karen Marie Salon Chicago


Type/Frequency: KMS hosts an annual Earth Day party.

Promotional Strategy: Evite, Facebook, posters and flyers.

Most Successful Event: Earth Day party.

Planning Process: This event is a fundraiser for the Alliance for the Great Lakes. KMS asks local businesses to donate and sell raffle tickets all month. They get the food donated or at a discount and the wine is biodynamic from their neighbors at cost. KMS also brings in a DJ.

Think you have what it takes to be one of our featured salons? Tell us in the comments below why and what makes your salon stand out amongst the rest. 

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