A few years ago when the owner of wanted to sell the business, she did the logical thing and turned to Robyn Clark, one of her part-time stylists who was also a commercial realtor.
“We had it sold, and then the deal fell through,” Clark said.
Fortunately, the resourceful agent found another buyer quickly enough.
“In hindsight, it was a complete blessing,” she said, remembering how her mother, who was also her partner in the real estate business, had to persuade her to take the plunge. “It was absolutely meant to be.”
If Clark was initially hesitant to become a salon owner, it hasn’t shown in Belleza’s meteoric growth. Purchased with 14 employees two years ago, it now has about 50, including more than three dozen stylists. It moved to a strip mall in December, but the quarters have grown crowded, and it’s now ready for another expansion. In a few weeks, Belleza will take over the quarters next door to nearly double in size to 6,000 square feet. The extra space will allow the business to expand its treatment rooms from one to five and will give the salon an even better ability to house the events the salon does regularly, which range from entertaining everything from Girl Scout troupes to girlfriend groups.
“That’s why we’re expanding, because we’ll be able to host anything we want,” Clark said. “We’ll able to have corporate parties or entire bridal parties over there.”
Bridal has been a big focus of late for Belleza, which goes far beyond simply doing hair for the big day. Through a program implemented early this year, Belleza hosts the bridal party, creates a gift bag with wedding essentials and even provides lemonade, coffee, pastries and mimosas for the wedding party.
“The brides come in. We do a one-on-one complementary,” she said. “We have vendors from everywhere, so if they are missing anything, we can point them in the right direction. We walk them through their wedding, and then we stay with them all day on their actual wedding day.”
Clark’s crew has also been doing hair and makeup for St. Louis Best Bridal. But that’s only part of the buzz Belleza’s been getting in local media. The salon has been featured on television on Great Day St. Louis and Show Me St. Louis.
It’s even attracted nationwide attention. Earlier this year, Clark was among those invited to California for the Nickelodeon Kids' Choice Awards to do the hair of VIP audience members and producers’ children.
“This next year when we do the awards, we’ll actually hold a huge event here also, so kids here will get to experience the same thing,” she said.
But all the attention hasn’t made Clark forget the people who make it all possible.
“You can go to the mall and get your makeup done, but you are just a number,” she said. “Here, we know our customers. We write down and track everything they’ve had, so we know how to help them and they come back.”
The merchandise is part of what they are coming back for. Belleza offers a wide array of personal care items from important names in the business including all natural, mineral-based Bare Escentuals makeup and offerings from MoroccanOil hair care products.
And while Belleza may provide everything from waxings to facials to massages to microbead hair extensions, it also offers something else--an education in the science of makeup. Belleza sometimes hosts small groups to teach women about beauty products while serving wine and cheese, Clark said.
But even without a specialty event, every customer gets more than a receipt and a smile.
“We absolutely won’t let someone walk in, pay for it and walk out,” Clark said of cosmetics sales. “We make sure they know how to use it. We sit down, color match and teach them. That’s complementary.”
Patrons seem to appreciate the personal touch. Kate Santellano comes all the way from St. Charles, but the 41-year-old said it’s well worth the drive.
“The staff is very knowledgeable,” she said. “They know the latest haircuts and trends and color techniques. That’s important to me.”
As Pam Leary, 53, sits through a coloring session, she said it’s easy to tell the good institutions from the lackluster ones. The familiar faces at Belleza’s tell her what she needs to know.
“I look for regulars, people that come often and stay with the same salon because that means something,” she said. “If people hop around to different salons that means they are unhappy, but if they stick with a place and go to the same salon for years, then it’s a place where they get what they want.”
Stacey FitzPatrick is certainly one of the regulars. Like Leary, she’s been coming since before Clark owned the business.
“I love it here,” she said surveying the employees as stylist Christine Sadowski works on her hair. “I think I knew all of them before they knew each other.”
The clientele isn’t exclusively female either. As Denis Raab, 61, finishes getting a trim, he said he loves the friendly people.
“In any personal service business,” he said. “You are no better than whoever you are dealing with. That’s your point of contact.”
Even during the busiest of days, Clark enjoys that contact with customers--and with the community. Belleza works hard to give back, participating in such charitable endeavors as The Cinderella Project, which helps young women find dresses and accessories for prom and Pink Heals, which brings in money to help breast cancer patients.
“We actually did pink hair extensions last year and are getting ready to do them again this year to raise money,” she said. “Last year, we raised over $1,000 with them.”