Trendy women’s hair salon giving new meaning to Detroit Blows
After years of planning, Nia Batts and Katy Cockrel, both 32, opened a blow-dry salon in downtown Detroit last month.
The salon, Detroit Blows, doesn’t cut or color hair. It washes and styles it. It aims to be a place where mostly women — though men are welcome, too — can go to be pampered and bathed in hot air as hair professionals turn tangled tresses into glamorous locks.
“The idea is you can come in, you can get a blowout,” Cockrel said. “You can get your makeup and brows done. You can get an express mani and pedi, all using nontoxic products, and you can pick up a gift item on the way to a dinner party or wherever it is you are on to next.”
But, more than being a trendy place to get your hair styled, Detroit Blows represents the kind of enterprise that Detroit seems eager to develop and millennials are seeking to create: A business that solves a problem, aims to make money, is socially conscious and has an edgy name.
At 1232 Library Street, it’s the first blow-dry salon in the city, the founders said.
To raise investment for the enterprise, they turned to family and friends, some of whom, they said, got equity in the company. The pair also received a $20,000 grant from Motor City Match, a Detroit Economic Growth Corp. program that is aimed at growing businesses in Detroit.
There are a handful of salons like it in the suburbs. Salons like this, which are also referred to as blow-dry bars, have been popular on the East and West Coasts in the past few years and are becoming trendy in the Midwest.
The salons give women — who otherwise might spend an hour on their hair — a way to straighten curly hair and curl straight hair.
An independent salon, Arid Blow Dry & Beauty Bar, opened four years ago in Royal Oak.
“It’s a fast — and great — place to get your hair done,” said Natalie Whalen, the salon coordinator. “It’s comfortable, but not like a regular salon. People can go for bridal parties, birthday parties, and for fun stuff. It’s a totally different environment.”
Chains such as Drybar, based in Brentwood, Calif., and Blo Blow Dry Bar, which started as a mother-daughter venture in Vancouver, Canada, and is now based in Toronto, have been opening salons in cities nationwide. Drybar has about 80 salons, Blo, more than 90, including a shop in Birmingham, and plans to open one in Detroit.
“No one wants to do their own hair,” said Nicole Ashley, the co-owner of the Blo franchise in Birmingham. She opened the salon last year and goes by the title, Head Miss_tress. “It’s a lovely way to treat yourself.”
The new salons across the country have helped revive the $44 billion hair-salon industry, which, after the recession in 2007, was struggling to lure back customers who had cut back on traditional salon services to save money, according to Los Angeles-based market research firm IBIS World.
The idea for Detroit Blows, Batts and Cockrel said, came together in about 2010. The two friends, who have known each other since they were 4 and in the same dance class, were working together on a project in Detroit.
Batts, who was working for entertainment company Viacom and lived in New York at the time, often went to blow-out salons in New York and Los Angeles. She asked Cockrel, who was in Detroit and worked in public relations, where she could go to get the service in the city.
Cockrel, the daughter of former city councilwoman Sheila Cockrel, told her there wasn’t a place in the city that specialized in just blowouts.
They decided to start one.
In addition to haircare products, the salon also sells items — greeting cards, jewelry, candles — that the duo has curated from other Detroit businesses, many of which are also owned by women, to support those entrepreneurs.
“That,” Cockrel said, ” is inherent to our ethos of female entrepreneurship and empowerment.”
The founders, who now both live in Detroit, said the salon is a social enterprise. They contributing $1 of each blowout and a percentage of their retail sales to Detroit Grows, which is an organization they created to help fund other women-owned enterprises.
Batts said that that it was important to her and Cockrel — and their customers — that in addition to being a business that seeks to make money and employ people, it also has a social purpose and a social conscience.
“For us,” Batts said, “that is very much baked into the business.”
During a salon appointment last month, Katie Katz praised the service as a timesaver.
“I can see myself coming once a week,” said Katz, the development director of nonprofit City Year Detroit. “Especially for working women, this is such an incredible convenience. Getting ready in the morning, especially when you have thick, long hair takes more time than people would imagine.”
In many ways, Detroit Blows and its founders fit the profiles of a millennial company and millennial entrepreneurs.
“They have a lot of different expectations about signing up with a company and staying for a lifetime career,” said Lou Glazer, president of Michigan Future, an Ann Arbor nonprofit organization that seeks to create prosperity in Michigan. “A lot of them think about starting their own thing.”
Millennials, he said, are also more involved in social activism through business.
Moreover, Jesse Calloway — who wrote a book, “All the Way to the Top: A Practical Guide for Corporate and Business Leadership” — said millennials tend to be less patient but more willing to question conventions and use edgy ideas, including names, that appeal to customers.
And Detroit Blows is layered with meaning.
It is a wordplay on the location and service of blow-drying hair.
But it also alludes to the city’s past reputation.
Among the items that the salon intends to sell is a T-shirt that says Detroit Blows, a spoof on the shirt that actor Phillip Seymour Hoffman wore in the movie “Almost Famous,” when he was portraying rock music critic Lester Bangs.
And there’s the — entirely unintentional, according to the owners — innuendo connected to the word blow that the MetroTimes criticized months before the salon opened.
The alt-weekly’s article opined: “You can’t joke about Detroit like that and not expect some ‘blowback.’ ”
But, if successful, you can expect Batts and Cockrel to have a big, blowout party.