(left) Owners Gayle Fulbright and Letty Portilla
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Star Reborn!

Owners of Headlines THE Salon rethink, relocate and renew their business.

March/April 2013 Find in
March/April 2013

Client retention has always been a priority for owners Letty Portilla and Gayle Fulbright— who’s also a Eufora Global Business Educator—but after years of minding their salon, they came to realize there was a definite downside to keeping the same clients in their chairs for years.

“I felt like we were all aging right along with our business!” says Fulbright. “To maintain a viable salon for a long time to come, we needed to attract a younger clientele and staff.”

This epiphany eventually led to a new beginning when the partners opened their breathtaking 2,800-square-foot location in Encinitas, a beach-y location in San Diego County, in September 2011.

“For 16 years, we had been doing business in a location someone else had designed for another era,” says Fulbright. “As times changed and our business grew, we found ourselves constantly making do and tolerating a floor plan that became more limiting with each passing year. But we didn’t just want more room and an updated setting; our overarching goal was to reimagine and reinvent our business.”

Community and Event Table

On Location

The new Headlines THE Salon location, which now has 34 staf members, has 18 stations that are shared among 23 mostly 20-something stylists, a facial cabin alternately occupied by two estheticians and one nail tech who has been on staf for 32 years.

The salon has become known for its many client-centric events, as well as manufacturer-sponsored activities.

“Our fresh location reflects the type of salon we’ve wanted for a very long time,” Fulbright reveals. “Our Lather Lounge—in plain speak, a private shampoo room—is a separate room with special lighting, music and ambiance. We have a brushed steel, 10-foot community table in the middle of the salon where clients can sit, use their iPads and socialize, which also doubles as the focal point for presentations and classes. Even more important, the entire space has a young, hip vibe.”

Salon Reinvention

Fulbright and Portilla became partners in Headlines THE Salon in 1987, after working at the original location as stylists for several years. While it wasn’t a smooth road from then until now, they’ve managed to overcome all business challenges, including a major walkout nine years ago.

“As owners, you not only have to learn from your mistakes, but also master the art of acting, rather than reacting to every business situation that comes your way,” says Fulbright. “After losing 8 out of 12 stylists overnight, we not only had to replenish our staff and business, but also do it in such a way that history wouldn’t repeat itself.”

Rather than imploding or filling their chairs with warm bodies, Fulbright and Portilla turned to Eufora founder and acclaimed former salon owner Don Bewley for advice. “Don helped me realize that education was and would always be my strong suit,” says Fulbright.

Lather Lounge

“He encouraged me to use this strength to rebuild an even better business. That’s when things really started improving— one step, one idea and one refinement at a time. We created a formal education program with mandatory attendance for all service providers, as well as an assistant program that gets new-hires trained and on the floor in an expedient manner. All of our stylists are also required to attend four outside, hands-on classes per year. We wrote a handbook that not only defined every position in our salon, but also our culture and core values. It wasn’t a token gesture or a writing exercise; we still reference our salon handbook every day. We also instituted systems for every aspect of our business with one common goal: excellent customer service.

“To build and maintain a strong staff, we decided not to hire any seasoned stylists in our area, as they already have their way of doing business. Instead, I developed relationships with Bellus Academy and Palomar Institute for Beauty by giving classes at these schools, working with teachers and administrators and inviting students to attend select classes at our salon. We also helped to develop and implement the first ‘externship’ in California, a program that allows local beauty school students to shadow our senior stylists and assist at our salon in exchange for school hours. Through these efforts, we now have an extremely high client and staff retention rate, as well as a constant influx of recent grads that have already been involved in Headlines THE Salon and very much want to become part of our culture and business.”

Stepping Away

While Portilla continues to work behind the chair two to three days a week, Fulbright has taken yet another monumental step in growing their salon.

“I quit my job! I mean, I’ve completely stepped away from the chair,” beams Fulbright. “While I love doing hair, I had to look at the bigger picture. It’s so difficult, if not impossible, to envision and guide your salon properly when you’re spending up to 40 hours a week doing clients. Now, I not only have time to manage the day-to-day operations of Headlines THE Salon, but also plan for the future, create an even better education program and stay close to the pulse of our business by really being with our team.”

What steps did Fulbright take in order to do this without causing mass casualties in terms of retaining her rather large clientele or causing the salon to suffer financially?

“I began preparing for this event quite a while ago when I started paying myself a salary as opposed to a commission on what I earned behind the chair,” Fulbright explains. “I then spent a lot of time matching each client with one or two of our stylists with the best chances of pleasing them. I had these stylists shadow me while I did their future clients’ hair. In the event they were unhappy with their new providers or just wanted to talk, I also gave them my personal cell number and email address. It was tough for them and me, but it had to be done. I’m happy to report that on January 1, 2013, I began working ‘on’ and not ‘in’ my business.” (

Speed Chat

Why do you only hire new talent?

We train all of our team members from the ground up. It’s the best way to ensure that everyone has the same goals and to keep our culture intact. Based on previous experiences, we also never re-hire anyone who has left our salon and wants to return.

During our conversation, you talked about choosing your product companies carefully. What did you mean by that?

Of course, the top priority is making sure that every brand you carry meets your technical and esthetic expectations. But beyond that, it’s important to only work with companies and distributors that are willing to truly partner with your business by participating in events, offering education in your salon, and being qualified and willing to help you with the technical and business aspects of your salon. It’s difficult to receive these benefits unless you have an exclusive arrangement. In terms of hair, for instance, Headlines is a Eufora Concept Salon.

Do you have any plans that our readers should know about?

Actually, we have some big plans in the works, but it’s premature to talk about them. As soon as I can let the cat out of the bag, I’ll let you know!



Headlines THE Salon staff   

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