She admits that the first time she took her son to get a haircut, she may have been a little too anxious. "I was nine months pregnant, looking nervous, and hoping to catch some of the falling hairs," says Joanna Meiseles, who also videotaped the event. "To lots of moms, it's more than just a haircut."
The experience ended disastrously, with all three participants--mother, child, and hairdresser--leaving unhappy. Soon after, Meiseles says, she began thinking about how barbershops could make getting a haircut easier for children (and their parents).
In 1993, the same year as her son's ill-fated haircut, she came up with the idea for a salon designed exclusively for kids. Two years later, her idea became a reality when she opened her first Snip-its in Framingham, Massachusetts. Now a thousand kids visit the original Snip-its each week, and Meiseles has opened four additional stores throughout the state.
Snip-its isn't just a salon, she says. Billed on its website as "the most amazing place for a kid to get a haircut," Snip-its provides children with a "haircut adventure." Each store is decorated with the "Snip-its cast of characters"--cartoon hairdressing implements "brought to life," much like the personified furniture pieces in Beauty and the Beast. Among these haircutting creatures are Flyer Joe Dryer, Maranga Mirror, and Jean Luc le Spritz, a "living" French mousse can.
Kids are included in the process at Snip-its, too. They get to choose the haircut they want from a large picture book, as well as how they want their hair to smell based on Snip-its' four shampoo "flavors"--banana, apple, grape, and strawberry. During the actual haircut, children play computer games featuring the cartoon characters.
Meiseles says her hair-cutters, who are all licensed cosmetologists, know how to cut kids' hair and how to make the experience fun--and fast. Before starting work, all of Meiseles' hairdressers are "Snipified": They undergo extensive training to make sure they're prepared to work with little kids.
Though Meiseles has always had a knack for business, her interests at Duke didn't necessarily line up with her talents as an entrepreneur. As an undergraduate, she majored in comparative area studies, with a focus on Africa, and worked at the Primate Center. She says she enjoyed watching basketball and hanging out with friends. She also met her future husband, Brad Meiseles '87.
Her first foray into business came right after graduating, when she opened Tesaro, a shoe store in Durham's Brightleaf Square. "It was based on the idea that, at the time, there weren't many upscale shoe stores in Durham," Meiseles says. Though Tesaro only stayed open a year, the store made money, and Meiseles says, "It was a great experience learning how to start, run, and close a store all in one year."
Meiseles then moved to Massachusetts with her husband and began a family. She admits that at first she was hesitant about starting Snip-its because of her lack of experience in the salon business. She credits her father, Robert Blumofe, a movie producer, for motivating her to follow her instincts.
" My father said, 'You don't need to be a hair expert to open the store. Produce the show, pull the people you need together, and make it happen.'"
Her "producing" efforts have paid off. Besides the five Snip-its locations in Massachusetts, which are all doing well, Meiseles says, starting in March, she will be able to begin selling Snip-its franchises. She soon hopes to open stores nationwide.
She had wanted her two oldest children, Ben and Brandon, now twelve and eleven years old, to be Snip-its' first and second customers. It would have been Brandon's first haircut, but the store opened too late. Brandon "had hair halfway down his back, and people started thinking he was a girl," she says.
Meiseles' youngest son, Justin, who is only three months old, will get his inaugural trim at Snip-its, she says, when he has enough hair to cut.