Fourteen years ago, a new lifestyle center opened in San Jose on Winchester Blvd. Atelier Salonspa was the Bay Area’s flagship Aveda lifestyle salon. It was a big leap of faith for many small business owners in the area, and it was a defining moment for Atelier founder, Karie Bennett.
Karie shares her memories and thoughts here:
Opening Atelier at Santana Row was a pivotal event in my career, as it was 21 years into my hairdressing life. I had opened my first Atelier in 1997–a tiny, 2 chair salon in Downtown Los Altos, and I knew so little about opening a business at a big mall, but felt ready to grow my company. We opened on Black Friday, Nov. 29, 2002. My husband Aaron and I lined up bottles on the shelves until 8 pm the night before, which was Thanksgiving, then realized that we had no dinner planned. We dashed out to Marie Callender’s, 15 minutes before they closed, and had a turkey dinner, then went back to finish setting up for the big opening day.
I didn’t have a salon to show potential employees but I had two paint chips: a red one and a yellow one. I spoke to a group of cosmetology students at San Jose City College, and hired my first team of 12 people. So many memories flood through my mind. I was at Santana Row the day of the largest fire in San Jose history. And I was there the night Santana Row opened…they blocked off the street and had a grand opening event for merchants and residents. We walked up the street to live music, food samples from the restaurants, and met our neighbors. It was a magical night, full of anticipation for what was ahead of us. I met wonderful small business owners like myself, and we formed a merchant association to help each other with events and to share ideas.
Over the years, being located at ‘The Row’, has brought so many great opportunities to us. Many high-profile people have been to Atelier, such as Betsey Johnson, Tommy Davidson, and Prince even shopped in the store (twice!) for his favorite Aveda products. Facebook’s Sean Parker lived upstairs and I cut his hair through the Facebook years, and even had 49er quarterback Steve Young in my chair a few times. We did the hair and makeup for the Row fashion shows for years, had the cast of Cirque du Soleil’s shows see our stylists while they were in town. And all the while, as we grew, we continued to develop new systems to give our employees the best employment experience around. We offered benefits that had not been the usual for the beauty industry, like medical, dental, and vision insurance, as well as a 401k with a company match. Over the years, we’ve added sick pay, education co-op, and flexible schedules to give our team great reasons to stay with us, and more. I’m so proud to celebrate the yearly anniversary of every employee, and happy to say we have stylists here as far back as 2003. They have grown up with us, and I celebrate their achievements and successes as if they were a part of my own family. In fact, they are.
Throughout, I continued to learn more about being a business owner. I took classes wherever I could, traveling all over the country to gain new insights and information. I completed Aveda’s Business College courses, Stanford Continuing Studies, even got an MBA certificate from University of Boston. And, somewhere along the way, I was the recipient of the UCLA Anderson School of Business’ Global Salon Business Award, and the North American Hairstyling Association’s Salon Master of Business. Pretty high honors for a cosmetologist who studied Music at the local community college before going to beauty school. Those honors are my compass more than badges–they direct me to elevate the employment experience for our team, and to continually innovate our services for our guests.
I have been lucky to have amazing people in my business who helped raise our standards, support and improve our systems, and help grow this business. I call our General Manager, Rob Willis, my good karma. He has been at Atelier over 5 years, and is a big part of who we are as a company. I can’t do it all myself, so it’s so important to have someone who can read my mind and has the same mission for Atelier as I do. There aren’t enough words to thank my husband, Aaron, for walking (and sometimes running) beside me on this road. It’s not always been an easy ride, but he’s been my rock throughout. I couldn’t have made it this far without his support and his steady spirit.
After 5 years, we had outgrown our space, and Santana Row offered us a second, smaller spot, just a half a block away. I opened Atelier Studio in 2007 with 4 chairs, and, 5 years later, took over an adjoining store, gutted it all and re-opened as a 9 chair salon. Earlier in 2016, I purchased a salon in Willow Glen with great growth potential, brought our General Manager on as a partner, and now am amazed that my little Atelier has grown to 3 salons! We started with 12 employees and now have a beautiful team of 60.
We have Atelier clients who came with me from Los Altos and are still part of our loyal clientele, and I love to meet new guests who rave about my team and come back again and again. I still work behind the chair a couple of days a week, and I love keeping my hands in hair.
Seeing how happy my team is, and how happy their clients are is exactly what gets me up in the morning. It’s the absolute best feeling in the world. Sometimes I just can’t believe it–so much has happened on this journey and I’m just so grateful for everyone who was a part of it and who helped us along the way. This is truly what our motto: “be inspired” is all about.
Happy 14th Anniversary, Atelier!
With love and appreciation,