The budget haircut was a cutting-edge concept when Jerry Lillie opened a Supercuts franchise in Spokane Valley 30 years ago.
Two years earlier, Lillie and his wife had both been furloughed from management positions with United Airlines. His brother-in-law recommended Supercuts, a fast-growing franchise.
“If we don’t have a job, maybe we can buy one,” Lillie joked. They opened their first store on North Division in 1982, followed by the Valley store in 1984.
“At the time, it seemed like there were really only full-service salons and men’s barber shops,” Lillie said. “Prices were high, probably higher than they are now.”
At $6, their haircuts undercut the competition.
“Everybody thought we were nuts. There was nothing like it at the time,” said Lillie. “It was pretty successful right from the get-go.”
They’ve remained in the same location in Spokane Valley, 14109 E. Sprague Ave., since opening in 1984, with a recently renewed lease for another five years.
“We’ve developed some pretty loyal clientele and so we try not to move,” Lillie said, noting they survived the year Sprague was torn up for the sewer expansion and they’ve also endured reduced traffic after the Valley Mall went in.
“We’re happy there. We’re appreciative of the long-term guests we’ve had come in,” he said.
In fact, the business has been so successful Lillie has opened a total of 19 Supercuts stores across the region as well as four Cost Cutters salons, which are located inside Wal-Mart stores.
“We really didn’t have plans to have this many stores,” Lillie said. “We’d like to think we offer the same quality services as some of your really higher-priced salons.”
At first, Lillie said the budget haircut model attracted mostly men, but he estimates about 25 percent of their clientele are now women, with a noticeable growth after adding color services five or six years ago.
“As the economy has worsened we’ve had lots of women switch to us and I think they’re pretty happy,” he said.
Over the three decades, Lillie said the haircut price has increased to $14, less than the percentage their lease has increased.
Along with the coloring, they’ve also expanded services to include styling, waxing and deep conditioning. A new salon slated for Coeur’d Alene will have massage chairs at the shampoo stations.
Though the salon has a drop-in, no-appointment model, Lillie said the franchise recently launched a mobile application so customers can check in on their cellphones.
“We’re pretty excited. Their name will go right to our list in the computer,” said Lillie, noting customers can use the app to request a specific stylist as well.
The company offers ongoing training to keep styles and techniques current, which Lillie said attracts a lot of new beauty school graduates to complement a staff that has some with decades of experience.
“We cut a lot of hair. When stylists get out of beauty school, if they really want to learn and get comfortable and do it well, we’re a good place to come,” said Lillie, noting that some stylists move on to higher-priced salons after a year or so, but he’s had quite a few stay for years.
“We’ve done business long enough to have a couple generations working for us,” Lillie said. “Our staff has grown up with us and had their own families.”
Valley store manager Wendy McGrew, for example, started as a stylist 15 years ago with the intention of moving to a full-service salon after six months.
“I made it very clear. I wanted their education,” McGrew said. “But I’ve never wanted to leave. It’s an enjoyable place to work. I love what I do here. I love the fact I can make customers happy.”