Fantastic Sams: Setting the Standard in Full-Service Hair Salons

Based in Beverly, Mass., Fantastic Sams operates the No. 1, full-service hair salon franchise in the world, Colabuono says. Founder Sam Ross opened the company’s first salon in Memphis, Tenn., in 1974, and seeing success, started franchising the concept two years later.

Today, the company’s more than 1,200 salons share a reputation for providing men, women and children with quality hair care services. “We’re in 46 states, plus Canada,” Colabuono says. “We offer a very unique equation for the guests.”

Colabuono explains that this “equation” is based on Fantastic Sams’ ability to maintain both affordable prices and locations that are also convenient to the company’s salon guests.

“We’re available in the everyday lives of our guests; you can come in whenever you have the time in your busy schedule to visit us,” he states.

Each location features “a spa-like décor” that the company is updating, Colabuono says. “Twenty percent of our salons [feature] the new oasis décor,” he states, noting that its salons remodel on a continuous basis. “Our remodel philosophy is evolution, meaning that the salon will evolve to the current standard over time and at renewals of the license.

“The oasis décor is an inviting place with wood grain styling stations, better lighting, easy to maintain flooring and a color scheme of earth tones both representing ‘today’ as well as fitting into the total package so the salon is inviting and gives the spa-like feel,” Colabuono says.

With each customer visit, Fantastic Sams operates with the goal to make each client “look and feel fantastic,” it says.

“We offer lots of services, like haircuts and styles, up-dos, straightening, coloring, highlights and texturizing. We also offer beard and moustache trims, facial waxing, as well as rejuvenating hair treatments for stressed or damaged hair.

“Our stylists are professionals who are always up-to-date on the latest styles and trends,” the company continues. “So we guess you could say that keeps us on the cutting edge.”

Directing the Orchestra

Colabuono joined Fantastic Sams as its president and CEO in 2006. Previously, he had gained executive experience at Sprint, Burger King Corp., Norrell Corp. and Golden Bear Golf. All gave him franchise experience after spending his early career in telecommunications.

After joining Fantastic Sams, Colabuono guided it through the recession and its recent sale to DESSANGE International, a Paris-based operator of premium salon brands. DESSANGE’s DESS­ANGE Paris and Camille Albane Paris salons are in more than 40 countries.

Colabuono explains that he enjoys the culture of Fantastic Sams, which is focused completely on providing the guests with a good experience. “We are there to perform and deliver a service to each guest, based on what they say they want,” he states. “In some cases, the guests do come in and say, ‘Do whatever you want to me. So we give them the ability to look the best they can.”

Colabuono strives to be continuously involved with the operations of Fantastic Sams, without micromanaging. “A retail business like ours is one of many details,” he says. “It’s very important, I believe, to understand and know as many of the salons [as I can].”

Additionally, “We should know as many of our franchisees as possible,” he believes. “I’m here to direct the orchestra in support of our owners [and I need to know] if things or going well or things need to be changed.”

Skilled Stylists

Fantastic Sams locations often recruit directly from beauty colleges, Colabuono says. “There are 4,000 cosmetology schools across the United States,” he explains. “They graduate thousands of hair stylists every year.”

Each stylist is tested before they work on a guest at Fantastic Sams, but Colabuono notes that the training continues on even after the point where they are hired. “We have certified region educators throughout our markets with their only job [being] working daily to maintain a high level of craft and consistency of service across every salon, [and in] every guest visit,” he says.

He notes that Fantastic Sams has been fortunate to have low turnover of its employees at a number of locations. “We have many stylists that have worked for us for decades in [some locations].” he says. The culture of Fantastic Sams has been key to this longevity.

“The successful salons have a team-based culture that both sets goals for the salon and the stylist, and rewards the stylist for meeting the team goals,” Colabuono says.

A Strong Base

Fantastic Sams is expected to enjoy numerous benefits from the acquisition by DESSANGE. Currently, “The DESSANGE brands are at the premium and ultra-premium ends of the market,”  Colabuono states.

Fantastic Sams will have access to imported products and its salon owners will have the opportunity to become franchisees of Camille Albane over time. “This transaction has given us a very strong financial base to move forward on,” he states.

Additionally, the strength of its parent company will help Fantastic Sams reach its goal of having 2,000 salons in its network over the next decade. “We are [consolidating] the master licenses across the country,” Colabuono says. “We have about 18 to go.”

Ensuring Quality

As part of its focus on quality, Fantastic Sams also works to stay current with state-of-the-art technologies, Colabuono stresses. One example of this is how the company works “with our retail systems vendors to constantly improve the product in our salons so data is instantly available to our salon owners to operate their salon successfully,” Colabuono explains.

In addition, Fantastic Sams strives to stay ahead of the competition with its in-store products, which are manufactured by Shiseido, a Japan-based cosmetics firm. “We’re always working with them [to ensure] that our products are of superior quality,” he says.

All of the private label products sold in the company’s salons carry the Fantastic Sams name. “We have worked with the manufacturer on a continuous basis to ensure the quality is equal to better of any of the national brands,” he says. “We recently reformulated and repackaged our line, bringing a freshness to the scents and increasing the efficacy of the products in daily use, styling, rejuvenation and the men’s line.”

Fantastic Sams also has partnered with L’Oréal and uses its Mizani product line for multicultural hair. “We’re the only national chain that trains in our regular curriculum on multicultural hair,” he states.

“We do straightening, smoothing, [and] texturizing,” he says. “Whether you want curly hair or [not], we have techniques that can evolve your hair into [what] you prefer.”

Colabuono sees a strong future for Fantastic Sams with its affordable model. But to maintain its success, “[We] have to do a great job with guest service,” he says, noting that the company sees the opportunity for 4,000 units in the future. “We’ll reach 2,000 and go from there,” he notes.

“We’ll stay in this hemisphere at first. We’ve even had some [discussions with] DESSANGE [about] Fantastic Sams coming to France. It gives [us the vision of] owners and guests around the globe looking at Fantastic Sams and liking what they see.”