“It’s not about whether you’re a man or a woman; it’s about the length of your hair.” So says Leigh Feldman, the newly appointed CEO of the enterprising hair salon company bishops which now has 50 sites in the US. “We’re tolerant unless you’re intolerant,” Feldman says of the bishops’ ethos, which has grown in large part thanks to the embrace of community and inclusivity.
The company traces its roots back to 2001, when founder Leo Rivera realized he had had enough of the hair salons in his hometown of Portland; they charged hundreds of dollars for high-quality treatment or a bargain price for a cut that made him embarrassed to go out in public.
Rivera tried to capitalize on the gap in the market with a new salon that would offer quality haircuts, but nowhere near the prices charged at the high end. To set the business apart, he wanted Bishops to be unisex and he was determined that it would reflect the community, installing the work of local artists in the salon, e.g. playing records by local musicians and welcoming customers. with a drink.
The store took off overnight, and Rivera began opening new bishops’ branches in other American cities. The expansion only really started to accelerate in 2013, when the company moved to a franchise model.
Feldman joined the company in 2018 as Chief Marketing Officer and transitioned to the CEO role in March when Rivera decided it was time to step back. “I joined because I was promised that Bishops was recession-proof,” recalls Feldman. “Then came the pandemic.”
With many Bishops salons closed during extended periods of the pandemic, the past two years have been challenging, although Feldman says once the salons reopened, their revenues picked up momentum. In a handful of cases, franchisees have been forced to close for good, often after difficult discussions with their landlords.
The good news is that Feldman believes the worst of the pandemic is now behind the company and growth is back on track. This year, the company is up 16% so far from its growth forecasts and is on track to hit $25 million in revenue.
Indeed, Covid-19 aside, Feldman thinks the advice he was given four years ago still stands. “We’ve found that when people don’t get it right, they either want to drop their spending in luxury salons, or, if they’ve used a chop shop, they’ll spend a little more to get a more professional-looking haircut for interviews.” Bishops benefit from both groups, he emphasizes.
It helps that the company does not focus on one clientele. Prior to the pandemic, the gender split was about 55% to 45%, and customers are just as likely to be middle-aged as they are young.
Feldman is extremely proud of the company’s embrace of the LGBT community, especially in areas where that community is not always warmly welcomed. “We definitely have salons where people have to travel several hours to get to the hairdresser because they feel like they are in a safe space,” he says. Several franchisees have become strong advocates for LGBT rights, he adds, although such campaigns have sparked controversy locally.
Looking ahead, the company now sees growth coming from two distinct commercial objectives. First, Bishops expects to increase revenues from its existing salons. New services such as hair extensions, molecular hair restoration, and instant waves and perms are selling well, Feldman says, and the company is also expanding its product range.
In addition, Bishops is looking to expand its geographic footprint with new salon openings and franchise partners. It already has a presence in 28 states, but Feldman thinks there’s room for many more salons, especially with plans for a new franchise model that could help franchisees become profitable faster.
However, growth must come without compromising the recipe that has brought the company this far. “Our salons are becoming real community hubs that truly represent their neighborhood, says Feldman. “Everyone needs a haircut and that’s not going to change; but we can change what the expectation of a haircut experience can and should be.”