Walking up the front stairs of Bangz Salon and Spa in Montclair, there’s an easy detail to miss: The ironwork on the railing slowly transitions from a classic design into more ornate ivy.
With cast-iron shears caught up in the vines.
Weaving together ideas has been a part of Bangz since co-founders Richard Cronk and Dominick Sansavero decided to join forces in 1994.
The result is one of the largest salons and spas in the state, a 9,800-square-foot establishment that employs nearly 90 workers, 42 of them stylists.
“We both owned our own separate salons in Montclair and had both been in business for a long time, about 10 years,” Cronk said. “We were both getting to the ends of our leases and had known each other since we were teenagers, so we decided to merge the businesses together.”
The new business got started with a combined investment of $27,000.
That investment has paid off: The company has seen a 900 percent increase in revenue over its history.
Bangz has benefited from a unique location — and an unusual business plan for the industry.
When Bangz first opened its doors in 1994, the building was cozy. But, Cronk said, it had it where it counts the most: a highly visible spot on the busiest street in town.
“It was a beautiful location because you had all the traffic going up and down Bloomfield Avenue,” he said.
But, as the business grew, it was clear to Cronk and Sansavero that they needed a new location that could hold their ambition.
Then, amid landlord changes and lease negotiations, their current space — a refurbished church built in 1889 and just a stone’s throw away from their original location — became available for purchase.
The company invested the bulk of its renovation budget to expand the basement and increase its day spa offerings, even though the spa doesn’t create the same revenue stream as the salon.
The renovations expanded the space from its originally available 4,000 square feet.
“We were able to create a space for all our spa services on the bottom floor of the building,” Sansevero said, “and do it without adding to the building’s existing footprint.”
Cronk added that the spa business has completely changed since the mid-’90s, when he said Bangz’s day spa offerings were the first in the state.
“It’s like the nail salon business back in the ’80s,” he said. “There were very few, but now they’re on every corner; but the spa business is going down the same road.”
In the three decades Sansavero and Cronk have been working in the salon and spa industry, it’s become increasingly saturated with competition.
So, to make sure their stylists operate to the business’ standard, the company closes its doors for employee training on Mondays, in lieu of appointments.
That alone has helped make a name for the company, whose educational offerings draws talent from throughout the tri-state area.
“Education is the foundation of the business, and we find now that people are coming to us for jobs because they’ve heard about our education program,” Sansavero said.
Sansavero said that draw is the best way to maintain quality through talent development.
“We grow our own,” he said. “Very seldom do we hire someone that’s been doing hair for 20 years and has a following.
“We will hire them, but sometimes it comes with a set of problems because they’re set in their own and they don’t want to adhere to our policies and procedures.”
Cronk said that is the reason the business continues to flourish.
“We develop these people into incredible hairdressers, so the quality of our services far exceeds our competition,” he said. “They graduate school and get a license but, basically, they don’t know how to do hair.”
The development process, Cronk said, can take up to 12 or 18 months.
Another facet of the education is keeping up on trends so the salon can stay current after its two decades in business.
“I’ve been running down Bloomfield Ave. for 10 years, and there’s a salon that’s had the same exact picture for that 10 years,” Sansavero said. “It’s a beautiful woman with a classic haircut, but you have to change it up every now and again.
So the salon has its educators travel to different seminars and events to learn new techniques in color and cutting.
“That’s the core of the organization, to send everyone out to get new information and bring it back to us,” Sansavero said.
It would be easy for an operation this size to become a simple assembly line of cookie-cutter haircuts, but the co-owners’ attention to every detail has kept the operation as personal as possible.
There’s even a call center in the building to address bookings and any other client concerns that may arise.
“Usually, salons have whichever stylist is free at the moment working up front,” Sansavero said. “But we have a room of people who just take calls so that, when a customer comes through the door, they are the only concern for the front desk.”
That relationship with their customers, and the community, is important for the duo. Both have called New Jersey home their whole lives, with Cronk having grown up in South Orange while Sansavero spent his early life in Bloomfield.
And they’ve both being doing business in Montclair, separately and then together, for 30 years.
In that time, the co-founders have looked for ways of using their business to give back. Bangz has participated in local education fundraisers, Big Brothers and Sisters and the battered women’s shelter.
“We’ll bring 50 women in from the shelter and give them haircuts and makeovers for free,” Cronk said. “If you’re going to draw from the community, you have to give back. You want to be there for people.”
And, when Hurricane Sandy hit, the business realized it was in a position to help.
“Don’t ask me why, but we had power,” Sansavero said. “So, we put it out there for our clients and the community that they could come here and use our showers.”
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