On-site haircuts

A basic system for supporting an organized, time-efficient life would surely include regular haircut appointments. It would eliminate the monthly task of trying to match free time with a stylist’s availability — a challenge that’s especially frustrating if you wake up one morning with hair that needed attention a week ago.

After more than 10 years in the hair industry, Vicki Nolting had consistently heard her clients say they meant to come in earlier, but their schedules conflicted with making the call. Not only did they have to set aside the time to get their hair cut, but also the time it took to get to the salon.

“People can get an oil change and their dry cleaning done at work; why not enable them to get their haircut at work as well?” she asked herself.

Hair on Wheels answered the question — a service company she launched in June 1999.

Nolting sells the concept of her mobile styling salon to corporations by pointing out the time and money they’ll save if they reduce the time commitment their employees make to keep their hair in shape.

“I tell them that the average time it takes is two hours — time to commute, time to wait and time to get back,” she said.

“It’s good for everyone,” she added. “Employees get their hair cut in about 15 minutes, employers save money and stylists are able to work optimum hours.”

She asks companies to provide a conference room for haircuts, and, within 20 minutes, she turns it into a salon. With a handful of large corporations as permanent clients, Nolting and her stylists cut about 1,400 heads of hair each month. The number of employees determines the schedule — she goes to some companies once a week and some once a month. Current customers include Maxtor, Level 3, Ball Aerospace and Storage Technology Corp.

“Maxtor even provides us with a permanent location,” Nolting said. “We have a logo on the door and leave permanent equipment there.” The space is rent-free.

Hair on Wheels charges $15 for haircuts and $5 for beard and bangs trims. Haircuts are the only service the company offers.

As the sole owner, Nolting invested about $50,000 in personal loans into starting her company. The money covered equipment — including mobile stations featuring back-to-back mirrors with countertops and hydraulic chairs — as well as three fully equipped vans.

Hair on Wheels maintains an online appointment book for each company it visits. Customers can set their appointments there, by phone or by just showing up during the hours Nolting maintains — 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. She employs eight stylists, and sends two to each company. Customers can request specific stylists, and if appointments overflow the schedule, she sends an extra stylist.

“I have children, and employ women who can be with their family nights and weekends because of this schedule,” Nolting said. “Stylists generally have to work nights and weekends.

“Our customers appreciate the service because it frees up their nights and weekends as well.”

Nolting said Hair on Wheels is almost profitable.”We’re about ready to turn the corner. I’ve been able to cover our expenses and employ eight stylists so far, and I hope that when we add two new customers, we’ll be able to make a profit. I’d like to add two companies by the end of the year, and then the next year pick up four.”

Nolting’s marketing plan has been fairly modest to date. She doesn’t have to worry about competition. “As far as I know, we’re the only company that does this,” she said. So she relies on cold calls, referrals and knocking on doors to solicit new clients. In addition, she says, “Our logo on the vans is as big as possible, so we’re rolling billboards.

“My philosophy is to cut everyone’s hair — from the CEO to the janitor — and so far that’s happening.”