Daily photos by Brennen Smith|
Glenn Mitchell with Cheryl Brazelton of Huntsville at Red Jasper Salon in Decatur. Brazelton makes a monthly trip to Red Jasper Salon, and plans her whole day around it.
Offering a place to unwind
For high-end spa, it’s all about the mood
By Eric Fleischauer
It’s all about mood.
Make no mistake, Red Jasper Spa sells definable products: hair styling, pedicures, manicures, massages, clothing, hair products. But what brings people through the door is mood.
Red Jasper is a sanctuary. No phones ring, drapes protect clients from the stares of Second Avenue Southeast pedestrians, soft music erases the outside world.
A trio of women — all dressed in black — surround the client, murmuring softly, administering a hand massage and hair coloring.
Cheryl Brazelton of Huntsville is an attractive woman with dozens of foil strips in her hair.
The photo, she insists with a mock glare, must wait until after the foil is removed.
Glenn Mitchell, a stylist and the owner of Red Jasper, is busy painting coloring on the foil, then folding it into tight rolls.
Brazelton makes the monthly trek from Huntsville for a good haircut and coloring. But there is more to it.
“It’s very relaxing,” Brazelton said. “I plan my whole day around it. I turn off my cell phone for two to three hours. It’s a wonderful, personal splurge.”
Emily Pate organizes clothes at Red Jasper Spa on Second Avenue in Decatur.
The atmosphere that attracts Brazelton to Red Jasper is not an accident. It’s the result of the devoted attention of Mitchell and her 11-woman staff.
Creating quality steel, rockets or haircuts is not easy. Creating the right mood may be tougher yet. Put the wrong washer on a rocket, and quality control will catch it. An unpleasant tone in the words of a spa’s receptionist, however, is not retractable. The mood is ruined, and it’s all about mood.
“We try to make this a safe haven for our clients,” said Mitchell, “a place where they can come and relax and get pampered. They don’t have to worry about the kids, or what’s for dinner or the next project they have to complete for work.”
The décor of the 5,000-square-foot spa is a factor in creating the right mood, with muted colors and comfortable furniture. Music selection is important, Mitchell said. The hard part, though, is staffing.
“I’ve created a culture here that my clients count on,” Mitchell said. “If the culture is off that day, then that’s suicide for us. It needs to be consistent.”
That means that employees who cannot maintain a friendly attitude don’t last. Those staying know they must leave their own problems at home, devoting undivided attention to the client.
“We have to check our problems at the door. It can’t be, ‘Oh she’s not in a good mood today.’ These clients are here for an experience,” Mitchell explained. “It’s the same as if someone goes to the circus and the elephants are sick. You came to see the elephants. Not that the clowns aren’t funny, but elephants are what you came for.”
While Mitchell has a significant male clientele, her focus is on the unique needs of the female client.
“Women lead very high-stress lives, even women who don’t work,” Mitchell said, as she combs out Brazelton’s hair. “We generally do not take time to de-stress ourselves. Men will make sure they go play golf, or they’ll have poker night, or they’ll go to lunch with their buddies and let steam off. Women don’t.
“The only time many women get time off to themselves, to kind of unwind and de-stress and get away from everything, is when they get their hair done.”
How much of her business model revolves around providing that escape?
“One hundred percent,” said Mitchell, no hesitation.
It’s apparently working. Half of Mitchell’s clients are from Huntsville.
“There are good salons in Huntsville, but none that provide the whole experience,” Brazelton said, while analyzing herself in the mirror. “This is therapy for me.”
Downtown Decatur is becoming something of a Mecca for high-end salons and spas. Rather than creating fierce competition, said Kathy Braswell, who recently opened Braswell Hair-Skin-Body on Johnston Street Southeast, it’s made the downtown a destination point.
“There are probably 12 salons in the downtown area,” Braswell said.
“My clients really like the downtown area now, and some of them had never been here before. They go out to eat here, they go shopping. There’s plenty of hair for all of us.”
Like Mitchell, Braswell has many clients who come from as far away as Nashville for her services, packaged with a pleasant day in downtown Decatur.
“Business is wonderful,” Braswell said, “better than I ever expected.”
Mitchell is thrilled with her downtown location, but said she wishes the city would do more to advertise the area’s unique benefits.
“This downtown — and all of my Huntsville clients agree with me — has so much potential. We’re on the verge of creating something like in Franklin, Tenn., or Asheville, N.C., or Savannah, Ga.,” Mitchell said.
She thinks a more aggressive effort to publicize the area could attract an anchor store like Urban Outfitters or Anthropologie. Add some loft apartments, a pub and an ice cream shop, and people would come from long distances to visit.
“Next thing you know it’s a bustling community full of charm and character,” Mitchell said. “We have so much to offer that isn’t being taken advantage of because people don’t know it’s here.”
An important step in revitalizing the downtown, Mitchell believes, is coming up with ways to tie Bank Street Northwest to Second Avenue. She thinks the best way to do this would be with a trolley car that would facilitate pedestrians wanting to enjoy both downtown areas.
“The foot traffic on Second Avenue is great, but we’re not drawing in new people,” Mitchell said. “We need to sell ourselves better.”
Mitchell and Braswell do their part, making sure clients know of the stores and restaurants available downtown. A successful downtown improves the viability of their businesses, and their own success improves the downtown.
Studying Brazelton’s hair, patting it with an artist’s satisfaction, Mitchell ponders what has made her business so popular that it draws people from Huntsville and beyond.
“I’m ego-driven,” she said, smiling. “I really want to be the best. At the end of the day, I want to know that I have the best salon with the best staff that offers the best services. Accomplishing that is an ongoing journey, but I don’t compromise.”
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