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Brothers aim to bring European styling here

Rochester Business Journal
June 28, 2013

When W Salon LLC opened in Pittsford last month, its first customers came from Birmingham, England. They arrived to mark two brothers' decision to start their own business.
 
The decor of the 4,300-square-foot salon on Monroe Avenue, with the Union Jack and old photographs from across the Atlantic, is an ode to British-born brothers Simon and Jonathan Webb's heritage. Previously hairstylists at Shear Ego Salon, the siblings and Simon Webb's wife, Maggie, aim to bring European styling to Rochester.
 
"I reached a point at Shear Ego where I was busy all the time and I just needed something else ... more responsibility, maybe," Simon Webb says. "I've got three boys and I was thinking maybe one of them will want to get into the family business in the fourth generation."
 
The Webb brothers come from a line of hairdressers.
 
"Basically my grandmother on my mum's side and my grandfather on my father's side were both hairdressers and that's how my parents met," Simon Webb says. "So I've always been around the hair industry. When I was young my parents had a flat above the shop, so my weekends would be in the flat upstairs with my grandmother, because that was where she lived, while they worked."
 
Though Jonathan Webb helped out in his father's salon as a teenager, Simon Webb wanted to buck the trend.
 
"I tried to work in a garden center, but I would see how much tips my brother would make and I would go, 'He makes that much for working one day?' and I said, 'Forget that, I'm going to go and work there,'" Simon Webb recalls. "I was 17 and I walked into the business and from the first day I said, 'This is what I have to do.'"
 
He joined his brother at Peter Webb, the salon bearing his father's name. The international hair world knows Peter Webb well. Not only does he have ties to big names such as Vidal Sassoon and celebrities whose hair he has styled over the years, Peter Webb has won awards across Europe and was a World Supreme Champion, a title won at the International Beauty Show. A trip brought him to the United States in the early 1960s.
 
"A group of businessmen from Rochester asked him to come up to Rochester and do some teaching, how he did his styles," Simon Webb says. "My dad was what, 20, and he didn't know what Rochester was-he thought it was New York City."
 
Over the next few decades, Peter Webb traveled back and forth, teaching his craft to many a young hairstylist, until an opportunity to become a partner in Shear Ego surfaced.
 
"My dad was 51 at the time. I was like, 'I don't want to go to America,'" Simon Webb says. "But he moved and my brother (Jonathan) always wanted to live in America.
 
"My brother and my father kind of moved here and left my mother and myself in England. Then my mother decided to move out to America, leaving me running the family business in England. But then I was there by myself."
 
Simon Webb missed his family, eventually following them to Rochester in 1995 and joining his brother and father-now retired-at Shear Ego.
 
"I initially came here for six weeks," Simon Webb says.
 
He has come a long way from pining for home and from his early days in hair design. The industry and the opportunity to transform appearances feed his creativity.
 
"I love making people feel good," Simon Webb says. "I love changing someone. And it doesn't happen as much as you'd like, but you can really alter someone's whole life by their hair. You can make a meek timid person into a movie star just by changing their hair."
 
He relies on his training. In England, hairstylists spend three years in apprenticeship before they graduate to getting their own customers. The Webbs hope to establish that culture at their salon with a focus on experience (and a healthy dose of dry English wit).
 
"In America, you go to school for seven months and they give you a license," Jonathan Webb says. "In England, you get a license based on experience; people come to you because of what you do. ... In England, we take that and they have to assist us for a certain amount of time after that."
 
Though Simon Webb notes some local high-end salons do place an emphasis on training, of the quick ticket to hair styling at smaller places, he quips: "You're basically practicing on paying customers."
 
Training or no training, Rochester traditionally has been conservative when it comes to fashion. Bigger cities, like New York, London, Milan and Paris, adopt new styles as they emerge. The younger generation is changing that locally, Jonathan Webb says.
 
"I just think (the U.S. is) such a big country, so it takes a long time," he says. "You go to Manhattan, you to go L.A., it's different. It's only because the country is so big. If you go to England, it's as big as New York State; fashion travels a lot further, it travels a lot quicker."
 
Fashion is linked closely to hair, W Salon's owners say.
 
"It does relate to hair because in this business you've got to make sure you do it very well-making something classic is actually a lot harder than making it funky," Jonathan Webb says. "We pride ourselves on classic styles rather than outrageously funky, which we can do as well, but I'd rather cut something that would last a long time than something that's in and out."
 
Though the Webbs have had their fair share of outrageous requests, the owners want to ensure that a hairstyle suits a lifestyle, be it a classic bob or long layered tresses.
 
"We want to be high end, but we don't want to be pretentious at the same time," Simon Webb says.
 
"A boutique salon," Maggie Webb says.
 
Haircuts at W Salon start at $40. A 15-minute express service costs $20 for a quick style for a night on the town or a formal event. The shop expects to add spa services to the space, which once was Thrillz Spa & Salon. A drybar, a quick blow-dry service that is the rage in bigger cities, also is in the works once W Salon is fully staffed.
 
The owners hope to grow the team to eight stylists, a size that will still help them attend to their customers. Local celebrities, politicians and others so far have followed the Webbs to their new venture. New clients, some of whom want to reignite their "English connection," also have trickled in. (I did try to coax the Webbs to name a few celebrities. I have to say, hairstylists can be pretty tight-lipped and protective of their clients.)
 
As of mid-June, some four weeks after it opened, the salon had seen 550 people. It already takes a week and a half to get an appointment with one of the Webb brothers. To maintain the right balance between individualized attention and number of customers, Simon Webb says 40 to 50 customers a week would be the right kind of busy.
 
Training will remain central to the business, the Webbs say. They hope to launch a cross-training effort with friends who own salons in the U.K., so that W Salon's staff can get a breadth of experience.
 
Above all, W Salon's owners want to do what they know best, with a long-lasting impact.
 
"A test of time for me is Audrey Hepburn (in) 'Breakfast at Tiffany's': the simple black dress," Jonathan Webb says. "No matter how many generations it goes through, it's always going to be in fashion. ... I think what we base ourselves on is years of structure, of what we know works over a long period of time, rather than reinventing the wheel."
 
Smriti Jacob is associate editor at the Rochester Business Journal. She may be reached at sjacob@rbj.net or (585) 546-8303.

6/28/13 (c) 2013 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email service@rbj.net.
 


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