“Judy Stearns was like a mother to me. I worked in her salon for 19 years and then had to have brain surgery. She was there every step of the way for me. She had heart issues, and a year after my surgery she passed,” explains Josh Piecuch, co-manager of Judy Jetson salon (Cambridge, MA). “I think my brain and her heart challenges created a special bond between us. After she died, I just wanted to keep her legacy alive. If this salon closed, it would be like losing her all over again,” explains Piecuch.
“I have worked with Judy since I was 21, and a year before she passed, she was front row at my wedding. She was one of the first people in Josh’s hospital room when he woke up from surgery. Judy was so excited to meet a stylist’s baby, that she just showed up at the ultrasound,” describes Carmi Skahan, another co-manager of Judy Jetson (with the salon 16 years). “She lived and celebrated our life events right along with us. Judy was our close friend and she made each of us a member of her family,” explains Skahan.
When Stearns died, the salon was put in a trust for her son Gus Johnson (then, 16 years old). The arrangement is that estate lawyers pay the bills while Piecuch and Skahan run the business. Her passing and COVID-19 coming soon after were a disastrous combination for the small business. Piecuch and Skahan, along with an incredibly loyal-to-Stearns staff are determined to keep it alive. Several employees have worked at Judy Jetson for over 25 years.
Stearns made a point to clearly communicate to her team how much they were valued, and it created a strong family-like atmosphere in the salon. “When you have a salon owner who loves and respects you, it makes you love and respect the salon you’re a part of, and Carmi and I wanted to emulate that business model,” says Piecuch.
“Judy opened her salon in 1986, on her own, and ran it her way. Judy didn’t follow traditional business advice; she didn’t like rules. She had great intuition and vision, and she emphasized the things that were important to her in a shop. She knew what worked,” explains Skahan. “After she passed, there was a manager who wanted to run the business in a more structured traditional way, but it failed. Judy’s methods worked for over 3 decades, so when Josh and I took over, we wanted to highlight the things she did that made it such a success,” she adds.
Stearns loved the animated show The Jetsons for its bold, innovative, progressive, and futuristic look. “The Freestylists Judy installed are bold and ultramodern. They look like they belong right next to the machine that styled Jane Jetson’s hair, the coif-a-dome,” adds Skahan who believes it complements the conversation-starting unusual artwork perfectly. The show-stopping system suspends blow dryers from the ceiling keeping the salon clean, organized and very high-tech. Piecuch, who before using the system was going to physical therapy for his shoulder, is pain-free and once again drying with a smile. “I love the Freestylist, it’s a far superior system compared to having to hold the weight of a traditional hair dryer, so it’s a pleasure to work with,” he adds.
There were also some challenges to overcome:
- After Stearns passed, the salon team went from 15 to seven, forcing the co-managers to aggressively hire and train multiple team members. It was crucial to Piecuch to vet candidates correctly so they would fit and communicate well with the rest of the team to preserve the coveted family sense of the salon.
- With team members went guests. “We get 8–16 walk-ins a week, but due to our location, they’re mostly transients with little loyalty,” says Piecuch, who directed the focus to in-chair referrals for better results.
- To help stylists build their clientele, the co-managers have been pushing stylists to try to post an image a week on @judyjetsonhair to promote themselves, their work, and the salon.
- Individual chats are held with all staff to let them know how important they are to the salon. It helps create a mutually beneficial relationship, showing them how they can make more money, and makes them feel like they are part of a strong inclusive community. Stearns would be proud!
“It’s important to know why your business is successful and never forget your original business model. Stay true to the core of what makes you and your business special; don’t let outside forces convince you to alter your path to success,” add Piecuch and Skahan.