With the fast pace of life these days, time and money are the currencies that matter most, making express bars extremely popular. Wendy Bélanger, Sam Villa ambassador, international Redken artist and owner of Influence. The Salon, opened Identity. The Express Bar @identityexpressbar in December 2023—a one-stop beauty bar in Calgary, Alberta, offering express services at a reasonable price.
What inspired you to open a beauty bar?
I was traveling a lot, educating through North America, and I would come home and have 48 hours to do all my “maintenance” before leaving again. I was driving to the south end of the city for my eyebrows, the north end for my lashes, then needing a root touch-up and a blow-dry, and finding I just didn’t have enough time to drive everywhere and coordinate appointments. I always felt rushed and disorganized and thought, “Why aren’t we doing this all under one roof?”
What experiences do you offer in the beauty bar?
We put small, individual express bars all under one roof.
Root touch-up bar: $48 for a root touch-up up to 1 inch. Perfect for the woman who needs a touch-up within 2–3 weeks and doesn’t want to wait until her next salon visit. Guests can leave after their hair is rinsed or they can head downstairs and book into the blow-dry bar.
Brow bar: A quick eyebrow cleanup with threading or tweezing.
Blow-dry bar: $48 for a beautiful blow-dry that will last for a week—no need for doing hair at home!
Boutique: We like to support local artists in fashion and jewelry. This area is ever-changing
Makeup: A top artist in the industry is on-call to do makeup.
Champagne and coffee bar: Who doesn’t like bubbles?
Hair treatments, and more!
How is it different than your current business: Influence. The Salon?
Identity is an express bar; we do not offer full services like cuts or lightening services. It’s a place to go in between visits to the salon. For example, a woman books an average of eight visits to the salon every year. Many times, halfway between visits, they wish they could have someone else do their hair, or don’t want to wait another couple of weeks before they can get their roots covered. Now, they don’t have to!
Were there any challenges in opening a second location?
Opening any business has its challenges. The hardest part was opening during the busy season of the year (December). I felt like I couldn’t take my eye off the prize or my foot off the gas at Influence. The Salon (my current company), yet I had to train and prepare to introduce and execute a whole new concept for the express bar. I had to be clear on my business plan, vision, and be sure that I wasn’t taking away from my existing business, physically or financially.
How does the staffing differ in each location?
One of the biggest things we’re proud of is how staffing has gone for this project. In this industry, it’s hard for new salon professionals to come out of school and find a job. Often, it’s hard for a salon owner to offer jobs to new stylists because they don’t have the budget to support the added overhead. Also, new salon professionals can often find themselves being hired in a salon as the “help,” where they are not actually doing hair. They are sweeping and cleaning, which often leads to loss of confidence and quitting the industry.
At Identity. The Express Bar, we hire new salon professionals, 8–10 at a time, and their hands are in hair immediately. They’re trained extensively in our program and culture, and we are able to create so many job opportunities.
How important is salon environment, location, and tool selection?
Literally everything matters. We have complementary heated underground parking, pretty much unheard of in a downtown location. And we’re located three doors down from our sister salon Influence. The Salon, strategically done so if something full-service is needed for a guest, we can accommodate that too.
Each of our stations in both the salon and beauty bar has a Professional Light Ionic Blow Dryer, Signature Series Sleekr Professional Straightening Iron, and Textur Professional Texturizing Iron and Spring 1" Curling Iron. We have to be ready for anything our guests need.
When I am on stage, or doing any high-profile hair, I always make sure I have Sam Villa tools in my kit. Why would we treat our guests in the salon any different? I used to wonder if people would find them too expensive to purchase, but what I’ve learned is if something performs, price doesn’t matter. And trust me when I tell you Sam Villa tools perform!
The most unique tool we have for sure is the Textur iron. Women are always backcombing their hair for volume which isn’t great for hair. When you compress hair at the base of the crown of the head with the Textur iron, it acts like a spring that lifts hair and it stays until your next shampoo. It’s literally magic!
Our tagline is, “Use what I use, and do what I do, and your hair will look like it does when I do it.” There is not a thing that we use on a guest’s hair that we don’t offer for them to take home to recreate the look.