Backstage

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Gold & Arrow

Gold & Arrow
Portland, Oregon

When Gretchen Hotz decided to open her Portland salon, Gold & Arrow, she focused on more than just the physical appearance: “We understand that the ‘design’ doesn’t stop with the color of the paint on the walls,” she says. “We make every effort to make our clients' entire experience special. From the way they check out, to the brand of wine we serve, to the inspirational sayings on our gift certificates...everything matters.” Along with being the owner and a stylist, Holtz calls herself a “Jill-of-all-trades,” noting that she also functions as manager, inventory taker, errand girl, interior designer, florist, cleaner and more (with the help of her fantastic staff, of course). The one thing she doesn’t do? “I’m lucky to have my husband, Chris, do the financials,” she says. “And being a designer himself, he’s great to bounce ideas off of for the salon’s interior and collateral.” We talked to Hotz about the personal nature of the salon’s name, its emphasis on customer service and why even the smallest details are important.


How would you describe your salon’s design?


When we designed the salon, we took great care in blending a modern aesthetic with a feeling of warmth and friendliness. A salon should feel clean, but not clinical.

How did you come up with the salon’s name?


Oh boy, that’s a big question. A name can make or break a business. All at once it has to convey a feeling, an expectation, a little mystery, a familiarity and an aspiration. That’s no easy task. When picking the name for the salon, we truly believed, and still do, that it had to have something personal to us. Names like Shear Pleasure or Hairgasm are clever, but we don’t believe that they’re correct for the type of personality we wanted to convey. So we looked close to our hearts. The “ARROW” comes from our son’s name, which is Eero (pronounced “arrow”), and the “GOLD” comes from my great grandmother’s name, “Goldie”. She owned her own salon during the Depression back in Kansas City and, from the stories we’ve heard about her, she seemed like the talk of the town.

How did you come up with your vision? And how did you make it a reality?


We came up with the vision for the salon by combining all the good things from the previous places I had worked at with our love of design. For instance: work flow, being very picky when it came to the stylists that we employ, having a place that makes you comfortable when you walk in, understanding how important the receptionists are and making sure we exceed our clients' expectations. Once we agreed on those major things, we dove into the little details that take a salon from good to great (i.e. quality towels in the bathroom, hooks for clients' purses that don’t scratch leather, power cords for iPhones, iPads and computers); things that make the entire salon experience convenient and well thought-out.

How did we make it a reality? I make lists for everything, so we started with all the “have-to-haves", "nice-to-haves" and "don’t-want-to-haves.” Once we could see things in those terms, we simply prioritized what and when we wanted everything. That process started back in February of 2011. Within a few months we knew what we were after and started looking for the right location; something with a good amount of walk-by traffic, great neighbors, close to coffee (this is Portland, after all), an up-and-coming neighborhood, good parking and close to other places people visit (here in Portland, there is a huge food-cart scene; thousands of people pour out of their places of work at lunchtime and make their way just a block away from the salon).

Tell us how you got started on your design.


We signed the papers and started tearing up the existing interior in June 2011. Because we gutted the entire interior, we had to start from scratch, including ripping out 100-year-old ceilings. When we first poked our heads above the original drop ceiling, we found another drop ceiling (go figure?). Once we got above that, we found the original ceiling of beautifully exposed timbers and exposed brick on the west wall. Once we saw that, there was no way we couldn’t yank down the ceilings. Now the reception/waiting area has 20-foot ceilings and 32 custom-made hanging lights. At night it looks like a cross between a starry sky and those candle-lit paper lanterns from India. Beautiful!

After the initial rough interior was done, we collaborated with our friend Brooks Howald to build all of the stations and reception area. We eventually opened the salon in September 2011. We keep things fresh by consistently changing the front window design with spring, summer, autumn and holiday-specific designs.

What feeling/mood are you trying to convey to your clients?


That’s sort of a two-part answer: As simple as this sounds, the feeling we want to convey to our clients is “family.” It’s such a compliment when a client just stops by to say “hello”. When that happens, we know things are going well.

We also want people to be inspired. We want to expose people to something new, be it a band they’ve never heard of, a new local painter they’ve never seen, a new admiration for tattoos, a new flavor of tea, or a new way to use the extra 15 minutes they gained by showing up just a tad early. We want them to want to come back and enjoy every minute that they’re in the salon.

What was the space before you moved in?


When we first saw the space, it was an architectural office that was being split into two storefronts. We got super lucky with our neighbors: Award-winning chef/restaurateur Chris Israel had opened Grüner a few years earlier right around the corner and, as it turns out, he was opening an overflow bar, Kask, in the second storefront. Since then, one of Portland’s most popular breakfast places, Tasty & Sons, opened another location three doors down. And just a block away Canoe and Alder & Co. (modern housewares), Lardo (gourmet sandwich shop), Petunia’s (vegan bakery), Blue Star (fancy donuts), Poler (hip camping gear) and Saint Cupcake (delicious cupcakes/bakery) have all opened their doors.

How does the design reflect and/or contradict the city/neighborhood you’re in?


I’d say Portland’s West End is made up of a collection of very proud-to-be-Portlanders. The neighborhood has only one chain store and has been holding onto its independent roots for as long as I can remember. “Good things for good people”…that’s sort of the thread throughout the neighborhood.

But if we’re talking about the design of the salon, I’d have to give a big pat on the back to Portland in general. We’re one of the most design-forward cities in the country, and we try very strongly to keep that up. And along those lines, let’s face it, the weather in Portland is famously poor (to put it kindly). It rains a lot here, and I mean A LOT. We spend a large amount of time inside—reading, writing, playing music, being creative—and because of that, we’ve nurtured our own sense of style and fashion. And we’re proud of it. It’s a big part of who we are as a city.

How does the design reflect YOU?


I’d have to say the design reflects me by combining a love of architecture, design and creativity.

What’s your favorite part of the salon?


We have a communal table that separates the reception area from the work stations. Besides being beautifully built from recycled pier timber, it’s the place in the salon where you can always find someone catching up on emails, reading a magazine or playing a game of backgammon (bring your skills). In fact, a boyfriend of a client enjoys the table area so much he’ll often stop by during his lunch hour just to hang out.

What’s the most unique aspect of your salon?


We have some beautiful art pieces by an artist named Emily Bixler. She, for lack of a better word, “wove” an incredible divider that separates the reception/music area from the work stations. It even says the salon’s name in the piece and, at night, we back-light it so passersby can see how beautiful the space is.

Other than the physical design of the space, how do you create your desired atmosphere in the salon?


Jeez, where do I start? This goes back to understanding that your “design” is more than what your space simply looks like; it has to be an experience. For example, noticing things as simple as making sure the waiting area isn’t as bright as the work area. Depending on the time of the day, we either brighten or dim the waiting area to make sure clients don’t feel like they’re in a fishbowl. We encourage our stylists to bring their own playlists or albums to play on our record player. Depending on the time of year, we set up pop-up shops selling local or seasonally relevant items.

If you could have a fashion designer create uniforms for your salon, who would it be?


Tommy Bahama (just kidding)...I’d have to say Isabel Marant because she has a way of mixing vintage styles with modern cuts.

What are customers’ first reactions when they enter your salon?


Well, I can’t say for sure, but recently I had a first-time client tell me she just couldn’t stop staring at everything. She kept saying, “Everywhere I look there’s something beautiful.” There’s no better compliment than when we have people walk into the salon and ask if it’s OK to take photos. When that happens, it makes my day!

Do you serve food/alcohol in your salon? If so, what?


We serve Pelligrino waters and sodas, Mexican Cokes, Steven Smith teas, Stella Artois beer and wine. As with everything else, our choices in beverages reflect our belief that every decision we make impacts the experience our clients have. So, let’s indulge in the best stuff out there!

What is your retail area like? How does the setup help in selling products?


We have what we believe is a unique perspective on how to sell products. We don’t have them plastered in front of the windows with tons of point-of-sale knickknacks. We want potential clients to feel like they’re walking into someplace special rather than a Sally’s or the “Hair Products” aisle in their local supermarket. By integrating the product into the waiting area, we encourage people to come in and experience the salon when buying product. We make sure our receptionists take every product knowledge class so that they can be as helpful to a retail customer as the stylists are to a service client.

How do you encourage team bonding?


We have such an amazing family of stylists that we all enjoy doing things beyond work. We recently had a sushi birthday party for one of our stylists at our home and rented a cabin up on Mt. Hood. Employees, husbands, boyfriends, kids, dogs...everyone was invited.

Do you ever host events in your salon?


We periodically have art shows with music, food and drinks.
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