October 6, 2008 | last updated May 26, 2012 5:54 am

Fantastic Sams To Open Salons In Region | Franchise counts on bargain-priced haircuts to attract customers in down economy

As many businesses look to scale back during the current economic crisis, others see it as the best time to expand.

Fantastic Sams, with more than 1,400 locations nationwide and annual sales of $400 million, expects to open between 12 and 15 new salons in the Greater Hartford by 2013.

The company has identified the markets of Manchester/Vernon and Glastonbury/Wethersfield as potential new locations for their salons.

The chain has been aggressively expanding its brand nationwide in recent years, opening 90 in 2007.

"At its core, we are a pretty stable service," said Jeff Sturgis, vice president of franchise sales and development for Fantastic Sams. "People are always going to get their hair cut."

Because Fantastic Sams is a "value" hair salon, according to Sturgis, it is well-positioned to be successful even if the economy continues to pinch the wallets of its customers.

Bargain Haircuts

"If you're a professional male, you're still going to have to keep your hair short," Sturgis said. "Maybe instead of every three weeks, you get it cut every five weeks. But it's still something you're going to do."

Sturgis also gave the example of a woman coloring her hair. While she will continue to color her hair, she might do so less frequently and look to save money when she does.

The reason Hartford has been eyed by Fantastic Sams officials for expansion is quite simply because there's a gap in the state, he explained.

"We have a strong concentration of salons, about 28, between Boston and Providence," Sturgis said. "And we have stores in New York. What we're looking to do is focus on filling in the gaps and Connecticut is a big one."

Currently, there is only one Fantastic Sams' location in Connecticut, which operates in Groton.

The parent company's expansion plans are moving forward in the state because it regained development rights from a franchisee who had rights in Rhode Island and Connecticut, but failed to build in Connecticut.

"The area is now under direct corporate control," Sturgis said of Connecticut. "Our next step is to identify individuals and do some market research about where we'd like to be."

The ideal location for a new salon, Sturgis ascertained, is a "grocery-anchored plaza" that would ideally have a pizza place, a UPS store and a dry cleaner, for example. "A one-stop type of place; that's where we want to be," he said.

Demographics of the Hartford region are another draw for the company as Sturgis asserted that their typical customer is middle to upper-middle income families and, he added, "There's a lot of that in Hartford."

Franchisees Wanted

It will take between six months and a year for Fantastic Sams to identify the new franchisees that will operate in the state. The perfect scenario would be to find franchisees willing to open between three and five salons, opening one per year.

"With that plan, it would take three to five years to complete the full build-out," Sturgis said. "We like an owner to have more than one location so you're not starting from scratch each time. And we have a good support system in place with the stores in Boston and New York."

As for the advertising, do not expect to see a wide-spread marketing campaign on television.

"It's all local," Sturgis said. "We tried to focus in on about a three-mile radius around the location with a lot of direct marketing to possible customers. We want to get into the neighborhood, by sponsoring a Little League team for example, and becoming part of the community."

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