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On the Hot Seat

There’s always room in the budget for a haircut

Josh Reynolds for the Globe

Scott Colabuono,

chief executive, Fantastic Sams International Corp.

The low-cost hair salon chain Fantastic Sams is keeping high-end company after being bought last year by Dessange International of France, which owns the upscale Dessange Paris day spas and ­Camille Albane Paris hair ­salons. The Beverly-based Fantastic Sams International Corp. has 1,200 franchises around North America, including 25 in New England, and intends to grow to 2,000 stores by 2020. Reporter Katie Johnston spoke with Fantastic Sams chief executive Scott Colabuono about where he gets his hair cut and how he plans to expand the two French brands in the United States.

First of all, who is Sam, and what made him so fantastic?

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Sam Ross was a barber from Brooklyn. He was one of the first entrepreneurs to debate within himself, “Why am I only dealing with men as a barber and hair salons are dealing with women? What can’t I do both?” So he and his wife packed up from Brooklyn and went to Memphis and he opened a unisex hair salon in 1974.

You’ve called the hair salon business “recession resistant,” noting that in the depths of the recession, some of your salons’ revenues rose by 10 percent.

In beauty, especially hair, it’s so important to our female guests, and men, too, these days, that they will find a way to budget dollars to come in, especially in the value category. They might not be able to spend $100 at the salon, but they can spend $50, so they come to us.

What does Fantastic Sams charge for men’s and women’s haircuts?

In most states, men’s and women’s haircuts have to be priced the same. It usually ranges between $14 and $17.

How does the acquisition by Dessange change things for Fantastic Sams?

We’re the only company that now has three brands that cover all categories of salon beauty. So we have value with Fantastic Sams. We have Camille Albane, which is for the urban woman looking for a luxury experience, very French. We’ll be focused on creating that certain Left Bank feeling for the women of the United States. And then of course we have the Dessange Paris brand, which is full day spa, full hair salon.

And you’re opening the first US Camille Albane salon on Newbury Street this month.

That will be the flagship for the brand here in the United States. We want to open 300 [and 30 Dessange salons] over the next five to eight years [in North America].

What’s the price point?

On Newbury Street, the price point is going to be around $90 average. And that’s only because it’s Newbury Street. The cost of Newbury Street is huge.

That’s a very new direction for Fantastic Sams.

They have 420 Camille Albanes around the world, 425 Dessanges around the world, but no penetration in the United States. From their point of view, it was better to come and buy an established brand with the capability to kick-start development of the other two brands in the United States.

Dessange and Camille Albane focus on a specific hair-cutting technique.

Razor cutting is their sweet spot. It’s a tousled look, so you can shake your head and it all goes back to where it’s supposed to be.

Where do you get your hair cut?

I actually get it cut in the training center [in Beverly].

Is it free

It’s free, and then we pay a tip.

I imagine you give a good tip.

I do. I’ve always given hairdressers a good tip. I also try the competition. For example, this haircut, I went to a barber in Marblehead, where I live, to try their service to see what’s different.

And what did you find out?

It was a pleasant experience. I can’t say it’s any better or worse than ours.

So do you go to Supercuts or Great Clips?

No.

I hear you pay attention to trends and red carpet hairstyles. Is there an “it” hairstyle this year?

It’s the natural look of the tousled style.

I’m guessing the natural tousled look doesn’t work for you.

No, it doesn’t. And I’ve already been told [by my wife], if I get my hair colored, I can just stay at work.

Katie Johnston can be reached at kjohnston@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @ktkjohnston.
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