Van Council, owner of Van Michael Salons, has built an exceptional brand from the ground up and spills on how he sustains the prime spot.
Shot on location at Hotel Colee Styled by Lauren Amos and team at ANT/DOTE
Van Michael is the hottest salon in Georgia, and, to many, arguably the best salon in the country. Gracing us with his charm and talent is the founder and owner himself, Van Council. Council has spent over 40 years building a legacy that will last beyond his lifetime. I sat down with the fashion-forward businessman for lunch, and as he strolled in with his black suit, his neck adorned with three chains, and a slight grin on his face, his joy radiated. I imagine his permanent grin being the fact he so humbly has created a multipurpose, multimillion-dollar salon from scratch and the name continues to hold weight in a fiercely competitive and dynamic industry. Though his personal accolades are well deserved, his primary focus is on uplifting and elevating his staff, who are family to him. When asked about his team, he tells us:
“The salon is just a building without the team, so they mean everything! Out of our 375 employees, we have over 120 people with 10 years or more of tenure. Without them and the rest of the team, it would just be an empty building.”
"I like to think of our training program as the Navy Seals training of cut and color." –Van Council
Even with much wisdom to share, Council listens with just as much fervency. The entrepreneur has traveled to every corner of the world and is well versed in every hair texture and type. When speaking of the most memorable moments, he shares, “In 1998, I had two major hair shows that forever changed me. The first was at Radio City Music Hall where I was onstage in front of 7,000 people. Just feeling the magnitude and history of that stage is really something. The other was performing at Royal Albert Hall in London.”
However, the four-time North American Hairdresser of the Year award winner explains his legacy was not created overnight. He began his journey over 40 years ago in cosmetology school, but notes that the education during that time was limited and not quite the sharpest regarding hair. “Honestly, I didn’t have a clue what I was doing when I started beauty school, and truly, I feel that it didn’t prepare me hardly at all for what I was going to experience in the salon. I really don’t believe that most schools now are teaching what people really need to be successful behind the chair. Everyone really should go to a salon where there is an extended training program for a year or two. When I was starting out, I really went to every advanced cutting class that I could, including in Paris and London. If I wasn’t behind the chair I was going to every show and cutting class possible.”
He perfected his ability to tame manes by being dedicated and providing the best haircare to each and every client he had the opportunity to fellowship with. When asked how he knew it was time to develop a salon of his own, he shares, “Well, I had been cutting [hair] for eight years behind the chair and all of the salons that I had worked at were extremely unorganized and unprofessional. So, when I started to look for a new job, I started to understand that I needed one that offered good benefits and a 401K program. It was clear that didn’t exist, so I decided that I wanted to start a salon that did off er those things and that it would further support that hairdressing was a legitimate profession and career path with high earning potential for people to choose.” Being aware of his creative impact and value, Council recognized a gap in the industry and was able to forge a way to alleviate that not only for himself, but for aspiring cosmetologists as well.
Upon opening his first salon, expansion was not at the forefront of consideration. Council was content with the relationships he’d cultivated with his acquired clientele. However, in order to accommodate the incoming demand, he was convinced to extend his reach. Now, his salons combined include almost 400 staff members across eight establishments, including his barbershop, Van Michael Men. The expert has effectively achieved the balance of ensuring the customer experience is consistent across markets. He shares that during one of his many visits to the Four Seasons, he quickly observed that consistency was a characteristic necessary for sustained success as his endeavors were expanding, hence his implementation of proper preparation. Council explains that his prospective staff must go through intensive training to be a part of his select team. “The thing that I know for sure that is diff erent from any other program is that, as a company, we spend $400K a year on the training program. Then, I like to think of our training program as the Navy Seals training of cut and color.”
“It’s not easy, but when you’re finished with it, you will be among the strongest hairdressers in the world. Aveda really plays a part in this too. We hire some of the best talent from the Aveda Institutes, but also, Aveda Corporation just offers us so much with their support for advanced training.” The courses include proper training on technique and customer service skills. However, Council’s legacy does not end there; he has 36 franchises in Tokyo that stemmed from his time participating in hair shows in Japan. “In 1986, I was the artistic director for Joico and they had me doing shows all over the world, including Japan. A group of Japanese salon owners approached me and started the conversation. Now, we have been in the partnership for over 20 years.”
It could be said that Council must have an infinite amount of energy and endurance to achieve such a feat, which may be because in the few spare hours he is not quality checking his locations ensuring he maintains the top spot, he is biking 20 hours per week and paddling for five! Where there is success, the importance of health and wellness is never too far behind. The Van Michael team is continually anticipating effective ways to serve and provide convenience to their clients. Recently, this forward-thinking mindset has manifested itself in the form of the Van Michael Salon app so clients can book their appointments directly on their phones. Though the evolution and innovation of Van Michael Salons is paramount, giving back, providing opportunities and trailblazing for those to come after him will continue to be the central priority for Council.
Cut by Brandon Darragh; Color by Joey Hooten; Makeup by Diana Jaurez; Talent provided by Click Models
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Photography by: Patrick Heagney