Monday, May 19, 2008

PC Hair, Part II

I've gone to Studio 904 for so long that I pretty much know my way around, right down to where not to park in the parking lot, as in, NOT in the space nearest the door to the salon: after one visit, I came back out to a car windshield shellacked in bird doo from a gull's nest on the street lamp directly overhead.

Plus, it's on the Island, so I don't have to emit a lot of carbons to get there. But familiarity and proximity aren't my only reasons. My main reason is that, as hair places go, Studio 904 is politically correct.

I learned about politically correct hair salons on my first visit several years ago, as Marie softly snipped at my hair. She opened with the typical marketing question--"So this is your first time here? Why did you choose us?"

"My stylist got pregnant, so she's taking time off," I replied. "Which is for the best, anyhow, since I felt guilty getting a foil from her--you know, the fumes might hurt the baby … ."

"Oh, you're worried about that? Then maybe you'll like our hair care products. They're safe for the environment, no animal testing!"

The alarm sounded in my head. I knew I had to think fast if I was going to deflect a product pitch. The bronze plaque on the wall next to the mirror gave me an out.

"So, umm, why, exactly, did Studio 904 get a Better Business Bureau award?"

It worked--all I had to do from then on was sit back and listen. According to Marie, Studio 904 had forward-thinking business practices, paying stylists a steady salary rather than forcing them to rely on commissions. The beauty parlor business can be dependent on the holidays, wedding season, graduations; getting paid on commission makes for lean months during the lulls. Plus, the salon pays health and pension benefits to its workers, gives free hair cuts to low income kids, and has a good track record hiring and training minorities. Not only that, instead of tossing out hair, they send it to Matter of Trust to make hair mats to clean up oil spills.

They even had a no tipping policy--a principle reinforced by a placard at the checkout counter. It was too good to be true. Conscience-free haircuts, without the obsequious tip at the end? What a concept. I've gone back ever since, taken family members, told friends.

Most recently, I took my 86-year-old Aunt Elizabeth for a style, gloating to her on the drive over about the no-tipping policy. Ever skeptical, my aunt just had to check my facts.

"I hear there's no tipping," she blurted.

"No tipping?" The clerk looked confused. "Oh! Well, we abandoned that policy a year ago!"

Sighing, I reached for my wallet.