The Sweetest Cut (And Color)


By Anna Yukhananov
Special to the Mirror-Spectator

BELMONT, Mass. — It’s a rainy Saturday afternoon, but inside Robert’s Salon, it is an oasis of soft jazz and the soft candy smell of hair product. Stylists on break mingle with customers near the complimentary coffee and cookies.

“You and your wife are magical,” a customer tells Robert Berberian as she pays at the front desk. “I’ll be back.”
Berberian said that as a teenager, he never imagined he would end up here: a master hair stylist and colorist and, with his wife, co-owner of his own salon.

When he was a senior in high school, Berberian said that he did not know what to do.
“My father suggested, why don’t you go to hair dressing school?” Berberian said. “To tell you the truth, that’s the last thing I wanted to do.”

But after visiting several salons and shadowing stylists, he decided to try it.
“I was always a neat, clean type of kid, not into automotive repairs,” he said. “I liked the concept of the business. And I liked that it was clean.”

After a stint at Mansfield Beauty Academy, Berberian got a job at Dellaria. His very first customer was a girl with long hair, who wanted to go short.

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“I sat her down in the chair and she started crying,” Berberian said. “Oh my God, she was bawling. I didn’t know what to do. She wasn’t mad at me. It’s just very emotional.”

While hair styling technique took some time to acquire, Berberian said he was always business-minded. At the age of 24, he opened his own salon, in Arlington. Twenty years later, he bought space for his 2,500-square-foot salon in Belmont, to avoid paying high rent.

He said businessmen today need a college background to deal with the myriad tasks of small business ownership — from handling leases and employee benefits, to learning how to motivate and keep employees.

“Sometimes you can be a good hairdresser, but that doesn’t mean you know how to run a business,” Berberian said. “A lot of successful salons aren’t even owned by hair stylists.”

Keeping Customers Happy

In his more than 30 years in the business, Berberian’s recipe for success has stayed the same: make the customer happy.

“Client retention is what keeps a salon successful,” he said. “It’s all about customer service. The best advertising is word of mouth.”

From their first step in the door, Berberian said customers could be turned off: by the décor, an unfriendly receptionist, a bad hairstyle or even the music.

Berberian said he and his wife, Elizabeth, try to create a comfortable and soothing environment.
“We want to avoid snootiness,” Elizabeth Berberian said. “People shouldn’t come in here more stressed than they already are.”

With its marble, mirror-lined walls and faux-Greek ornate frames, the salon’s interior decoration was so distinctive as to catch the eye of a Hollywood producer, Berberian said. He loves to tell the story of how “My Best Friend’s Girl” chose Robert’s Salon to shoot scenes with Kate Hudson and Dane Cook.

“I think they liked the individual mirrors,” he said. He had to close the salon for three days for the shooting.
While hair styles have changed — from perms and Dorothy Hamill-looks, to carotene treatment for curls and long locks — Robert Berberian said most women still want the same thing: a warm experience and a flattering style.

Despite the recession, “the last thing most women will give up is their hair,” he said. “When you look good, you feel good.”

Robert’s Salon is located on Leonard Street in Belmont Center.

Robert and Elizabeth Berberian, proprietors of Robert’s Salon.

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