Growing up in a blue-collar suburb of Philadelphia, Joseph Silvestera wasn’t exactly a typical neighborhood kid. While other kids were learning how to fix motorcycles, Silvestera was cutting his friends' hair. Now, at 34, he's thriving with his own East Village (New York) salon, called Blackstones. He also has a "green" hair product line on the way and a book in the planning phase.
Situated in Manhattan next to McSorley’s ale house, Blackstones has an Old World feel, with mounted animal heads and skins hanging on the walls along with old-fashioned barbershop accessories. (The hair salon name comes from Harry Blackstone, a famous magician from the 1930s.)
Blackstones is unique compared with the larger salons typically found in New York City, Silvestera told BusinessNewsDaily.
“I came from a bigger hair salon, where it’s 'Get 'em in, get 'em out,' more factory- like,” Silvestera said. The atmosphere of a typical New York salon is “pretty sterile, simple, minimalistic,” he said.
In coming up with the vision for Blackstones, Silvestera said he was “trying to make something a little cozier, more down to earth, less attitude, completely different environment and experience overall.”
“I started cutting hair when I was about 16,” Silvestera said. “It was the late ‘80s and everybody wanted very specific haircuts; the old barbers that we went to couldn’t execute what we wanted.”
To solve this problem, Silvestera bought a pair of clippers and started cutting his friends' hair on the weekends. At first it was just the guys, but soon he started cutting girls’ hair as well.
While cutting hair might sound like an odd pastime for a teenage boy, Silvestera grew up in hair salons. Among others in his family, two of Silvestera’s aunts are hairdressers.
But before realizing that cutting hair was his passion, Silvestera tried out other potential careers, including taxidermy, for which he went to school when he was 19. At 21 he opened his first business, a tanning salon, with a partner. After trying out other ways to make a living, including managing restaurants, Silvestera embarked on the path to becoming a hairstylist.
“I would go to my hairdresser all the time, and I would talk to him about hair and finally one day it dawned on me what I really wanted to do,” Silvestera said.
Silvestera began his journey at Tony & Guy, where he learned how to cut hair, followed by a job as general manager for Mudhoney, a hair salon company, where he started up salons. In 2005, Silvestera opened his first salon with a partner, called Beauty Parlour, located inside the ABC Carpet store in Manhattan, before venturing out on his own in 2007, opening Blackstones that February.
The transition from Beauty Parlour to Blackstones was “pretty crazy,” Silvestera said. Beauty Parlour’s lease ran out at the end of December, which meant the new salon, Blackstones, needed to open at the beginning of February.
“If you go any more than six weeks, you’re going to lose your business,” Silvestera said. (Clients typically come in for a haircut or trim every six weeks.)
“We basically did a ground-floor startup just to get the door open and then it was pretty much just a shell for the first three months; we continued to layer the interior over the course of the next year,” Silvestera said.
Blackstones now sees about 125 clients a week, which at approximately $150 a cut ,comes out to respectable annual revenue.
“I literally can envision anything … that’s the first part of the idea,” Silvestera said. “It’s all imagery in my head, and then I start talking about it and then it cultivates into something else and then I see more visions and then it starts the tape rolling,” he said.
But Silvestera knows that a vision won’t make a business successful and he’s well aware that most small businesses fail.
Taking tips learned from taxidermy school, Silvestera has always approached a new business with caution. As with any of his business ideas, Silvestera figured out who his competitors are, which companies are doing well, and why they’re doing well. Then, he aimed higher.
Silvestera is now in the process of starting up a sister company that will sell eco-friendly hair products. The launch date is set for some time in 2011 and its first customer will be Blackstones . Stay tuned for this as well as a book over the next few years.