LaTosha Calhoun treats all of her clients like celebrities.
It starts with a consultation she conducts while gently massaging their head, neck and shoulders and ends with a photoshoot where they can showcase their refreshed look.
A licensed cosmetologist, beautician and owner of The Touch Salon and Spa in Dubuque, Calhoun forms long-lasting relationships with clients.
Her art extends deeper than hair and skin.
“It’s mind, body and soul,” she said.
With time, sitting in a salon chair, people open up and Calhoun in kind.
She might tell them about her first forays into hair care as a 6-year-old when she did her grandmother’s hair; how in 2016 she opened her business, located at 1516 Central Ave.; the latest goings-on of her son and daughter; or a 2009 car crash that left her unable to work.
“That’s when you talk and unwind,” Calhoun said. “Being a hair stylist is like being a doctor. Whatever your client is talking to you about, you keep that confidential. They are opening up to you.”
Calhoun’s new intern, Samantha White, 33, met Calhoun as a customer earlier this year. She called the salon a “second home,” filled with a sense of comfort. It’s the little things like the music Calhoun plays based on the customer’s preference.
“It’s a place to escape,” White said.
In the salon or barbershop, a special bond forms over months or even years.
Kim Sinagra, co-owner of Suite 5 Salon & Barbershop in Galena, Ill., has been working with some clients for 25 years.
She has seen them grow from children to young adults, the years ticking by, measured in changing hairstyles.
“Basically, you just ask them questions about where they’re from, especially if they are new,” Sinagra said. “What they do for a living. Do they have any kids? You learn about their family and you talk about your family.”
Customers begin dating someone new, and Sinagra might find herself later doing the hair for the wedding party.
“I enjoy it a lot,” she said. “After 20-something years, you’re seeing them grow up.”
An Illinois law, which took effect in 2017, recognized the significance of those relationships.
To maintain their Illinois license, beauty professionals must complete a one-time class that teaches them to spot signs of domestic and sexual abuse and provide workers with resources they can direct customers to.
“I’ve heard some stories about different things that have happened to them. We were taught to be a listener,” Sinagra said. “You can kind of tell there are issues at home. You just try to steer them in the right direction.”
Tia Dalsing, a cosmetologist and eyelash technician at her Dubuque business, Embrace Salon, takes pride in her staff treating customers like an extended family.
She has known some clients for 10 or more years.
When they sit in her chair for one to three hours, some unload right away.
“It’s almost like going with your friend for lunch,” Dalsing said. “I’ve had clients tell me things that are happening in their life from relationships to health, I’ve had a client tell me something that there was something medically wrong with them. They never told their family and their kids they were dying of cancer.”
While demonstrating immaculate technique is crucial to the beauty industry, Dalsing said, personality is important.
“When people come to you, they come to you not only for your service, but for your talk,” she said.
The relationship is reciprocal.
With people from all walks of life, clients can share their expertise with Dalsing. For instance, a school teacher might talk about education or parenting.
When they leave the area, Dalsing said, it can feel like losing a family member.
“With social media, it’s so good to stay in touch that way,” she said.