Astoria Beauty Bar is no cookie-cutter, assembly-line salon. When a guest comes to have their hair styled or colored, get a scalp treatment, add extensions or have their eyebrows shaped, it’s the owner Michelle DeMartino who takes the call, schedules the appointment, and provides the service. It’s DeMartino who educates customers on how to maintain their hair between appointments. And it’s DeMartino who sources the products (many of which she finds on RangeMe) for them to use at home. She does it all, and there is a reason for it.
DeMartino is all about delivering a completely personalized end-to-end experience to each of her clients, many of which are local residents of the salon’s Astoria, NY neighborhood. “I wanted to create a boutique experience for my clients,” says DeMartino. “I want it to be more of an intimate affair versus the assembly-line type of structure that is very much the case with the big salons today. And this is demonstrated in the services I provide as well as the products that I sell, each of which is hand-picked by me to ensure they align with the salon’s values and our customers’ specific needs.”
This personalized experience has certainly resonated with customers; since opening this past September business has already quadrupled, and some of the brands she offers have already sold through products four times over.
The salon’s origin
The idea for the Astoria Beauty Bar concept was born out of the pandemic. DeMartino – who has been styling hair for more than a dozen years – previously worked freelance, renting space at salons and traveling to style models at photo shoots and brides at weddings. Eventually, she created her own home studio, where she took on clients several days a week. During the pandemic, her home-based studio took off as people sought out options that were less crowded. This enabled her to really focus on each client’s specific needs and gave her ample time during her sessions to educate them on hair maintenance. She noticed that her clients really appreciated the one-on-one experience, and often commented that they never felt as if they were being rushed out the door.
She decided she wanted to offer this same type of experience to a broader audience and opened a storefront beautifully designed to be warm and inviting, with an emphasis on personalized service. At Astoria Beauty Bar, education is a key part of the experience, one that is glossed over by many of the larger salons, according to DeMartino.
“Education is important,” she says. “Think of anywhere you go where someone provides you with a service, whether it’s changing your oil, installing a window in your home, or in my case, styling hair. Professionals can make it look easy, but when you try and replicate it on your own, you can’t do it, because they often don’t show you how. At Astoria Beauty Bar, not only do I make you look great when you are sitting in my chair, but I want you to be able to go home and copy exactly what I did at the salon. Everything I do is with my hands, using simple styling tools and accessories that everyone has, so I can show them how to easily maintain it afterward.”
Discovering kindred spirits in emerging brands
Part of the education DeMartino delivers includes recommendations on what kind of products to use – not just for their hair, but for their overall beauty and wellness regimen. And for these products, she has very specific criteria that brands must meet to get on Astoria Beauty Bar’s shelves.
“I didn’t want to just provide services to help women look and feel their best, I wanted to sell products that would also do the same,” she says. “So I wanted to offer best-in-class products that embody my values and expectations of quality. I look for women- or diverse-owned brands, with natural and organic ingredients, using sustainable packaging, from small businesses like mine. And I want them from suppliers that would provide the same level of service and education to me as I do for my clients, suppliers with which I could develop real, long-lasting relationships.”
Through RangeMe, DeMartino was able to discover such brands. She joined in August during RangeMe Deal Days, a month before launching the salon (she was literally installing the displays on which the new products would sit). DeMartino started off with a direct purchase of soy-based candles from OMM Collection, which arrived just a few days later. “I selected them because they are all about rituals and creating a positive atmosphere whether you are at home or in the office,” she says. “On the candles, there is a message that says, ‘Love yourself again,’ which completely matches my vibe.”
Other RangeMe brands on her shelves include locally-owned Lucid CBD, which makes CBD wellness shots for relaxation and focus, and Joy Lane Farm, a 2nd-generation family business that makes soy candles and natural soaps.
One brand DeMartino has developed a particularly strong relationship is Little Buddha, which is a woman- and diverse-owned business that offers a line of skin, hair, bath and wellness products – including CBD products – that are made with organic ingredients, pure essential oils and come in packaging that’s recyclable, compostable and biodegradable. Little Buddha’s target consumer has traditionally been women in the 25 to 45 age range, but it will soon launch a men’s line, called Woodsman, which will include soap, body spray and beard oil.
Currently, Little Buddha has products in 40 retail and spa locations, and has just opened a 200,000-square-foot warehouse as it gears up to expand into more locations. RangeMe will be a key part of its expansion strategy. “RangeMe has been a huge part of our engagement with retailers,” says Owner Daisy Betance. “It’s very helpful to see which retailers have been viewing our products to get an idea of which ones are generating interest.”
DeMartino discovered Little Buddha’s RangeMe profile as she searched for women-owned beauty and wellness brands. She reached out to Betance via the messaging tool and requested a sample directly from her profile. “She absolutely loved the samples and placed an order with us shortly after receiving them,” says Betance. “Ever since, we’ve been in regular communication, whether via RangeMe messaging or directly by phone.”
Streamlining product discovery for small businesses
For DeMartino, RangeMe has been a key tool for efficiently finding products that perfectly match her salon’s needs. Prior to RangeMe, she would use a distributor or go to a beauty supply store to find what she needed. However, this was very time-consuming, and she has noticed that some of the larger brands no longer cater to the smaller businesses of hair stylists and beauty experts as they once did.
“When I work with a brand, it’s really important that they are going to support me as well as I’m going to support them,” she says. “This includes educating me on the products and how to best sell them or providing me with marketing materials so it’s one less thing I have to produce. Emerging brands, as small businesses themselves, tend to be more flexible in meeting our needs.”
RangeMe makes it much easier for DeMartino to find the types of brands she is looking for and to vet them to ensure they are aligned with her needs and the salon’s values. The three platform tools that she finds most helpful in accomplishing this are the search filters, messaging feature and sample request button.
“The search lets me zero in on the specific attributes I’m looking for in a brand,” she says. “The messaging feature lets me learn a bit more about the people behind the brand, and helps me really understand their values and see if they would be a good partner. The sample request feature is my favorite because I need to see, feel and try out the product before placing an order. That’s what sealed the deal with some of the suppliers I’m working with. Daisy at Little Buddha even sent me a handwritten note along with the samples. As soon as I got that package, I fell in love. I knew that she got it, she understood the message I was trying to send to my clients.”
Although the business has only been open for a couple of months, its exceptionally fast growth already has DeMartino thinking about the future, which includes replicating her boutique experience in other relevant markets, perhaps adding additional beauty services like skin and nail care.
“If there is one thing I learned from my experience launching Astoria Beauty Bar, it’s that you have to just dive in and do it,” says DeMartino. “As an entrepreneur, you are always learning new things every day, things that you just can’t learn in school. So never be afraid to take a leap of faith, as long as you stay true to who you are and what you want.”
She’s also exploring a potential CBD hair care line of her own, in which case, she’ll get to play on the other side of the RangeMe fence. One benefit she has is knowing what buyers at small businesses are looking for, and how to best serve them.