Women’s History Month – In Conversation With Nackie Karcher

Nackie Karcher © Fabian Palencia

Greenpointers contributor Eddy Vallante heard about our Women’s History Month series and suggested we take the opportunity to speak with his friend Nackie Karcher, owner of The Parlour Brooklyn, a popular hair salon on Greenpoint Avenue. Eddy nominated Nackie because she’s “super awesome,” so how could we resist? We visited her at the salon after-hours and got to know this thoughtful, hardworking local businesswoman.

GP: I loved that your bio on The Parlour website refers to you as a Florida sun-child. How did you end up here, so far north of that?

Nackie: It’s a great question. I never expected to be here; I never had plans to be in New York. But doing hair did pull me here, and that’s how my career ended up evolving. To me, New York is a coastal city; especially in Greenpoint, we’re on the water, and I think that if I didn’t hear seagulls here, I probably wouldn’t be in Greenpoint, or wouldn’t be in New York, as long as I’ve been. That’s one of the things I love about Greenpoint – being by the water. Part of my passion for boating and all things maritime just clicks well in New York.

GP: Did the decision to open your own salon come a little bit after your initial arrival to the city?

Nackie: It did. At first I didn’t even know Greenpoint existed, but I had made a friend, she was an independent documentary filmmaker, and I was looking for someone else who had their own thing going on to maybe share a loft with, and this neighborhood was one of the first places we looked at. I got here and just knew that I wanted to be here. This was it. So that was in 2004. The neighborhood used to kind of close down around 9 or 10 o’clock at night, so I worked in the city for the first five years, but then I saw the way the neighborhood was changing. I did hair in the city, but I was ready to utilize my own resources and all the great people that I knew to make something happen in Brooklyn. So that’s how that happened!

GP: When you pinpointed Brooklyn as the future home of your own salon, did you know for sure that it would be in Greenpoint?

Nackie: I didn’t know. But when I started looking around in 2009 and found this space, I totally knew. And I think owning a salon is a big part of the community; the majority of our clients are from the neighborhood, and for me it’s so great to have the opportunity to have my salon here. The connections that we have with other small businesses, but even just with the people of Greenpoint, remind me that everybody knows somebody. We have a database of 3,000 clients! So imagine the people that have maybe just been here once, or someone who’s been here a hundred times – they all know people too, and spread the word, and that’s how we’ve been growing. Over both of the last two years, we’ve done 40% more business than the year before, so it’s kind of insane.

GP: Whoa! Congratulations.

Nackie: Thank you! It’s really exciting. We wouldn’t be successful without the people who come in. Nor without the amazing women that I have working here. We’re trying to create a space where people feel good, and comfortable, because it’s their hair – and sometimes that can be intimate. That all ties back to why I came here and opened the salon.

© Fabian Palencia

GP: You hit on something interesting that we’ve been talking about with all the other Women’s History Month nominees as well, and that’s their relationships to the other women in their lives. You mentioned having women work for you; is your staff primarily made up of other women?

Nackie: It is! Completely; all women. We have had one guy work here, and he was perfect, there was nothing wrong with the dynamic, but it just didn’t work out; we might have had different goals and dreams. At a high point, there were seventeen of us ladies working here – seventeen women, all working harmoniously together. I think it’s really unusual and pretty amazing. I think we all have a good balance of masculinity about us, too, to be able to work together so well. And also, our client base consists of both men and women, so the space is neutralized with the presence of both genders.

GP: You’re in a business that’s service-oriented. Is that ever a challenge? And how has your approach to it evolved over these past five years in operation as The Parlour? I imagine the loyalty of your clients is really important.

Nackie: Oh, of course. And in the age of Yelp, it’s more important than ever. From the very beginning, it’s always been about the experience for me, that people have when they walk through the door. From the moment they walk in, to the moment they walk out. It’s about the experience they’re having the whole time that they’re here, and not just the service that they’re getting. Those are the things that people remember; the little details. I know I do! And we have to fall on our swords constantly. At the end of the day, we want people to be happy and feel good – and if people aren’t happy, you apologize. The thing is, we do hair – so the hardest thing is that you cannot please 100% of the people 100% of the time in any service industry, really. And we all have bad days, and we’re all human, and sometimes humans can have very high expectations. When that meets somebody who’s having an off day, then you can guess how it’s going to end. But I do love it. I love serving people and helping them feel good. I love providing an experience for them, and an atmosphere that they feel good in. It makes me happy.

The Parlour Brooklyn © Fabian Palencia

GP: As the leader of the staff that you’ve brought on to work alongside you, do you implement training so that everyone can follow your lead in providing that exceptional service experience? Or are you looking for that before you even hire someone?

Nackie: In the end, I can’t be here 24/7, so that probably is something I’m looking for. But I also do groom people for success here; there’s an opportunity to work from an apprentice level position towards becoming a senior stylist at the top level. I think that the benefit of someone seeing how that works – and I’ve had a couple people who have been here with me since the beginning as we’ve continued to grow – is that I feel very fortunate that they’re sharing my vision. They’re trying to instill those same characteristics in the new hires that have come in after them.

GP: Do you enjoy that aspect of managing not only the client relationships but the people that you work with too?

Nackie: Yeah! I’ve learned how to do it. In the beginning, it was very hard because I was always so independent that I never wanted anybody to tell me what to do, so it was really hard for me to tell other people what to do. I used to lose sleep, and my stomach would be in knots. If I had to say, “I want it this way,” it was a lesson in getting my vision across without it being taken the wrong way. But I learned as time went by. The things that bothered me in the beginning don’t bother me now. And I’ve accepted that things will happen whether I’m here or not, so I just tell people as much as I can what to do in case of an emergency and hope that it all works out!

GP: That’s a good segue; as a new mom balancing your family life on top of being a business owner, tell us what that’s been like. Did you scale back a bit?

Nackie: Definitely in the beginning, when I first had my son, I scaled back a lot, which was great – because I was able to see how the salon could run without me being here. Which has been inspiring, because it’s actually made me want to say, “Okay, what’s next?” I had the space to say, “Do I want to open another business?” – “Yes, I do” – “Do I know what it is yet?” – “No…” – but I know that I can do something. I actually had a friend ask me after the birth of my son if I would go through the opening of another salon again, basically asking which was worse/more intense – the labor, or opening my own business.

GP: Ha, almost like, “which of your babies was harder to bring into the world?!”

Nackie: Right! And I was like, THE BUSINESS! I will take labor any day over opening a business the way I went through it. I’m telling you, it was that hard for me. It was hard as hell. So hard.

GP: Especially at that time, to have opened in 2009 when the economy was the mess that it was.

Nackie: Totally. I had people say to me, “What are you doing? You’re opening a business? A hair salon? You’re crazy.” I signed my lease and two weeks later the stock market crashed. And then I had to set prices for what I wanted to charge; in the beginning, I had my staff asking if we should lower our prices, but I was firm on that and said no, we’re not lowering our prices. This is why we’re here – we have educated ourselves, we’ve been in hair long enough, we’ve worked really hard, and we’ve earned this.

© Fabian Palencia

GP: So that’s really an important perspective you gained after having your son, about your own strength and focus.

Nackie: It’s true. I was able to be with him so much, and now I realize how much I’m torn between being with him all the time versus being here. Because like you said, this was my first baby. I think about this place all the time when I’m not here. And I think about everybody here – how they’re doing, and how they’re evolving. They’re like family too.

GP: Now is a good time to tie this in to our Women’s History Month theme, and ask about the women in your life outside the salon who inspire and motivate you.

Nackie: There’s a number of women that I know who are independent and doing their own things, whether it be that they’re designers, or they’re opening healing spaces, or whatever it is. They inspire me because I think we can all push each other to do more. I always say that I want to start a women’s business group, but I haven’t done it yet. I just love to support people who quit their jobs and go do their own thing. Anything I can do to help people become their own bosses! When anyone confides in me about trying to make choices like that, I’m always just like, “DO IT.” Don’t hesitate; because what do you have to lose? It’s one of those things where you jump off a cliff, and when you land, you say, “Let’s go do it again.”

Aside from people I’ve worked with who’ve influenced me, of course I’m going to say my mom and my grandmother. My mom’s a very strong, happy woman – and the same with my grandmother. I wouldn’t be where I am without having them as strong female figures in my life. I wouldn’t be as sassy as I am if it wasn’t for having a sassy mom! Also, seeing my old boss who I worked with in the city – she’s also a hair stylist – she’s an inspiration because she was always very fierce and wild. To watch her be so free with the way she cut hair was just jaw-dropping. Her fearlessness always inspired me from a creative standpoint.

One thing that’s hard that’s specific to this industry is that there’s not a lot of women who are household names when it comes to hair, and product merchandising. When you think about well-known hair stylists, what woman do you think of? There’s not a lot of women who are being recognized. It’s still a man’s world. All of the hair greats that you could think of are going to be men.

GP: You make a really good point. I just thought of Vidal Sassoon and Paul Mitchell – they were the first two that came to mind.

Nackie: Exactly. And I don’t know why that is. And even those men know that there’s amazing women hair stylists, and I’m sure that those men were inspired by women hair stylists as well, but you just don’t see women with a name on products as often.

GP: I can actually see the logo and the type on each of those men’s product branding in my head right now, and you’re right, I can’t think of many women who have gone that route of branding their own shampoos and products. Maybe it will be your next thing!

Nackie: It’s never too late! I actually just watched the documentary on Vidal Sassoon, and it’s really inspiring. One of the things I’ve been telling my staff since I watched it is how he was so encouraging; that if you feel like you have something inside you that you want to do, then do it. What are you waiting for? And I do feel that we have something here! And now is the time, if it’s going to be any time. So who knows what will become of it…but there’s some seeds planted, I think.

© Fabian Palencia

 GP: Before we sign off – want to share some of your favorite women-run businesses in the neighborhood?

Nackie: I love Shana from In God We Trust. Of course Dandelion Wine. My friend Lisa Levine just opened a healing space called Maha Rose on Green Street with acupuncture, Reiki, yoga. She’s been there for ten years but now she officially has the space. The girls from Ovenly are great; one of the first things I ever tried there was the rosemary currant scone, and it’s still my favorite. Jessie Zalla Pilates across the street from us in the Pencil Factory building is also awesome. And I love Spina for coffee and flowers; they bring us little bouquets every week. It’s so great to just walk into places in Greenpoint and feel like a regular. People even know my parents’ names when they visit from Florida! Lily who owns Dandelion knows my parents. Who doesn’t love that?! Especially when you have friends in town and you can bring them to the places you love to go and be greeted so warmly. It’s wonderful.

We couldn’t agree more – thanks so much Nackie. Our Women’s History Month posts will continue throughout the week.

About Liz F

Liz became a contributor to Greenpointers when Propeller Coffee opened on her block, making an instant regular out of her; the urge to tell the neighborhood was irresistible. She works in a cross-section of film, TV, and music and writes for Greenpointers to feed her fascination with small businesses.