Fourteen years ago, Michaella Blissett Williams started working as a hairdresser in a basement studio in her brownstone apartment on Bergen Street in Brooklyn. Today, she’s about to open her fifth location.
Her journey is a true ICIC success story as Williams’ business, [salon] 718, is a multi-year recipient of the Inner City 100 (IC100) Awards, ICIC’s annual award celebrating the fastest-growing businesses in under-resourced communities, landing at #56 in 2021.
“I am thrilled to be included again on the IC100 list,” Williams says. “We are grateful to be recognized alongside many amazing leaders across all industries. We will continue to be inspired by other businesses and innovation as we continue to navigate these challenging times.”
Alison Corbett, Williams’ executive assistant, has been with [salon] 718 for eight years and attributes the company’s rapid growth to Williams’ commitment to her staff.
“The key to the growth is that Michaella invests highly in her team,” says Corbett. “She serves her team first. She’s all about getting her team as much opportunity as possible. She wants to see people succeed in their career.”
Originally from the Caribbean, Williams has lived in New York most of her life. A mom of three, she opened a home salon in 2008 and ran the fledgling business until 2012 when she decided to open her first location on DeKalb Avenue in Brooklyn.
Williams wanted to bring not only an elevated salon experience to the neighborhood, but one that was inclusive.
“She’s very passionate that everyone feels welcome coming in the doors,” Corbett says.“Inclusive beauty is a term being thrown around by everyone right now, but she’s been doing that from the start. She always wanted it to be that anyone who came through the doors, no matter what their hair type, that there was a stylist there for them.”
Hiring diverse staff from the neighborhood was important, as was the business savvy Williams learned from her experience in ICIC’s Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program. But the biggest key to the company’s growth has been education.
Stylists are licensed cosmetology school graduates who are put through a rigorous one-year training program. The company’s apprentice program provides on-the-job learning about coloring and styling techniques, as well as building clientele, marketing, using new technology, and social media.
“Michaella is very big on education. We have an intense education program we run for our apprentices to get them behind the chair,” Corbett says. “It’s really integral to set our apprentices up so they can have successful careers as hair stylists.”
And the learning doesn’t stop once employees are licensed, full-time stylists. Mondays across the company are “classroom” days, where training courses are offered for staff to learn about new services and products.
“It’s continual learning. You have to keep on top of new trends, techniques, and technology. It’s so important,” Corbett says.
Marketing on social media is also a focus, as is using app-based technology for clients to schedule services.
“We want to make it easy to book appointments. We’re trying always to have the best customer experience from booking to checkout,” she says.
Williams’ program has led to [salon] 718’s rapid expansion. In 2014, she opened her second salon on Vanderbilt Avenue in Brooklyn.
A third opened on Myrtle Avenue in Brooklyn in 2015. The fourth came in 2019 on Furman Street in the DUMBO section of Brooklyn. And this year, Williams acquired the popular salon Danoi on Fifth, rebranding it as Danoi powered by [salon] 718. That location includes an express spa and specializes in hair extensions and bridal services.
Williams currently oversees a team of 65 employees, and she still gets behind the chair for select clients (among them the Brooklyn Nets dancers!). With a majority BIPOC staff that caters to a diverse clientele – including many working mothers – the business is providing long-term careers in a field where turnover can often be high. The company hosts community events, partners with local schools to recruit and provide career guidance, and hosts “salon talks” where other neighborhood small businesses come in to share ideas and opportunities.
“We’re always involved in community outreach programs and contributing how we can,” Corbett said. “The most important thing is giving people that pathway to success so that they can achieve their goals and have financial freedom. Financial freedom is important for all of us. Having that opportunity to elevate yourself in the community and build a better life for their families.”
Williams is also eyeing more expansion, including considering opportunities outside of Brooklyn.
“Michaella doesn’t stop. She’s always looking forward – looking for bigger, better,” Corbett says. “I don’t think there’s any stopping this movement.”
To learn more about ICIC’s other programs, visit https://icic.org/urban-business-initiatives/.
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