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Twice the Service 

At H2O Salon and Spa (441 Metairie Road, Metairie, 835-4377), the owners believe customers shouldn't just receive a hair cut in the salon or a pedicure in the spa. Instead, they should be treated to a non-rushed, rejuvenating experience they'll enjoy long after they leave the shop.

"We aren't trying to get them in the front door and out the back as soon as possible," says Chief Executive Officer Michael John Gaspard. "I think people are looking to relax more and find a personal experience for themselves." Baby-boomers in particular are changing their habits from buying more "things" to spending their time and money on vacations and enjoyment, he says.

Pampering customers and making them look beautiful has always been the key to H2O's success, beginning in its infancy 13 years ago in the Old Metairie Village shopping center. The business was started by identical twins Heather Mahoney and Holly, Gaspard's wife. Because the women and Gaspard come from families whose parents and siblings are cosmetologists working in the industry, each has developed a keen sense of what makes people look and feel better.

"Holly and Heather love fashion," Gaspard says. "They love making people beautiful. We've been able to translate that into our apprentices (licensed cosmetologists who are in training at H20). This is our passion."

The business philosophy has worked so far. About six years ago H20 built a new structure on Metairie Road that has a spa upstairs, a salon downstairs and almost 20 haircutting and styling stations. Recently the shop added an Institute DerMed Skin Clinic, which offers microdermabrasion to smooth skin surfaces, eye contour repairs, several enzyme and chemical peels, laser hair removal, lymphatic massage and anti-oxidant therapies. "We focus on serious skin care, microdermabrasion, skin treatments, peels," Gaspard says of the 3-month-old clinic, which is housed in a separate building behind the salon and is directed by medical professionals. "We saw the need among our own clients to develop this, but if it wasn't 'serious skin care' and if it didn't make a real difference we didn't want to do it." So far, the response has been positive.

Not only has H20 expanded its space and services in response to consumer desires, the shop also has initiated automated booking services over the telephone and online to more efficiently handle the thousands of calls the business receives. "We stay booked," Gaspard says. "Our biggest challenge is handling the calls. We receive about 7,000 calls a week and have about 1,500 clients a week."

The salon offers hair coloring, cutting and styling, highlighting, up-dos, retexturing, plus a host of hair-care and beauty products, gifts and fashion accessories, plus customized gift baskets and gift certificates. The spa features relaxation therapies, deep tissue manipulations, aromatherapy, shiatsu, reflexology, half-hour massages, body wraps, bronzing, facials, manicures, pedicures, paraffin treatments, waxing, hair removal, makeup application and eyelash tinting and, to totally relax, a Turkish massage. That 80-minute therapy begins with a vigorous massage, followed by a Turkish bath, more massage and more pulsating water. Spa packages, which combine several services, also are available as well as consultations, makeup and hair services for bridal parties.

To make sure the salon maintains the personality developed by the owners, all new cosmetologists who come on board undergo apprenticeships with extensive training and oversight. In addition, either Mahoney or Holly is in the salon every day cutting and styling hair and keeping their fingerprints on the soul of the business. Although they now avoid the 12-hours-a-day, five-days-a-week schedule they maintained when the business was young, they still come in regularly because they simply like the work. "The girls just love what they do," Gaspard says. They also enjoy seeing customers who return regularly.

"We're teaching our [employees] to service the client," says Gaspard. "Our goal has been to make a family of our clients. What probably irritates us the most is someone (applying for a job) just motivated by the paycheck. Those people are not for H2O. We're looking for a relationship with our clients. We intend to have you as a lifer -- as long as you're in the city."

To develop that way of thinking, the owners keep a list of customers who have not returned for three months and seek to find out why. "I want to know you had a good experience," he says of customers. "If someone has a bad experience, we take it personally; we've very hard on ourselves."

In addition to the skin-care clinic, customers may see other changes or expansions in the future, but Gaspard says the owners want to keep the business a manageable size so they can maintain its integrity. "We're not looking to franchise or move into malls all over the place," Gaspard says. "Then it wouldn't be H2O any more. If we could multiply what we're doing and make it the same level of service we would, but we can't."

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