Almost five years ago, Ashley Haley looked in some big windows in her beloved neighborhood of Kingfield in Minneapolis, and an idea was born. She saw in that empty space the possibility of a different kind of salon—a salon as passionate about creating community as pursuing beauty. Today, BANGbang is an acclaimed salon and art space with nine stylists where conversation, wine, and touch are core business practices. In this conversation, Ashley shares about her mission to create a relationship-driven salon about so much more than hair.
April 14, 2015
Why did you start BANGbang?
I had the vision to create a space where all different kinds of people—from the neighborhood and elsewhere—could feel comfortable. A space where they could get a service and leave feeling beautiful, but also where they could have quality time with someone and leave feeling heard. I wanted it to be an inviting place, not one of those salons where you’re afraid to touch things, but an airy, cozy living room where people are treated to a glass of wine or a beer and immediately feel welcome—where people interact. I wanted a business that was more about relationships and connection than merely hair or profit.
Tell us about the kind of experience you want to offer.
I’ve been careful to hire people who have natural empathy for people, who smile and it isn’t fake, who notice things and want to compliment, who ask questions and truly want to hear the answers. Listening well is a muscle that my team works hard to exercise. I try to slow down and give each client the individual time and attention they need. Even if they’ve been coming for years, I never want a client to feel taken for granted. This is one of the few professions where physical touch is still welcome—a shampoo, or touching someone’s shoulders. There are some people who hardly get touched at all, and it’s powerful to give them that connection. You can gauge when someone comes in and has had a particularly hard day and needs some extra human connection; so we figure out how to give them a little more attention and love. Maybe it’s a hug or an extra long shampoo.
"This is one of the few professions where physical touch is still welcome. It can be relaxing and healing to be touched.”
Why do you call it a creative space, as well as a salon?
The space is so important to who we are; I found this space before I had a business plan. We love our big windows, which on sunny days keep us drenched in light, or when it snows, it’s like being inside a snowglobe. Our walls feature art from talented local artists that rotate on a regular basis, so there’s always something new to see. I took time handpicking vintage chandeliers and eclectic mirrors to hang from the ceiling. We believe in the power of beauty to inspire.
Have there been any key moments or experiences that shaped how you lead?
One of the clearest learning curves for me was a period when a consultant recommended making changes that went against my vision for BANGbang. I was told to mirror what the competition was doing, to try to be a flashy, unisex New York City-type salon. For a brief minute, I let myself get caught up in that, but then I came back to what I knew in my heart was right for us: we’re not a New York salon; we’re a Minneapolis neighborhood salon that’s welcoming to the community and comfortable for all different people. I realized I needed to follow my gut.
"I had the vision to create a space where people could get a service and leave feeling beautiful, but also where they could have quality time with someone and leave feeling heard.”
How do you lead your team in pursuing the vision of BANGbang?
Sometimes I forget I’m the leader because I feel like one of them. But my hope is to lead by inspiring them. They see how passionate I am about my clients, about hair, about learning, and about keeping the space fresh and new. I also try to bring education into it and create a strong culture of learning, which leads to more collaboration among us. At salon meetings, I want them to know their ideas matter to me. They inspire me every day with the ideas they bring. We raise the bar together.
How do you cultivate a sense of team among the stylists?
The strong sense of team we have is actually unique, because right now all our stylists are renters as opposed to commission-based. Usually renters at salons are very independent, focused on their own chair more than the salon as a whole. But at BANGbang, we really operate like a collaborative team. We’re all invested in the vision of BANGbang—and so are the clients. There’s enough loyalty and investment in it that you’re not upset when you see your client in another stylist’s chair—because you know she’ll have a great experience. I actually love getting to know a client and then suggesting they try one of the other stylists based on personality, style, or values. They aren’t my clients; they’re ours.
What has it meant to you personally to start this business?
I started this business as a single woman and sole owner. I remember moments in the first year I worked 17-20 hour days. I’d be sitting down there in the dark till 1 in the morning, calling my old manager for help figuring out how to create a cash sheet. It’s raw and exhausting, but it’s also so great when you figure things out. And that’s why it was great to get to handpick the people I’ve built BANGbang with: they’re like family. BANGbang has actually been my longest relationship—I’ve had longer relationships with some clients than any dating relationship I’ve had.
"They aren’t my clients; they’re ours.”
I don’t have kids, so in many ways BANGbang has been my baby. I actually have a friend who had a baby around the same time I started BANGbang. I’ve watched her daughter grow from a baby into a toddler into a kid, and I feel like that’s what my business has done. I remember when my friend first said she felt comfortable leaving her daughter for a few hours—and that’s kind of the same time I felt I could do it with BANGbang. BANGbang is my baby. I’m protective of it, and I can be stubborn about the vision of what I want it to be. But I’ve realized it’s ok and important to allow people to help me.
What role does the neighborhood play in your business?
I lived in the Kingfield neighborhood before I started a business here. I love collaborating with neighbor restaurants like Blackbird and Kyatchi, and we’re all very excited for the new restaurant Nighthawks to open across the street. Inside and outside the doors of the salon, it’s about building community. Just the other day, a woman whose house I often pass came in and she had Chinese food from around the corner. We chatted for a while about how the neighborhood has evolved, she made an appointment, and then I went and picked up Chinese food, too. I love that circle of connectedness. It wasn’t about gaining a client, but about knowing a neighbor.
Do you see BANGbang as having a mission?
We do hair, and we’re great at that. But my dream is that we’re also more than that. I hope our mission is affecting people and leaving a lasting memory—whether it was just the way they felt in the space, some words they heard or a song, the way we made them feel, or even a smell because of our local candles. It’s ultimately about people and relationships. Some days, a client will come in who I can tell is lonely and doesn’t have a lot of people in their life. Maybe they’re hard on the front desk or just generally angry. Whatever it is, I can tell that their time in my chair is perhaps the one time and place they will feel heard. Those days are exhausting, but I know that what I’m called to do that day is to meet them with some kindness and fill them up. The calling is the people.