Small Town, Big Heart

It’s tough times in Hornell, New York — but the show must go on!

Courtesy New Dimensions Salon & Day Spa

Over the past five years, New Dimensions Salon & Day Spa, a 20-year-old beauty bastion in Hornell, New York, has raised more than $20,000 for local charities through its annual Hair Gone Wild hair show and auction. “I’ve always tried to instill in my employees that we need to give back,” says owner Kristi Hawley. “This event is a lot of hard work, but it bonds us as a team.”

The high-energy, two-hour affair (and pre-show cocktail hour) can attract upwards of 400 guests (at $12 a ticket)—roughly 20% of Hornell’s population. “We’re a small town; the closest mall is an hour away,” Hawley says. “People around here have never seen anything like this.” The show also injects much-needed excitement into a city that has weathered tough times: Its main industry—a plant that makes rail cars—laid off more than 500 workers last year. Which is partly why Hawley focuses on charities that resonate with her clients. “A lot of people come to me with suggestions,” Hawley says. “I hear so many stories and if one hits me in the heart, then I know: that’s it.”

In 2007, its first year, Hair Gone Wild raised nearly $5,000 for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, in honor of a client whose two daughters had the disease. In 2008, $8,000 was raised to help the local hospital purchase new dialysis equipment. “Diabetes is a real problem in this area,” Hawley notes.

Earlier this year, a client told Hawley about The ARC of Steuben, a nonprofit serving adults and children with developmental disabilities. Hawley took two staffers to ARC headquarters, a two-hour drive, to meet the program’s members. “We gave them haircuts and a day of beauty,” Hawley recalls. “Later, one of the ARC employees saw a member in the bathroom crying, and asked her what was wrong. She said, ‘Nobody’s ever made me beautiful before.’” This year’s Hair Gone Wild raised $7,700 to create an arts program for ARC members.

DAYSPA: How did charity become a part of your business model?
Hawley: At Christmas one year, we collected clothing for abused women and children and we clothed 12 families. We really felt good about that. We also participate in a program to collect presents for families who can’t afford to buy gifts. I’d always dreamt of doing a hair show, and in 2007, I finally sat down with my staff and told them my idea for Hair Gone Wild. They loved it.

How do you produce the show?
We work on it all year. Local businesses donate items for the gift baskets that we auction. The cocktail hour is 6 to 7 p.m. and the show is 7 to 9 p.m. We have a runway and a DJ and we do hair and makeup on stage. We pack the place. The next morning, after the very first show, I cried all the way to work. I was just so moved and exhausted.

It sounds costly.
I definitely lose money, there’s no doubt! It’s between $3,000 to $4,000 to put on. I have to rent the place where we hold it for two nights—the stage alone costs about $1,000; the DJ is about $400; the videographer is another $400. I also hire a decorator. And I have to shut down the salon on the day of the show. Still, it’s my baby and I love it. It’s a special night to get up and show the wild and creative side of the salon.

Do you have sponsors?
The first year, I funded it; the second year, I almost totally funded it. By the third year we got sponsors to help out at levels from $250 to $1,000. We send out letters and I have a marketing person who works with me on it. We also started doing a 5K run to help pay for the show and local businesses help out with that: The grocery store and a Rite Aid donated all our water, and we have a dairy in town that donated milk and yogurt. People want to be a part of it because they know it’s for a good cause and I keep the money local.

I hear that each year the show has a special theme?
Yes! Last year it was a little bit of rock ‘n’ roll and ’80s, with hair and fashions that showed off graffiti and punk and rock. This year, we did glamour through the decades, with catwalk segments starting in the ’20s—so, finger waves and vintage clothing from a local store—on up to the millennium, which was futuristic, with black netting over models’ faces and crazy makeup.

Has it brought in business?
I don’t do it for that, but yes, I think so. It gets the word out. There are people who come to the salon and say, ‘I saw this style on stage,’ or ‘that haircut at the show’ and ‘I want to make an appointment with that stylist.’ It’s really good for our stylists, especially my young ones, because it builds their confidence.

But has it been harder to keep it going through the recession?
It has. I almost feel bad asking people for donations. But they’ve still stepped up. When I’m trying to get sponsors, often people say, ‘We’d love to do the $1,000 level, but we just can’t do it this year.’ And I totally get it. I end up funding a little more myself and it’s a little harder, but we just find ways to cut costs. I really believe that if you’re in a position to give back to your community then you should. I have three daughters and I hope I’m teaching them that.