Cali Devaney Wilkins

How long have you been doing hair? 21 years. I was working as an assistant during high school, and dropped out when I knew high school was a waste of time for me. I moved out of my parents' house at 17 years old and started cosmetology school with my best friend. I was licensed and employed full-time as a stylist at 18 years old. I’ve been doing hair for so long, I don’t remember a time where I wasn’t doing it.

Was there a session during your career that stood out the most? I did freelance for many years and worked on a lot of music video and magazine shoots. As glamorous as that life seems, it’s the most humbling experience I’ve ever had in my career. I strongly suggest every hairstylist try their hand at it, if they have access to that world, just to experience what it’s like. It’s wonderful to see your work on the cover of a magazine or on TV, but it’s not an easy world to be in and the hardest I’ve ever worked, hands down.

Tell us more about your salon and why you opened it? I opened Parlour & Juke in 2011 in a warehouse space with no store front on the 3rd floor. I wanted something that felt tucked away and like a secret. After working in Nashville for 6 years, I felt like there wasn’t a space I wanted to work in. So I thought, why not create one? I honestly never wanted my own business, but it’s worked out super well. I also wanted a shop that merged barbers and stylists. The barbers have since moved on and opened their own space, so I’m happy to have grown that business to what it has become as well. I love change, so Parlour & Juke is constantly growing and evolving as a business. I never want to have a stagnant brand. I like to keep people guessing about what we will do next!

What advice do you have for hairdresser looking to open a salon? My advice would be to limit your budget and start small. I started out after leaving a commission salon as a booth renter, so I could learn the ins and outs of business before jumping all in. I did that for 3 years before having any employees and opening Parlour & Juke. I also think you can be far more creative with limitations. There will be lots of daily wear and tear on things, so why spend all your money on “stuff”? Spend it where it matters. Supplies/color/education for your staff etc.

I think it’s important to build a team where they shine and it’s not about you, as the owner. Most people don’t even know who owns my business. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I’m not proud, I just want my stylists to be at the forefront, not me.

Curating and building up a team can be challenging. How do you keep focused on your goals? My goals are always evolving and changing along with the changes of my business, the city, and the industry. I try to be flexible and open to new ideas. I also think it's important to recognize that, as a commission salon, no one will be with you forever. Give them the tools they need to be self sufficient, and then let them fly. I’m fortunate enough to live in a transient city, so there are always new folks around.

How do you manage push back? I am always working on this. I personally look at push back as a way to self evaluate and learn how to be a better communicator. Being a business owner has taught me so much about communication.

How do you stay curious? I’m only behind the chair 2 days a week now, so I am drawn to more business and communication things these days. I focused on being a great hairstylist for 20 years, and now it’s time to focus on being a good owner and boss. I listen to far too many podcasts and read a lot. I’m inspired by people like Yvon Chouinard, who founded the brand Patagonia, and his style of management and ownership. I’m also extremely inspired by chefs and the restaurant world. Danny Meyers' book “Setting the Table” about hospitality, is suggested reading to work at Parlour & Juke.

How has social media impacted your career? Man, this one's a double edged sword, huh? The free promotion aspect is incredible. There is a wide reach like never before. When I was younger and self employed, I spent so much money on advertising and getting my name out there. It’s awesome that this generation of stylists has much easier access to that and to education.
I personally don’t post my work anymore because I am not actively trying to build a clientele or promote myself. I’d rather focus on my staff's talent and building them up. I think less focus is put on word of mouth and referrals than it used to be, and that’s gotta change. To me, that is truly the way to build a solid business.

How do you stay driven and not get burnt out? Change. I have to have change or I will get bored. Clients always notice that I am rearranging the shop and laugh about it. They never know where things are gonna be when they walk in. I love that. Keep people alert and curious.

I am still working on the owner/stylist balance. I still love doing hair, but I am feeling more fulfilled these days by being there for my staff and my business. That’s what currently drives me. Seeing them grow and helping them become something awesome.

PHOTOGRAPHY Andrea Behrends