Nikki | lay Atelier, at 6363 Dallas Parkway in Frisco, Texas (a suburb of Dallas), is the hottest salon in one of the fastest-growing cities in the country. The Daily sat down with senior stylist and co-owner Lay Akhotmy to find out the secret to his success and learn how he’s bringing easy, undone sex-appeal to a city that, for many outsiders, is synonymous with big hair and aerosol.
Did you always know you wanted to work in the salon business?
I was in my early 20’s when I decided to go to hair school. A good friend of mine was already a stylist and was doing great. I used to cut my friends’ hair without having any prior education. Luckily, it came naturally to me at the time and they trusted me. Before that, I was just another kid, roaming the streets, going from job to job without a sense of direction. I am grateful I found my passion at an early age.
How did you hook up with your business partner, Nikki Nguyen? Why do you thing you two work so well together?
I knew of Nikki through a mutual friend and knew that she worked at the Jose Eber Dallas salon at the time. Nikki had already been a senior colorist there for several years. I was fresh out of hair school and looking to get my feet wet, but I knew that I belonged in a high-end atmosphere. I was shooting high. I went in for a tryout, and brought 3 models. I was supposed to give them each a different haircuts, but I was hired after my first model and the other two had to be sent home.
At first, I was the assistant to the artistic director, but I worked my way up through their apprentice program, specializing in custom cuts. Nikki and I ended up sharing a lot of clients because of our specialty as a cut and color team. Great color can only be enhanced by a great cut and vice versa. Not only did our work mesh well, we also became great friends and have the same business morals.
What do you think sets your salon apart?
Our consultation process in one that we are particularly proud of. We sit down with our new or existing clients at our beautiful consultation station and educate them on their hair. We never ask them, “So, what are we doing today?” It is our job to educate them on what works best for their hair type, face structure, and lifestyle. To take it to the next level, we also do a hair and scalp analysis compliments of Kérastase. It is a scope that magnifies your scalp and hair by 600X. It will show the condition of your hair and make recommendations about what products are needed to maintain or achieve healthy hair and a healthy scalp. Clients are always in awe of this cool little gadget and what it shows. It is super interesting, but kind of creepy at the same time.
We also make great efforts to ensure that we use the best products and tools, even down to special the shampoo nozzles that contain bio filters, which pull out harmful elements, such as chlorine, that can alter and change the condition of the hair.
Another major distinction is our commitment to our stylists. Although they are all independent, meaning they lease their chairs and run their own businesses, we still feel that it is our responsibility to grow them. We hire only those who share our vision of growth and professionalism, and we offer classes and training in professional skills and business strategies, including social media.
What is your favorite part of your job?
The best part of the job is the people and the relationships we have built with them over the years. A lot of our clients have been with us since day one. They’ve watched us grow and we’ve watched them grow. We know their families and they know ours. We also have stylists who have worked with us and become family as well, and we are so happy to have the family reunited in our new salon.
Congrats on the new location!
Thank you! We opened in November and it’s probably our proudest career moment to date. Being in the industry and working at a few different salons for over 20 years, we were aware of all the things that don’t work and made sure to implement all the things that do. It has has been so rewarding hearing our clients say how proud they are of us and how much they love the new salon. It is also validating when the stylists say they love coming to work and recognize all the thought we put into the space. The clients have been raving too.
What do you love about running a salon in Dallas? Or I guess I should say “the greater Dallas area.”
Exactly. Our salon is in Frisco, which is a suburb of Dallas and one of the nation’s fastest growing cities. I personally live in Frisco and I’m so proud to be a member of this tight-knit, family-oriented community. I see so much potential for this to be a major city. Major cities are known for being forward fashion and that definitely includes hair! I would love nikki | lay Atelier to become the go-to salon for that modern, forward, and fresh cuts and color.
What does “good hair” mean in Dallas?
Dallas is known for big hair and old money. Our signature look at nikki | lay Atelier is far from that. We like a put together look that’s also looking effortless. I think our Kérastase product line enhances our efforts and gives our clients and stylists confidence.
What trends do you see being big with your clients in the coming year?
I would like to see more of the modern shag — it is perfect for spring and summer because you can either wear it natural and wavy for an effortless, beachy look, or you can blow it out for a sleek style that gives a lot body, movement, and texture.
What celebrity’s hair gives you life?
I admire Brad Pitt’s and Charlize Theron’s ever-changing hairstyles. They have had every haircut from buzzed to long. They are not afraid to take risks, but, at the same time, they always look fresh and iconic.
What is your biggest hair pet peeve?
It’s not so much about the hair but about being realistic about the results. There are so many factors that go into a haircut, color, or style. That is why our consultation process is so important.
How do you see the salon business evolving in the 20s?
I see more salons providing spacious, modern, open concept facilities where stylists can grow their own businesses through education and uplift each other while sharing knowledge and working as a team. This is what we do at nikki | lay Atelier and we are always looking for ways to improve our craft. We are always changing for the better.