Edward Tricomi started cutting hair as a teen at his sister's shop to earn a little extra money while he focused on music.
His side hustle paid off, although not in the way he expected: Today, Tricomi counts celebrities like Scarlett Johansson, Mick Jagger, and George Clooney among his clients. He's the co-owner of Warren Tricomi, a chain of upscale salons in Tokyo, New York City's Plaza Hotel, and elsewhere around the world.
The stylist, who gained a following thanks to his signature, high-precision dry cuts and who has now been cutting hair for 50 years, says success happens "piece by piece." You can't rush it: "I always say you don't put the whole steak in your mouth at once. You take bites at a time," says Tricomi.
Here are Tricomi's guidelines for turning your passion into a profitable business.
"I've been entrepreneurial since I was a kid," says Tricomi. "I played in rock bands and being on stage, and doing all that, helped me a lot when I became a hairdresser."
After his gig at his sister's shop, Tricomi's first official job in New York City was at a salon called Cinandre, which was, he says, like "the Studio 54 of salons."
His career took off when he became an editorial hairstylist for American Vogue in his 20s: He worked with legends like Irving Penn and Richard Avedon, who turned fashion photography into high art, and traveled the world doing photo shoots with luminaries like Yves Saint Laurent and Karl Lagerfeld.
Working with Vogue, says Tricomi, gave him "this incredible training on how to build sets" and create an atmosphere of beauty and luxury. Later, he transferred this knowledge to his salons.
"All my salons are heavily curated. It's sight, smell, touch, sound. .... We create an environment that's very conducive for beauty and fashion. Warren Tricomi is more than a beauty brand, it's also a lifestyle brand," he says.
Tricomi's experience at Vogue drove home importance of developing a detailed vision of what you want out of your career and really thinking it through. Your vision should be so clear, he says, that it engages your senses.
"Any entrepreneur, you have to have a vision. And then you have to be able to execute on that vision," he says. "You bring [your vision] into manifestation by having the thought and the dream about it. Then you start to work on it, and eventually, it'll come. ... Little by little, you can create an incredible business."
Tricomi partnered with businesswoman Roxana Pintilie and colorist Joel Warren and, in 1988, they opened the first Warren Tricomi salon in Midtown Manhattan. (Warren is no longer associated with the business.) Pintilie raised an initial $250,000 investment from her best friend.
Pintilie's business savvy and Tricomi's creativity are still like the "right and left brain" of the business, Tricomi says, adding that one key to business success is teaming up with someone who brings expertise you lack.
"It's knowing your strengths and knowing your weaknesses, and then you have to work on the parts you feel you don't have that strongly," he says.
When Tricomi is hiring a new employee, he looks for "someone who is articulate, has a personal style, and who [he] can mold into a first-class hairdresser." Technical skills are just one "spoke on the wheel," he says.
"Each spoke has a different strength," Tricomi explains. "Verbal skills, social skills, technical skills. All of those things have to be strong to make the wheel run smoothly."
His artistic vision is crucial to how the salon operates, so Tricomi looks for people who understand fashion and the history of fashion, and who come to work "dressed" and ready to play the role.
"I always say when you walk into the salon, you're onstage," he says. "Can you imagine if you go to see 'The Lion King,' and the lion [says], 'You know what, I don't feel like getting dressed today, I don't feel like putting the uniform on today'? Then you're putting your can of Coke on the stage, you hang out."
It's important that everyone share the same values and can commit: "You have to be dressed."
Tricomi has his employees watch documentaries about Gandhi and Vidal Sassoon, among others, to glean important lessons about perseverance and success. Sassoon grew up in an orphanage and was rejected from the first salon jobs he applied for because he didn't speak English properly. Though he was crushed, he got the idea to take acting lessons to develop his speaking ability. A year later, he got his first salon job.
"That also served him down the line, because when he had to speak in public, he was prepared, he had been in a theater group," says Tricomi. "It's hard things that prepare you for your life's work."
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