September 5, 2010

'Just take care of me'

The owner of Akari in Portland has expanded his hair salon to offer ways to achieve wellness, beauty and style, and it seems to be working.

By Ann S. Kim
Staff Writer

PORTLAND - Allan Labos arrived in the United States in the 1970s with $50 in his pocket and marching orders to open schools and salons in San Francisco and Los Angeles for Vidal Sassoon.

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Allan Labos, owner of Akari in Portland, says about 200 clients come through the salon, retail and spa business each day. He plans to add to his staff of 50 employees as Akari continues to grow.

John Ewing/Staff Photographer

Labos, 57, now presides over his own growing salon enterprise: Akari. In the coming months, Akari will enter the next chapter of the expansion that has characterized the Old Port business since Labos took it over in 1987.

late fall or early winter, Akari will have increased its retail space and its wellness offerings, like personal training, cooking classes and the services of a nutritionist.

The business will utilize more of the space in the Middle Street building it occupies, growing from roughly 17,000 square feet to about 22,000 square feet.

Akari seems to be faring well despite the recession. Labos declined to disclose Akari's gross annual revenues, but said the business had double-digit growth in each of the past three years.

About 200 clients come through Akari each day, according to Labos. They may browse the clothes and professional products in the retail shop, enjoy a glass of wine and a snack in the light-filled cafe area or have a massage in a quiet room decorated in soothing hues. Some might do all those things -- and more.

That's part of the strategy represented by the Akari trinity of wellness, beauty and style.

Labos explains that the three are interconnected -- the wellness is the necessary foundation before the other two can be pursued. So, a client has to feel well -- a process that could be aided through Akari services like life coaching or yoga -- before turning her attention to aspects of beauty and style, which could take the form of a new hairstyle and an outfit from the boutique.

"My dream is when a customer arrives, they say, 'Just take care of me,'" Labos said.

Consumers are increasingly demanding this type of one-stop facility, said Hannelore Leavy, founder and chairwoman of the advisory board for the Day Spa Association. Leavy said the recession took a heavy toll on day spas -- with some estimates claiming that up to one-third have failed nationally -- and those that remain have to work hard to provide value to customers who have become very conscientious about spending their disposable income.

"Spas are looking to other venues to attract and retain customers, such as the wellness offerings, where they're not going to make very much money," she said. "But it is something that attracts and keeps the customer."

Lila Hunt is an Akari client who has remained loyal, despite moving from Maine to Boston five years ago. She now makes appointments there when she is visiting her mother in Camden or her father in Cape Elizabeth.

"I don't really trust anybody else with my hair or eyebrows," said Hunt, who is 23 and recently graduated from Suffolk University.

Akari got into the fast-growing medical spa services area several years ago. Medical spas -- those that offer treatments like Botox, laser hair removal and intense pulsed light treatments for facials -- are the fastest growing type of spa, according to the International Spa Association.


Serendipity led Labos to his trade. Born in Gibraltar, Labos went to London to study mechanical engineering -- a subject he did not like -- and befriended hairdressers in his building. He ended up dropping out of school and starting an apprenticeship with Vidal Sassoon, unsure exactly where that road would take him.

Eventually it took him to New York, where he met his ex-wife. She introduced Labos to Maine. In 1987, they bought the 800-square-foot Akari salon on Fore Street.

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