Sandi Rapaport, by means of her wig salon, Jerome Krause Fashion Hair, has been involved with Lolly’s Locks since its founding. We work with her on a daily basis, and we could not be more proud to have her as one of our partners. To date, Sandi and her team have done over 143 wigs for Lolly’s Locks and that number continues to grow on a daily basis. She has been so crucial to the growth of our organization, and as a result we want to share her story.
What motivated your family to start Jerome Krause Fashion Hair?
My mom’s brothers’ father-in-law was the world’s largest retailer of fashion wigs (called Fashion Tress) starting in the 60’s. About that time my dad was in his 40’s and had to make a career change. My mom did some marketing research from home. Wigs were becoming very popular so they decided to try the business out. They worked from their home but went out daily and called on beauty shops all over the Chicago area. They got involved with Tupperware and would supply wigs all over the country for Tupperware party hostesses. They would pack up cartons and drive downtown 3-4 nights a week to UPS to ship them out! Little did they know over 50 years later it would evolve in to the business it is today!
Were you involved when the business started? How has your role and involvement changed over the years? How has the business expanded over the years?
I was in high school when they started the business so no I was not. I did sell wigs from my college dorm room in the late 60’s when everyone had a wig! Even town people heard and came to buy one! They cost $15 at the time and I made enough profit to go to Spain for spring break that year!
I became a school teacher and was not AT ALL interested in the business. As a result I really can’t recall much from when they stopped calling on shops and opened a studio. They were in at a ground-breaking time in the fashion wig industry and my mom helped some of the companies still in business today design wigs. Many companies they did business with would send rough drafts of new styles and ask for their input.
I graduated, taught a while, got married and had my 2 sons. When my kids were young, I worked a couple mornings a week as a Gymboree teacher. In 1984 or 5 my parents’ business was booming and they needed some help with office work. I went in on Saturdays while my husband cared for our sons. When the boys were both in school I started working for them a couple days a week during school hours. I thought I’d go back to teaching, but I liked the flexibility of working for my parents. If I needed to do something for my kids I could take off. I was also starting to feel good about helping others.
After about 15 years I started working full time. They needed my help to run the daily operations as they were busy all day taking care of the clients with 2-4 other employees.
Both my parents worked until their health would not allow. For my dad that was about 10 years ago at age 80 and he passed 8 years ago. My mom worked full-time until 3 years ago at age 83 and could still work 2 rooms of clients at time! She had endless energy.
Now, I am solely in charge of the business and with less help! It is a very niche business. My employees need to be able to sell as well as cut and style wigs. With many of the clients coming in for medical purposes it takes a special person to work with this community. A lot of hairdressers want that chic, upbeat salon.
How many wigs do you have in stock? How many clients do you serve per day?
We have a one of the largest wig inventories. On a busy day, we may have as many as 25-30 clients! On some slower days we may have 3-4 clients, but it’s always busy around here! We spend 1 ½ hours with each client in the studio- cutting, styling and fitting their wig. On slower days, I’m ordering new merchandise, looking over materials vendors send, stocking up on turbans and head scarves, washing and setting wigs, training new staff and taking pictures of the wigs.
What brings most of your clients to you? Has your clientele changed over time?
REFERRALS, and word of mouth mainly. Many people come in with multiple people referring them to us. We are on all the lists in the doctor’s offices and hospitals. #1 on many. We send out mailings to doctors and beauty shops. We are still in phone books and advertise online.
Our clientele has not changed much since the late 80’s. It’s probably about 75-80 % medical (chemo, radiation, Lupus, burn victims and Alopecia to name a few). The other 20-25 % is personal enhancement (so many woman have thinning hair and we still have a clientele of men) just for bad hair days, vacation and theatrical purposes.
Do you carry both real hair wigs and synthetic wigs? If so, how do decide what to recommend to your clients?
Yes we carry both. We ask client a couple questions as we get started. Ask if they have a budget as human hair is more expensive, what they think they want then start discussing the 2 options. Some hair styles and certain colors lend themselves to one option better than another (it’s especially difficult to get human hair wigs in gray). We take their age in to consideration. We try to encourage younger women with long hair to go with human hair. We explain human hair requires more maintenance but synthetic can frizz and you need to be careful when cooking in the kitchen.
How can you tell if a wig is high-quality? What qualities should people looking for high-quality wig look for?
We can tell if it’s high quality by the look and feel of the fiber. Actually we have been in the business so long we just know! Human hair needs to have movement and is not very heavy. Lower quality wigs are usually very heavy and just “lay there.” For synthetic wigs, you want a smooth fiber, not overly shiny, and again not very “heavy” looking hair. Good quality synthetics can sometimes look like human hair wigs.
People come from far and wide to come to your store. What do you think sets you apart?
Quality products, large inventory, knowledgeable caring and professional staff. We pride ourselves on our customer service. We allow enough time for each appointment. We take the time to listen to them and help answer all their questions and try to reassure them. We try to be very positive. If we don’t have something they need, we do our best to research and get it or similar for them. We are full-service. We don’t just get them their wig and that’s it. We are selling a completed, finished “hairstyle” (not a wig plopped on their head)! For our chemo clients, we offer to cut their own hair in preparation free of charge. We have an alteration lady that custom fits the wigs for all clients and also sews hair in like needle point to add more highlights or lowlights.
Do you do consultations over the phone? How are over-the-phone consultations different than in-person appointments?
When we talk to clients over-the-phone, the goal is to get them in. We get a bunch of clients that have thinning hair debating whether to try on a wig or not and want to know what is available to them. Over the phone, we explain their options. We’ve had clients that live 3 to 4 hours away and we really had to encourage them to come into the studio. When we talk to cancer patients over the phone, they like to feel comfortable knowing when they will start losing their hair and when they should start purchasing a wig. We want to encourage these clients to get a wig early on so that it’s waiting for them instead of them waiting for a wig.
What is your special connection to Lolly’s Locks? How long have you been working with the organization?
We have been involved with Lolly’s Locks for 2 years this month! Jaime found us through a friend that had a friend that got her human hair wig from us and was very pleased. We hit it off immediately. The opportunity to work with Lolly’s Lock has been a wonderful, heartwarming and extremely rewarding experience! I’m so glad Jaime found us. I never dreamed 2 years ago we would be providing the quantity of wigs that we are and with relative ease. It is so gratifying every time I get that email that another recipient loves it and we made her day… doesn’t get better than that!
My family also has a personal connection to cancer. My now almost 18 year old niece had a malignant brain tumor at age 7. Her surgery caused a syndrome that required her to learn to walk and talk again. She had proton beam radiation at Mass. General that I took her to her first week of. She has a twin brother and he couldn’t be left home without his parent for the 6 weeks she would be gone- as it was just so traumatic for him too- so family and close friends pitched in. She then came home and had 1 ½ years of chemo followed by years of PT and OT. She then had to undergo major eye surgery because the brain surgery caused one of her eyes to lose muscle control and it looked like a very crossed eye. She is doing GREAT now!
What do you find challenging about your work? What do you find most rewarding?
Rewarding: Helping people feel good about themselves. Be it a woman with thinning hair or a cancer patient going through one of the most difficult times in their life. For the cancer patients, they are battling a horrific illness AND have to cope with the idea of hair loss. That can’t be hidden and for many our hair is our crowning glory. So many clients come in pale and nervous and leave relaxed, smiling or laughing and actually loving their new hair.
Challenging: People are actually a lot more difficult these days and can be very hard to please. We aim to please and sometimes it takes 3-4 visits back to us before they are happy. People also like to comparison shop now prior to purchasing and come in saying I’m not buying today… Years ago they all came in and bought pretty quickly. Today everyone wants a deal. 2/3 of the clients ask, “Is this the best price you can give me?” I never had that before the 2000’s.
The internet has also be a challenge to us. It’s difficult competing with the internet wig sites. Many people order online because it’s not a lot of money and they simply can’t afford a wig. Some people will make an appointment and act like they are buying but really just want to try on wigs so they can order from the internet. We have smartened up to that kind of person though and feel them out on the phone. We don’t get many of them in anymore. We also changed the names of our wig colors to prevent people from purchasing online.
Do you think buying “in-person” is better than ordering online?
There’s no comparison! Clients need to get the wig cut and styled! Wigs ordered online usually don’t fit the head right and sometimes need to be thinned out. Our studio has a large inventory of wigs for clients to try on. We provide so many services you can’t get from ordering online. Our wigs are more expensive than ones on the internet, but the price is fair for all of the services we provide. Cheaper places won’t style wigs for you. Sometimes we’ll see people 5-6 times before they feel comfortable wearing their wig. When you order online, you’re stuck with the wig you get.
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