The Power of Creative Connections
“A great creative director must have leadership skills,” Ric Bowden, co-owner (with Lawrence Bonanno) of two Avalon Salon locations in Dallas, Texas, says. “And he also has to lead the direction of training and be the culture-keeper.”
In Billy Keohane, Bowden has found these qualities and more. After losing his previous creative director a few years ago, Bowden hadn’t found the right person to lead his cutting team until he met Keohane in December.
“Billy and I clicked right away,” Bowden says. “We instantly knew we were speaking the same language.”
Keohane felt the same and was ready to take his career to a bigger market where he could push his creative boundaries.
“I felt Ric and I communicated very effectively,” Keohane says. “It seemed the universe was presenting me with a clear path.”
The Journey to Avalon
Keohane’s path to becoming creative director at Avalon began when he was in pursuit of another artistic endeavor—getting involved with Elevate Hair, a unique hair event fusing stylists and music that Tatum Neill launched last year.
“When I discovered Elevate, I reached out to Tatum via Instagram,” Keohane says. “I saw he had used DJs in his hair show, and I had done something similar at my salon in Florida. So I asked if he wanted to collaborate.”
Over a series of messages, the two connected, checking out each other’s work. Tatum was impressed with Keohane’s work and invited him to an Elevate event in New Orleans in January.
But before the Elevate event, Keohane took a trip to Dallas to visit his girlfriend and look for a job in the area—and Tatum realized he could help Keohane in another way.
“Billy reached out to me about the Elevate shows, and through our conversations, I discovered he was looking for a job in Dallas,” Tatum says. “I introduced him to Ric, and Billy added Avalon to his list of salons to interview with. He ended up liking the culture of Avalon and appreciated his potential role there.”
From there, everything fell into place. Keohane interviewed at a half dozen salons, and knew Avalon was the place for him.
“I needed platform work and high economics to grow as a stylist,” he says. “And after going to an Aveda Academy, I had worked in a non-Aveda salon for 15 years. This gave me the opportunity to be back in the heart of the Aveda culture.”
And for Bowden, he finally found the person who fit his salon’s culture and was able to re-ignite a creative flame in his staff.
“Billy has a unique set of skills because he was in the military and worked at Sassoon,” Bowden says. “Those are regimented organizations. I’m a whole-brain person and I see Billy that way, too. He’s fully creative, but gets the business side of things. But Billy has the initiative to go beyond simply teaching a hair cut.”
Part of what makes Elevate unique is that it’s brand neutral. Neill specifically set out to create a platform for all artists to participate in shows and connect on digital platforms, regardless of the brands they use.
“It’s virtually impossible for any hairdresser to become a platform artist,” Neill says. “There are so few hair brands out there, and the competition to be on stage makes it almost impossible to achieve.
“Elevate opens the door to local communities to have a voice and share their vision on a platform where they are not encumbered by verbal communication.”
“Furthermore, the social media platform gives artists an opportunity to share their work with a broad and international community daily if they are regular posters and share the Elevate aesthetic.”
Keohane is exactly the type of stylist Elevate was built to benefit. He made a powerful connection which led him to a job, and now he is inspired by Elevate in his new role as creative director.
“Working with Elevate has opened doors to reach my goals,” he says. “It’s easy to get stuck in the day-to-day and forget about this whole other creative culture. But being part of that culture is a big deal.”
And now, Keohane reinforces the culture at Avalon.
“We deliver world-class customer service, excellent hairdressing, and have a passion for the industry,” he says. “On a weekly and daily basis, we service guests, educate, inspire change and stay current. I help keep the drive going and make it a lifestyle for our stylists.”
In the salon, Keohane talks constantly about inspiration, encouraging staff members to look for it everywhere.
“I’m proactively speaking to our staff not just about inspiration from magazines and the red carpet, but also in nature and other places that may not be as obvious.”
“And of course, they are seeing the work leave my chair, which has a huge impact.”
When clients leave Keohane’s station, he views the walk from the chair to the front desk as a runway.
“I’m showing off my work to the rest of the staff,” he says. “I’m driven by the haircut. I want us to try to outdo each other and challenge each other. The staff is dialed into that and the guests can tell we’re passionate.”
Keohane says guests also like hearing about his work with Elevate.
“It allows me to communicate and connect with people differently,” he says. “When they learn I’m going to be on stage, it makes them stop and listen and realize how involved I am in my industry.”
Tatum says often hairdressers need to tap into their creativity to fully appreciate their career.
“We are in the service industry, and while that is important, it’s also important to remember why we chose to be in this industry—not just to serve, but to create,” he says.
“Creativity shifts the mindset and creates higher job satisfaction and a sense of fulfillment. The exposure to an event like Elevate also increases the value to the guest and your team.”
“Clients like to know that you are a badass hairdresser!”
“It increases the perceived value in their hair. Ultimately, the more you do and the bigger you are, the more demand you obtain and the higher your prices will rise,” Tatum adds.
For Bowden, who stopped working behind the chair about 10 years ago, having Keohane on the floor is having an inside man.
“All tribes have a culture,” he says. “Ours is quality service with a focus on customer experience. Billy has been able to reinforce this and our shared values.”
And almost immediately, he saw the direct impact Keohane had on his stylists.
“There was an immediate impact on the quality of work on the floor,” Bowden says. “Billy has a higher expectation of quality, and he speaks their language. Also, there’s something invigorating about fresh blood in the salon.
Keohane is equally invigorated by all the new personalities surrounding him each day.
“As creative director, it’s my goal to identify ways to inspire each stylist,” he says. “Everyone is affected by different things, so you have to be able to connect with people on whatever it is that makes them unique. So we talk about topics outside of hair and build off that.”
“It’s my responsibility to coach them down a path to rise to the occasion,” he says. “You don’t reach greatness alone—you’re driven by your surroundings.”