This fall, two ISBN Board of Trustees members will have completed the maximum consecutive years of service on the board, Larry Walt of Design 1 Salon Spa and Tony Fiorentino of Hello Gorgeous Salons. In the first of this two-part series, ISBN honors Walt and asks him to reflect on his involvement with ISBN, and will follow up with a separate profile and interview honoring Fiorentino.
About 20 years ago, when Larry and Lisa Walt owned just two Design 1 Salon Spa locations in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and were seriously considering a third, they were looking for an organization that “wasn’t your typical business or beauty association,” Larry Walt recalls. They found it when a postcard promoting a Conference for multi-location salon and spa executives hit their inbox.
The executive focus, resort location and unique topics sparked their interest, as did the tuition incentive to become a member.They registered and booked travel to Arizona for four valuable, inspiring days of connecting, sharing and learning. Soon after, they were hooked for good–so much so that Larry Walt is on the final months of a 14-year tenure of volunteer service as an active member of ISBN’s Board of Trustees.
When ISBN members elect new board representatives later this year, Walt will have completed the maximum of four consecutive three-year terms, plus a two-year term as what was previously recognized as an affiliate board member. He remains committed to the value, impact and relevance of ISBN.
On behalf of ISBN President Scott Missad of Gene Juarez Salons and Spas and the rest of the board, ISBN thanks and honors Larry for his time and commitment, while spotlighting how and why the Walts became and stayed so involved with ISBN.
FIRST CONNECTIONS: “Lisa and I were impressed from the beginning,” Walt says. “There was so much knowledge being shared. It was great to spend time at a beauty industry event with businesspeople who I could relate to, speaking the same language and focusing on growth, operations, marketing and real estate as well as the beauty side of staffing, training and more. I remember Jason Volk, who was leading Chatters at the time, was assigned to welcome and introduce us, making sure we were comfortable and understood everything that was happening. He personally spent so much time with us, and that level of connection really made a difference.”
Lisa Walt agrees that their first ISBN experience exceeded expectations and was eye-opening for both of them. Lisa is the licensed hairdresser in their life-plus-business partnership, and Larry acknowledges that without her, he wouldn’t be in the beauty business, let alone on the ISBN board, because there wouldn’t be a Design 1 Salon Spa collection of five locations employing 210 associates and generating $14.5 million in (2019) revenue.
“We are dual owners and have been partners through all of it, including ISBN,” Lisa Walt says. ”The relationships we’ve developed together and business insights we’ve shared with other members have been most meaningful.”
Relationships, salon visits and mutual open-book level of sharing, brainstorming and friendly competition with ISBN members like Debra and Charles Penzone, Tony and Lisa Fiorentino, Philip Gould, Gordon Logan and others have always been an immeasurably valuable bonus to membership, Larry agrees. He also fondly recalls his and Lisa’s friendship and collaboration with past ISBN president Ron Provenzano (who died in 2013) and former ISBN business director Margie Melaniphy Provenzano, both of whom he credits with “recruiting” him to join the board in the first place.
GETTING STARTED: After college and cosmetology school, Lisa Walt worked at the former Maly’s distributorship (now part of SalonCentric) as an education coordinator overseeing advanced education. Larry had the business “street smarts,” according to Lisa, working in real estate and insurance sales before they opened their first salon together in 1981.
“It took 17 years for us to open a second one,” Larry says. And that came after the Walts had experienced a nearly devastating walkout. “We decided if we’re going to stay in this business, we need to have at least two locations to protect ourselves.” They started seeking other business strategies to apply, along with Larry’s real estate expertise. With a third location in the planning stages, they discovered and embraced the ISBN community and have steadily scaled up ever since.
We learned so much so quickly from other ISBN members in those early days, Walt says. “Little things that add up. Best practices that just make operations easier. Sharing numbers and percentages. When gift card sales and promotions started going crazy, we learned that you can just put your packages together in a bundle and don’t have to discount. It sounds simple now but at the time it made a huge difference to us.”
Just being in a room or around a table or on a call with people who have the same business focus and priorities as you is transformative, Larry Walt says. Then, the relationships and trust that evolve take the sharing to a whole other level.
“When we had the economic downturn in 2008, Ron Provenzano and his son came to Grand Rapids and spent all day with us,” Walt says. “We spent the morning going through their Zano stores numbers and the afternoon going over our P&Ls. We got through that time better than we would have without spending that day together opening up our books to each other.”
Walt says he has many memories of similar experiences sharing and learning with other ISBN salon leaders, and that they support and challenge each other through the good times, too.
“There’s a spirit of friendly competition, and of `oh, if you can acquire another location or expand into another area or add a new system, then we can, too.’ It gives you more confidence to grow. And we stay in touch and encourage each other through it.”
FAMILY FOCUS, NEXT-GEN THINKING: The Walt children have grown up and into the Design 1 business, so attending ISBN’s annual Conference and participating in other ISBN networking opportunities is truly a family affair:
- Daughter Paige Cheever and son Graham Walt are co-chief operating officers of Design 1.
- Daughter Tessa Robertson is a licensed hairdresser, works in one of the Design 1 locations and sits on the company board, representing all service providers.
- Son Hunter Walt works in real estate and construction in partnership with brother-in-law Clayton Cheever, so contributes on the property and remodeling side. Hunter’s wife Annalisa Walt is also a licensed stylist working at Design 1.
- Graham Walt and wife Anna Walt (also a licensed Design 1 stylist) co-own Suite Society, a 30-chair rental, in Portage, Michigan.
So, it’s easy to envision the Walt legacy continuing at ISBN, even when Lisa and Larry Walt do eventually implement a well-thought-out succession plan and retire, which they both say isn’t happening for a few more years at least.
Paige Cheever and Graham Walt agree their parents’ long involvement with ISBN and Larry Walt’s role as a board member have tangibly helped strengthen the Design 1 business while also helping the entire team see the importance of industry leadership.
“As we’ve been going through the pandemic, our ISBN connections have helped us through it,” Cheever says. “We’ve been able to call and talk to other member salons whose states opened ahead of us, for instance. Also, our staff knows about Larry’s commitment to ISBN and that he has been consistently serving on the board and continuing his education, just like they do. He shares stories and they realize that even at his level, it takes people sharing what they know and have learned in order to grow a company.”
“His role on the board and our company’s involvement has proven that ISBN is so much more than another group, it’s the relationships you create from the access the group gives you,” Graham Walt says. “And that will definitely continue on.”
ISBN board member and immediate past president Rhoda Olsen of Great Clips recognizes the entire Walt family’s long-term commitment to ISBN.
“I have valued his leadership in the organization and have loved working with him and also seeing him prepare and transition in the next gen,” she says. “It’s not unlike our necessary transitions he’s helped us make at ISBN. Thank you, Larry, for being a part of our success and strength.”
PARTING ADVICE: To anyone considering joining ISBN or seeking a spot on the board, Larry Walt’s recommendation is simply, “do it.”
“Being on the board delivers double the value of membership,” Walt says. “When we have meetings, we spend half the time discussing and soaking in what is going on in the industry, identifying our biggest concerns collectively and figuring out how we can shape ISBN resources and experiences to address those problems. The conversations and insights are invaluable. It all turned out to be so much better than Lisa and I expected when we decided to attend that first Conference. It has been a great experience and so cool to hang around like-minded people from so many different but connected salon, spa and barber organizations and learn from them.”
For more information about the Walts’ Design 1 Salon Spa business and five locations, visit design1.com