In 1984, two brothers from Cartersville, Georgia, accepted a $30,000 loan from their parents to open a hair salon in Atlanta. The brothers, Van and Michael Council, picked an 800-square-foot “fixer-upper” in the growing Buckhead area to open their doors and thus Van Michael Salon was born. A little over three decades later, the flagship location is now a mammoth fixture in the heart of Buckhead, and is joined by six additional salons spread throughout the Atlanta area.
During their 30th anniversary celebration last year, Van Michael Salon also celebrated the opening of two new locations in Midtown Atlanta and at Avalon, Alpharetta’s newly opened, high-end retail destination. In addition to the seven Atlanta salons, Van Michael also has a corporate headquarters based in Sandy Springs and more than 36 Tokyo franchises.
With no formal business education, it is hard to imagine how the pair would build Van Michael Salon into one of the most successful salons in the country, but that is why their story of humble beginnings and sheer talent is truly inspiring.
Van Michael Salon’s story really began the first time that Van, who was mowing lawns and shoveling asphalt for money at the time, sat down to watch the 1975 film, “Shampoo.” In the movie, Warren Beatty’s character worked inside an air-conditioned salon, cutting the hair of beautiful women all day, which gave Van an idea. A decade later, Van and his younger brother Michael had immersed themselves in cosmetology coursework, training under some of the greats like Vidal Sassoon, and were armed with extensive experience to launch their own salon.
It is the importance placed on this type of core education and training that has allowed Van Michael Salon to continue to grow in the Atlanta community and within the industry. Since opening, the salon has grown from just five stylists to a team of more than 370 Atlanta-based employees. To keep up their high standards of service, Van and Michael developed the now trademarked New Talents division that requires up to two years of classes and continuing education to earn a coveted chair as a Van Michael Salon stylist. The Councils believe this commitment to continued education is why their skills and services are well known worldwide, and note that the salon leadership does not exempt themselves from on-going training.
Though his current role only allows him to see a small number of clients, Van is at the helm of the day-to-day direction of the salon and is a celebrated educator in the industry. Recently, Van was tapped by the prestigious industry organization Intercoiffure America/Canada (ICA) as their new fashion director. In this role, he will lead a team of his peers in determining upcoming hair and beauty trends that will be provided to fashion editors and salon teams each season. His many accolades over the years include 4-time recognition from the North American Hairstyling Awards (NAHA), often referred to as the ‘Oscars of the hair industry,’ and prestigious membership in Aveda Global Masters Team.
In the Sandy Springs salon, Michael keeps his skills sharp working with clients two days a week on the salon floor. He is also a well-respected figure in the industry, receiving a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Art & Fashion Group and a spot on the esteemed list of the Top Educators of the Century.
Led by Van, the salon’s all-star educators and service providers pulled from all seven salons form the salon’s Creative Team. Together they teach and hone, and in many cases develop, the newest techniques, products and trends on the salon floor and at industry events. The creative team won NAHA’s “Best Salon Team” Award in 2014 and is called upon multiple times a year to perform and teach at various summits for the global beauty brand, Aveda.
Today, more than 100,000 Atlantans count on Van Michael Salons for their hair and beauty needs.
The co-founders are the first to recognize that the success of the salon can be attributed to the loyal clientele and employees who have been there from the beginning.
“We are so proud of the roots we came from and Atlanta community we’ve called our home for more than 30 years. From the beginning it was our goal to create a world-class salon and it is the support and loyalty of this community that has allowed us to do just that,” says co-founder Van Council. “Countless hairstyles and fashions have come and gone since 1984, but our clients have continued to trust us to be on the forefront of the industry and the best at what we do. To say that we continue to have their trust and loyalty to this day is certainly one of our greatest accomplishments.”