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Chop Tops - A Hair Company

Written by  December 28, 2016

Back when we decided to feature Mark Kozak’s 1917 Harley-Davidson Model B on our January 2017 cover to commemorate the 100th birthday of this nostalgic bike (1917-2017), our studio photographer Dick Carlson suggested we have the folks at Chop Tops in Westport to do our cover model’s hair and makeup to match the flapper-style period-era dress Dick had ordered for the shoot. I thought this was a great idea, so Dick contacted Chop Tops owner Cilla Holopter to bounce the idea off her. Cilla and her husband Jim were thrilled to help us out, so we scheduled cover model Katy an appointment for Wednesday, December 7, 2016.

At 10:30 a.m. on the morning of our cover shoot, Dick and I met Katy at Chop Tops in Westport. After taking a look around, I can say without a doubt, I’ve never seen a hair salon anything like this place. They are a full-service barber shop and salon, including moustache and beard grooming, waxing, hair coloring, and everything else you would expect from a business of this caliber. It’s hard to describe this place, so make sure to check out the photos below, but this place is very laidback, modern; yet retro, if that makes any sense. To me, it’s sort of decorated like a huge three-story man cave, complete with corrugated steel coming part way up some of the walls, nostalgic photos and posters of musical entertainers, vintage cars and motorcycles, there’s a huge sailfish hanging on the wall of the main salon, and pretty much everything a “manly” guy could ask for. I mean, this place is very cool, and the stylist’s work stations are Craftsman roll around tool chests, if you can believe it! Plus, everyone is so nice and friendly. When you walk in the door, you’re greeted with a smile and offered a PBR or wine. Now how cool is that!

Dick then introduced me to Cilla and Jim, who hooked us up with one of their most seasoned stylists Jenny. After discussing the look we were after, Jenny took over while Cilla showed me around the salon, and graciously agreed to a short interview so she could tell me about her business. During the interview, Alyssa poked her head in to introduce herself, and to let me know that she would be doing Katy’s makeup after Jenny was finished with her hair. We discussed the look we were going for, and Alyssa said she’d take it from there! What professionals!

CC: So Cilla, first off, I have to ask you, how did you guys come up with the name Chop Tops?
Cilla: First, a little history. We’ve always been into hot rods and bikes. We have a ’57 Mercury, and Jim also has a Triumph Bonneville. Jim has also been in the popular band The Rumblejets for years. So, one time we were on our way back from Colorado after doing some road shows, and was talking about business ideas. I’d been in the hair product distribution business for over 30 years, and said I’d like to open a hair salon. We then started talking about possible names, and with our love of hot rods, came up with the name Chop Tops.

CC: Very cool! So are you and Jim hair stylists too?
Cilla: Jim isn’t, but I am a licensed stylist; I’ve just never practiced.

CC: Very cool! So is Jim still with the Rumblejets?
Cilla: They actually ended the Rumblejets three years ago. After 11 great years, which included several U.S. tours and two tours of Europe, they decided it was time for a change, so they started the band PopSkull Rebels, whose website describes the band’s music as “Grit Twang.” These guys are awesome, so make sure to check them out!

CC: So Cilla, how long have you guys been in business?
Cilla: We’re getting ready to start our 11th year in business.

CC: Have you guys always been at this location?
Cilla: No, our original location was at Merriam Drive and Johnson Drive in Merriam, Kansas. Our idea was to open a place for the working man, and we thought that area would be perfect! Then later on, this location at (611 W 39th St., Kansas City, Missouri 64111 became available and the property owners contacted us about it. At first, we thought there’s no way we’d open a business in Westport, due to things such as traffic congestion and parking issues, but we were reassured there was a nice large parking lot with good accessibility, so where wouldn’t be an issue. We decided to take a look, and although it was greatly deteriorated, with nasty carpet on the stairs and the ceiling falling in, I told Jim “I can see something we could do with this place!” We completely remodelled the lobby and downstairs area, and opened our new salon. When we first opened, there was a retail business next door with a doorway leading between the two businesses. The property owner said they could brick up the doorway if we wanted; however, we thought it would be best to leave it in case things went well and we wanted to expand into that area in the future, which we did.

CC: OK, so you had the Merriam location and this location here in Westport?
Cilla: Yes, and then the property owners purchases an additional property in Brookside, which is located at 115 E Gregory Boulevard, Kansas City, Missouri 64114, and asked if we were interested in opening a third location, which we did. After opening our Brookside location, we decided to close our original salon in Merriam so we could focus our attention on our two new locations.

CC: How do you allocate your time between the two salons?
Cilla: We have awesome desk teams at both locations, who handle things. Jim primarily works the desk here at our Westport location, and he as such a big following, he always has people stopping by to say hi, especially when his Triumph is parked out front. I try to spend at least 2-3 days a week at each location greeting clients, sweeping up hair, washing towels, cleaning toilets, and pretty much trying to help out however I can, and doing whatever needs done.

CC: How many work stations are there?
Cilla: We have 13 stations here in Westport, and another 7 in Brookside, which is quite a bit smaller, but decorated basically the same as this location. The Brookside location has a very neighbourhood feel, and during the summer we even put water bowls outside for those who are walking their dogs. It’s a pretty laid back environment there.

CC: How many employees do you have?
Cilla: We have 31 employees, which includes 25 stylists and 6 Desk Team members, plus Jim and I.

CC: So are they actual employees, or do you rent out spaces?
Cilla: They are all fulltime employees, which is very rare. I’m not an advocate of renting out spaces. There’s a lot of stylists out there who don’t keep up on their taxes, don’t keep their licenses updated, and so on, so this eliminates all that.

CC: How many male vs female stylists do you have?
Cilla: All of our stylists are female. I’m not quite sure why, because I’m certainly open to having male stylists. I think perhaps, a lot of male stylists are intimidated when they go to our website and see all the female stylists.

CC: So how is business?
Cilla: Business is great, but it is a tough business. Only 20% of hair salon stay open more than three years. Hair salons are the #2 failing business in America, next to restaurants and bars. I think that is because a lot of stylists think it’s easy to open their own salon, but it takes a lot of time to not only cut hair, but to also handle the business part. For the first 5-6 years, Jim was still working a regular job, and for the first 3 years, I was still working part time in the hair product distribution business. It took us 6 years before we turned a profit, but we kept at it and worked very hard to be successful.

CC: When are your busiest times, and does it ever slow down?
Cilla: Traditionally it’s busiest toward the end of the week, such as Thursdays and Fridays, but we also stay busy on Saturdays. (It should be noted that the day and time of this interview was a snowy Wednesday morning, and Cilla told me she’d checked, and they’d already had 99 clients. Holy cow!) We’re closed on Sundays, and always will be. It’s nothing to do with religion, we just feel that everyone needs at least one day off. When we first opened, we used to be closed on Sundays because that was the day we’d come in to do a thorough cleaning. Now we have a great cleaning crew who comes in on Sundays so we always have that day off. When possible, we encourage our girls to try and schedule their clients during the week so they can have the entire weekend off. A lot of the girls are able to schedule their clients so they only have to work four days a week, and have three days off. The four days are long, but it’s really nice to have three days off every week. As far as throughout the year, normally January and July are the two slowest months, but for the past two years, those months have been record-breaking months for us. It does get slow in July due to people taking their kids on vacation and such, but come August when it’s time to go back to school it gets real crazy again! Even when it’s slow, our stylists always get at least 35-40 hours per week, so let’s just say that nobody goes hungry. Ha!

CC: So what makes Chop Tops different from other salons?
Cilla: Our girls are like family, and we treat them like #1. We also treat our clients like they’re our clients. Because of this, we have very low turnover. Of our stylists has been with us 10 years, and Jenny, who is cutting Katy’s hair has been with us 8 years. We take care of them, and they take care of us. We’ve seen them buy houses, boob jobs, new cars, and pretty much whatever they want. We try to find out what their interests are, and then do everything we can to help them achieve their goals. We also have a very good screening and training process to help ensure we hire and train those who mesh well and fit into our family. What it really boils down to is that we offer great customer service, we have highly educated and talented stylists who always handle themselves professionally and stay on top of the latest trends, and everyone does everything they can to really emit joy! It’s really to overall experience. I mean, we want our clients to have a great experience from booking their appointment until they walk out the door with a great haircut. We don’t advertise, because it’s too expensive, but instead we rely on word of mouth and good social media. Our daughter is young, and suggested we start using an online booking/reservation software, but I said we’ll never do that. We enjoy talking with people on the phone and doing it the old-fashioned way. We also send new clients home with little goodie bags, that includes some sample hair products, a comb, and other little gift items.

CC: Please tell me more about this hiring and training process?
Cilla: Once the girls graduate from school they first go through a personal interview, and if that goes well, they go through a technical interview in which they provide their own models and perform men’s haircuts as well as women’s haircuts and color. Then, if that goes well, we hire them, and they spend 6-8 weeks training and being supervised by a seasoned stylist. We’re not really looking to see how good of stylists they are, because they will learn that. We’re more concerned that they have a good personality and mesh well with our team. During the training time, we look at their strengths and weaknesses, and match them up with the best stylist to train them. Once they are ready, they get their own chair and begin taking on their own clients. In other words, we do everything we can to set them up for success. It’s expensive to do it this way, but in the long run it’s what’s best for our clients and or everyone’s success. They get benefits, vacations, and all the perks a business has to offer. We also provide in-house education from educators who represent the various hair product lines we carry, and we have quarterly training so everyone stays current on new trends. We print monthly reports so the girls can see how they did, and to help them plan for scheduling the next month’s clients.

CC: Who are your clients, and where do they come from?
Cilla: Our client base is approximately 63% men, and 37% women. It used to be more like 80% men and only 20% women, but our girls are really good at women’s styling and color, so we’re getting more and more women too. We also get a lot of wedding parties who come in. I think the guys come in because they’re looking for something different than a pink and mauve hair salon. They also want good service, a great haircut, and a good price. We have one price, and don’t price services individually. We get everyone from the hipsters, to professional businessmen and women as well as professional athletes.

CC: Do you guys cut any celebrities?
Cilla: Yes, we’ve cut Chris Isaak’s hair, and a lot of other band members. We also cut Alex Smith’s hair, as well as other Chiefs, Royals, and Sporting KC player’s hair. Our girl Brook even goes to the stadium where they have a small hair solon onsite and cuts players hair when they’re too busy to make it to our salon.

CC: So what do you and Jim do in your spare time; assuming you have any?
Cilla: We love to travel. We mostly fly, but sometimes drive. We really just like to get away. We’ll be traveling to New Orleans in January for a business conference, in which we’ll be receiving an award for being in the top 200 salons out of 515,000 in the U.S. We’re taking our daughter with us, who also works here at the salon.

CC: So do you plan to open additional locations, and what do you see in the future for Chop Tops?
Cilla: No, we have no plans right now to open any more locations. We’d prefer to stick with what we have and keep doing it right. Someday, we’d like to retire and turn the business over to our daughter and her fiancé. We plan to keep the business in the family, and would never sell it to an outsider. We would never risk the reputation for what we’ve built here. At least that’s our goal!

CC: Thank you so much Cilla for doing Katy’s hair and makeup for our January 2017 cover shoot, and we wish you, Jim, and your wonderful crew a very Happy New Years!

For more information about Chop Tops – A Hair Company, check out their website, Facebook page, or contact them at the following locations:

Westport
611 W 39th St
Kansas City, MO 64111
Phone number (816) 753-2467

Waldo/Brookside
115 E Gregory Blvd
Kansas City, MO 64114
Phone number (816) 333-2467

Mike Schweder

Editor-in-Chief - Kansas City, MO

Mike is the original founder of Cycle Connections Online Motorcycle Magazine and an avid motorcycle enthusiast. He has been riding for over 40 years, belongs to several local and national motorcycle organizations and travels to numerous rallies and events throughout the US each year. Mike has been a writer and editor for many years and has a passion for sharing his motorcycling experiences and stories with you. Contact Mike at mikes@cycleconnections.com