D.J. Williams had a dream to start his own hair salon and bring style to Augusta.
Twenty years later, the president of D.J. & Co. Salon, Spa & Gifts Inc. has a staff of 17 stylists at 139 Davis Road.
“I’ve had people work for me for the whole 20 years that are still here,” Williams said. “We’re proud of that. Client and staff retention are very important to me.”
Williams said that he has loyal clients that drive hundreds of miles to his salon. Last week, a client drove six hours from Tennessee.
“People will go a long way to get their hair created the way they want it,” he said. “Once they find someone, even if they move away, they’ll make that journey back.”
After earning his cosmetology degree, Williams moved to Augusta at age 19. He worked for other salons for three years before striking out on his own.
“I felt like Augusta had an open market for someone that was really into creating style,” he said.
Williams said that he couldn’t find a fit in larger cities, such as Los Angeles, New York and Atlanta, but he liked some of their business practices.
“I liked in the larger cities how they create a team atmosphere, where everyone inside the salon and spa work together. I couldn’t find that here,” he said.
In 1992, Williams opened D.J. & Co. at age 23. He started with one employee at La Pavilion shopping center. Williams was also a newlywed, and his wife agreed to let him take out a second mortgage on their home to start the business.
“It was sink or swim. It was scary, but I wanted to create something larger than myself. It wasn’t just about me becoming a great hairdresser in this town,” Williams said. “I wanted to create an atmosphere where stylists could come and stay and grow and earn a good living. I felt like that’s what was lacking. Not just in Augusta, but in the beauty industry period.”
For years, the beauty industry culture has been booth rental. Stylists are typically self-employed and don’t receive any benefits.
“In my salon and the larger salons that I got the idea from, we create a culture where you’re an employee...we have a 401(k) here, I match benefits, I pay vacation, I take them on retreats, I pay for their education, I pay for the best scissors, the best color. You don’t get that in a salon or spa where you’re renting a booth,” he said.
One day he hopes to be able to offer health insurance. His stylists work for one year as an intern and receive training to get their skills to a certain level.
Williams purchased land on Davis Road in 1994. His salon was in a house for nine years. When they outgrew the space, he acquired adjoining land and built a shopping center. In 2002, he began construction at the Shops at Devin Park, named after his son, Devin. The road leading to the back parking lot is named Anslee Lane after his daughter, Anslee.
“I’ve had a dual fascination with real estate,” he said.
The Shops at Devin Park includes a homeopathic doctor, coffee shop and consignment shop. A management company helps Williams run the shopping center, but he strives to have the right tenants.
“It took time for me to become a better landlord and find a better mix. We’ve had that now for the last five years. I even went a solid year without leasing one of my spaces at my choice because I wanted the businesses to compliment one another,” he said.
Because of business growth, Williams needs more parking spaces, so he’s trying to acquire more land. He added spa services in 2000 and was able to offer a full spa two years later.
“The spa still has the farthest to grow because I feel like in this economy, it’s a luxury,” he said.
For customers on a limited budget, D.J. & Co. has reinvented the spa service to offer mini facials, shorter time intervals for massages and mini manicures and pedicures.
Williams said that it’s been a “wonderful ride.” In the future, he’s considering opening additional salons, maybe in Evans and Aiken.
“I love the business. I love the people,” he said.