How The Salon became a community go-to for all things hair

Taylor Maerz

You’re a student at Iowa State University, and you desperately need your dead ends trimmed after frying them with your straighter every weekend. You’re a busy mom of three with natural, coily hair who greatly deserves an hour of peace and quiet self-care. You’re a “dude” who is over the salon franchises that combine haircuts and sports. You’re in need of a new salon, so you Google “hair salons in Ames.”

The first business that pops up is The Salon in Ames, owned and creatively directed by Alan Randall. Named candidly yet perfect for optimized SEO results, Randall knows what he’s doing with The Salon. What else would you expect from someone with over 10 years of experience behind the chair and teaching haircut and style techniques to others?

As the lead stylist and newly appointed owner of The Salon, Randall handles the ins and outs of the business with no sweat; from running errands to payroll, to creative editorial marketing shoots, to snazzy cuts and colors, he undertakes it all.

What you wouldn’t expect from Randall, however, is that he didn’t actually plan for any of this. As a matter of fact, he never saw himself in the position of owning one of the most successful salons in Ames.

“I kind of got thrown into it,” he said. 

Five years ago, The Salon went through a sudden management change, making him the go-to guy for operations. At 24, Randall was in the midst of his young professional career and getting handed the ropes to a largely loved business, a task not for the faint-hearted.

Now, while tossed into a whirlwind of sudden managerial obligation and responsibility, it’s not like Randall wasn’t prepared for this huge step in his career. In fact, The Salon has been in his family for nearly 12 years as his father was the initial investor and owner.

It may seem like fate that his father opened this salon in 2010, and the stars aligned perfectly for Randall, but little did he know that this was only one of the multiple landmarks in his life that prepared him for the massive undertaking he would take on years later.

Randall was raised in Ames and has fond memories of attending Iowa State football games and sitting on the grassy hillside with all the other rambunctious children. He was a curious student and found amusement in any activity that involved working with his hands.

“When we met, I never saw him as a guy going into the office,”  said his forever best friend, Ross Ellrich. “[His future job] would be more creative.”

It’s like Ellrich can predict the future. Randall affirmed this desire for innovation from an early age in one of his art classes.

“I told [my art teacher] that I wanted to either go into fashion design, some sort of art school, or jewelry design, and she told me I wouldn’t make any money doing jewelry,” Randall said. “So, I knew I wanted to do something with my hands, and I decided that hairdressing was kind of the way to go.”

This passion led him to attend hair school at Aveda Institute Des Moines in 2012, following his high school graduation. While he was in school, he started working the front desk at his dad’s salon, learning the ins and outs of the company. After graduating from Aveda, he worked full-time as a stylist at The Salon.

His wonder for challenge and drive to learn led Randall to Keracolor, a cleansing conditioner and single-wash color company, in 2016. Working as an artist for them allowed Randall to travel across the United States doing hair shows where he taught other stylists specific techniques and new styles.

Here, he found his love for expressing the editorial edge of hairstyling that he enjoys most in places like New York City and Seattle.

“I would say I like the teaching and creative photoshoot side of things more [than behind the chair] because that’s what I love – the creative side of hair,” Randall said. “In bigger cities, you have people that don’t do hair behind the chair at all and just do more editorial stuff. In smaller towns, most hairdressers are chair working, not doing a lot of editorial work.”

Through this creative passion, he met his mentor and good friend, Janine Jarman. They worked together educating stylists and doing editorial work in the hair world, and their eurythmic ability to work together prompted the two to start the process of opening a salon in New York City.

With an entrepreneurial spirit in his blood, Randall was pumped about this opportunity and saw himself at the heart of the action. However, right before his big move, The Salon’s previous manager quit unexpectedly, tying Randall down to taking over the oh-so-loved Ames business.

“I’m kind of glad it happened,” Randall said. “The Salon is in a way better place now than it was [before]. It was kind of heartbreaking because I was really excited to go to New York, but also exciting because I got to do the business side of things and realizing it’s not this big, scary monster to open a business, and it’s actually pretty easy.”

Jarman was supportive of Randall’s decision and knew that it was what was best for him at the time.

“He’s really close with his family and had a lot of obligation,” Jarman said. “It just didn’t make sense, and it felt forced for him to go to the city at that time. Even when it sounds like ‘oh my gosh, you’re going to New York or LA, that’s when you’ve made it’, not necessarily. Sometimes you can be more successful by being a big fish in a small pond.”

And big fish he is, as Randall is now operating The Salon with expertise and skills he learned in places where normal is weird. This is yet another experience that led him to be prepared to manage The Salon, unbeknownst to him at the time.

So, he is back in small-town Ames, Iowa, in charge of The Salon and seeking that editorial thrill he had in the big city. An Instagram direct message from Dan McClanahan, the owner of McClanahan Studio in the heart of downtown Ames, changed everything.

The two creatives are similar in passion: they have day jobs that they love but crave a challenge of artistic desire. Wanting to bring the NYC or LA feel to Ames, they decided to get together occasionally to style images they had in their minds.

“We started doing these shoots together and the stuff turned out awesome,” McClanahan said. “Alan’s a wizard, but he’s a wizard in a way where he’s not like, in your face trying to be an expert, he’s more chill which kind of puts you at ease, but then he’ll interject himself in a way that fills everybody up. He’s just cool. He’s fun to work with.”

While his ambition may be contagious, that’s not the only thing fiery about Randall. Have you seen his hair?

Blazing red and draped delicately on his shoulders (queue the typical slow-motion hair blowing in the wind scene), his locks draw your eyes in at first glance. It’s only fitting that he, a salon owner, has the most beautiful hair. It’s the kind of hair people wish they had. It’s unforgettable.

In fact, it’s the first thing his wife, Hannah Bartel Randall, noticed about him. The two met in Ames shortly after Randall began managing The Salon.

“Hair is a great way to describe Alan. One, because that’s what he does for work and that’s how a lot of people know him, but also that’s just the physical aspect of him that everyone knows him by. You know, the guy with the red hair!”

Randall has grown to love this distinctive trait, but it took some work.

“It’s something I hated growing up, and now it’s my favorite,” he said. “I feel like the hair industry actually helped that. In the hair industry, we celebrate being more different, whereas high school, like sports jocks, it’s not exciting for you to be different and creative.”

It’s not only his hair that makes him stand out and sets him apart from others. He’s a go-with-the-flow type of guy, which is not the typical approach for most bosses.

Randall makes it a priority for his employees to feel a part of a team. He is always willing to make changes to ensure that they are happy and satisfied with their work.

“I would say we have a pretty organic way of going through The Salon, and that’s my personality coming through,” he said.

Ask any one of his employees, and they would agree. Emma Grice, his right-hand man at The Salon, loves having Randall as her boss.

“Not only is he very easygoing, but he’s very much a free spirit kind of dude, you know?” Grice said. He’s a fun person,” Grice said. “It’s very much like working with a friend.”

Her most fond memory of the two is running down to the tattoo parlor on Main Street on a whim to get tattoos- and yep, they match. 

Who would Randall be without his red hair, matching tattoo with Grice, and his dogs? Oh, his dogs!

Greeted ever so gently by the largest, shyest Great Dane named Koala, Grice said the pup and her owner are one and the same.

“She’s got the same vibe as Alan. Just chill!”

Another one of his stylists interjected with a comparison that sparked some giggles in the room.

“He’s like Shaggy from Scooby-Doo! He walks around with his dog in his khakis and wears green all the time,” said Andrea Parker, also a stylist at The Salon.

Randall is widely loved by family, friends, his dogs and his fantastic crew at The Salon. Everything that has happened in his life has led him to be the best boss possible. From art class with Ellrich to his dad opening The Salon to his experience with Keracolor and Jarman and the heartbreaking fall through of moving to New York City, he has built the grounds for his life today.

Without any of these moments, he may not have met his wife, Grice, or McClanahan. He may not have been given the opportunity to serve the community around him. Owning and managing The Salon is what he was meant to do.

What is meant to be will always find a way to come about, and Randall and his experiences are the perfect example to prove it.

“I try not to get too stuck on things because, a lot of times, I feel like things happen for a reason.”