Dacula’s The Look Salon celebrates 10 years keeping small town feel alive in big city
When small business entrepreneur Nikki Ramsell decided she wanted to open her own beauty salon 10 years ago, she sought out her mother’s advice. Just 22, the Dacula High School graduate had long dreamed of opening her own business.
She had, after all, grown up in a salon, as her mother Denise Wigenton, had worked as a hairdresser for as long as Ramsell could remember.
“The hair salon was my second home growing up,” Ramsell said. “It was only natural when it came time for me to open my own business that I would choose to open a salon.”
For Wigenton, teaching her daughter the business assumed a tag-team approach, with her longtime partner in hair-styling crime, Colleen Ruff.
“I figure I could relay what I really wanted Nikki to know about the salon business through Colleen, who became her mentor while she was in high school, as you know your children never really listen to their mothers.”
Ramsell got her start in the salon business at the tender age of 14, mentoring with her mother and Ruff as she worked her way through high school. “The Girls, as Ramsell refers to them as, had worked together in several salons over the years, and Ruff had taken Ramsell under her wing to teach her the tools of the salon trade.
“Mom and Colleen had been providing me with such an awesome learning experience from such a young age, 14 years old,” Ramsell said. “By the time I turned 18, I had worked for seven different salons spanning from Dacula, Lawrenceville, Buford, Sandy Springs, and all the way to Saint Simons Island.”
Ramsell discovered, like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, there was no place like home.
“What I learned, jumping from a variety of salons, was that the people were the most incredible in Dacula,” she said. “They were down to earth and real. And I could be real too. Mom and Colleen taught me that you don’t have to have your makeup airbrushed on, and you don’t have to wear high-heels to be a good hairdresser. You can be your truest self when you’re servicing down to earth people.”
Ramsell likens The Look Salon more to Truvy’s salon in Steel Magnolias than Floyd’s barbershop from Mayberry, though in a previous incarnation, the 2nd Avenue building in downtown Dacula was once a barbershop and a pharmacy back in the day. She calls finding her salon’s home an act of serendipity.
“Honestly, the location we picked was based, solely, on the owner of our current space. A man named Don Smith, who has since passed, was so kind to me when I began having struggles with my previous landlord. He gave me some sound business advice and then coinci-dentally, had his space open up for rent at just the right time for me.”
Before the opening of SR 316 which cut nearly 40 miles from northeast Atlanta in Gwinnett County to Athens, the road to Athens passed through Dacula. Back then, GA State Road 29 ran concurrently with what is now SR 8 from Lawrenceville through Winder, Bethlehem and Bogart into Athens. In autumn, on Saturdays, when the University of Georgia Bulldogs played football games at home, the caravan of motor vehicles ranging from cars and trucks, to campers and RVs paraded east, beginning well before dawn, and wouldn’t subside until the last RV re-turned west that night.
And they all passed through Dacula.
By the time Ramsell opened the Look Salon in downtown Dacula in 2006, progress had pushed Dacula off the beat-en path with the opening of SR 316 just a half mile away in 1991.
After a short stint at the salon’s original location around the corner at 381 Harbins Road, Ramsell relocated to the salon’s present location at 2519 2nd Avenue in downtown Dacula.
“Of all the salon experience I had gained, mom and Colleen proved there could be a deep connection, actual friend-ships in this business, where you can love and be loved by your clientele and therefore absolutely adore your work every day.”
Recently divorced, Ramsell craved a change of pace. Self-admittedly full of pure naiveté and hopes and dreams as fuel, Ramsell picked up a small loan from her aunt to open the salon doors in 2006, and soon after, her mother and Colleen agreed to rent a booth, and jumped on-board.
“This helped to guarantee I could meet my rent while I began to build my own clientele,” Ramsell said.
The Look Salon celebrated its 10th anniversary in business in November, 2016. Ramsell credits the salon’s success to the good people that have supported her salon since it opened 10 years ago.
“It’s back to those good people,” she said. “Because it’s easy to love what you do when you work with great people and this community has been beyond amazing to us.”
Ramsell though, prefers Truvy’s reference from Steel Magnolias over Floyd’s barbershop in Mayberry.
“Truvy, who is in fact, the character portrayed by Dolly, and the girls from Steel Magnolias, just fit us better than Floyd’s barbershop in Mayberry,” she said. “Our gossip is raunchier but the small town feel is probably the same.”
Today, at 33, and now the mother of two – a daughter Evie, now 18 months, and a son Lucas, four months – Ramsell has carved out a nice life for herself with her husband Jeremy.
For Nikki, it’s all about family, and the sense of family at the Look Salon, is important. It’s cultivated. It doesn’t just happen on its own. The people are what make it happen, she said.
“I spent my teen years trying to be a ‘more important’ hairdresser then my mom, like all silly little girls, only to make a bunch of circles and learn that she had the best idea from the start, so absolutely there was no place like home,” she said. “Part of our appeal is that cozy-no fancy feel, so once again my mom was right and again I learned what a ‘better hairdresser’ looked like. She raised me.”