I immediately rushed home, ran up the stairs and got my recorder ready for the interview of a lifetime. After I had settled myself with about 30 minutes to spare, I called the number back and lo and behold, Mario had already departed to his next destination. Yes, ladies and gentlemen you heard correctly, I let Wal-Mart come in between me and a conversation with a world famous hair stylist and entrepreneur. Allow me to briefly give you a little background of why A. I regret missing this call and B. I needed to feature Mario Tricoci.
Anyone who is from the Midwest should be well acquainted with Mario Tricoci Salons and Day Spas. In fact, if you haven’t walked by a salon or seen the billboards, then I regret to inform you that you’ve been living under a rock.
While growing up in Gurnee, IL, the Mario Tricoci salons represented the créme de la créme in our small town world of beauty. Saying you went to get your hair done at Mario Tricoci was a badge of honor. When I turned 13 I declared myself ready for this honor of saying I’ve been to Mario Tricoci. After a hairstyle gone wrong at another salon, I vowed to find somewhere that would give me a world class experience. For one day I wanted to know what royalty felt like. I wanted to be pampered while surrounded by luxury, and I knew that the talented staff at Mario Tricoci would be able to provide this for me.
When I first walked into the opulent salon in Vernon Hills, I was escorted to a section of plush seating where I sat waiting for my stylist. A lovely receptionist then proceeded to ask me if I would like anything to drink. She offers me a choice of coffee, a bottle of Evian, or tea. I select tea and out comes the sweet aroma of a nice warm mug of chamomile. The stylist hadn’t even begun with my hair and I was already in a state of bliss solely from the hospitality. While offering a beverage is customary practice, to my 13-year-old self this meant that I was in good hands. I remember this day so vividly because it was the first time I had been offered something to drink while getting my hair done. It may have just been a warm mug of chamomile, but that cup of tea was just a prelude of what was to come from my day of pampering. I left that salon with a smile on my face and a hairstyle I adored and of course bragging rights.
Fast-forward to 11 years after that serendipitous cup of tea in the salon, Mario Tricoci is still creating innovative hairstyles accompanied by the signature world-class experience. In a full circle moment, I had the absolute pleasure of speaking to the man behind my first foray into the world of luxury. If you are still wondering about that fateful call I missed in Wal-Mart, I did get in touch with the famed Mario Tricoci and I got a closer look at the man behind the empire. For over 35 years and 14 salons across the Chicagoland area, Mario Tricoci certainly knows a thing or two about beauty and business. We discussed everything from entrepreneurship, beauty, and a little-known fact many may not know about him. Without further ado, here’s a look at my conversation with Mario Tricoci.
TCL: You are certainly a veteran in the beauty industry, how did you get your start in becoming a hairstylist?
MT: In Italy, like here in Chicago, you could not help but notice all of the beautiful women. I liked being around pretty women and wanted to work in an industry that enhanced their natural beauty
TCL: What made you want to open your own salon?
MT: I truly believe that everybody has a dream to be an entrepreneur, to follow their passion. Many want to do this, but too often are afraid of failure. I choose to put my passion to work by starting my own business. You have to take the chance to be successful and as well as the chance you might fail. I was fortunate enough to have success.
TCL: As you began to open up various salons throughout the Chicagoland area, what would you say is quintessential Mario that is present in each salon?
MT: It is our culture that everyone in each salon feels like it is their own family. We all are passionate about what we do and that creates an energy and culture that you can feel at each and every salon.
TCL: Most salons close after 2 years. What would you say has been the secret to your success?
MT: Perseverance and determination and of course, the help of a brilliant wife.
TCL: Your schools are responsible for creating some world-class stylists. What would you say differentiates graduates of your school from other styling academies?
MT: Having the culture of “of course I can” and not to compromise what you want to do. We train our students for a career, not a job. When you prepare them for a job, it is 9 – 5 or whatever your hours may be and then you are done for that day. A career is something that you live and breathe. That you love and work at 24/7. It’s that passion that sets our students apart.
TCL: How do you and your team stay abreast on the latest trends in hair? What would you say is your source of inspiration?
MT: Young people are my inspiration and I am a student of what is happening on the streets here, in Europe and worldwide. I am fortunate to travel a great deal and always note what I am seeing on the young men and women in Vienna, Italy, Paris and all over. Then I take that inspiration and observation and build on it to make it mine. You have to trust in yourself and be true to yourself.
TCL: What makes Chicago a great place for your salons?
MT: Chicago is one of the iconic cities of the world. The people here are very fashionable. I certainly believe this. The Mag Mile, Oak Street and other areas are second to none worldwide. I would put them right up there with Fifth Avenue in NY, Rodeo Drive, and all the fashion centers in Europe. We may not have the reputation they do, but we have everything they have.
TCL: You’ve seen many hairstyles come and go throughout your career. What trends are here to stay and what style should not make a comeback?
MT: Any style can come back as it will always be interpreted with a modern twist. For instance, the classic soft bob is here to stay. Cleopatra wore a bob 2000 years and fashionable women wear it today. Women have adorned their hair with color through the ages and color in hair is splendid today. The current trends with Multi-shades is beautiful. If it is done right any style can come back and look great when appropriate to the individual person.
TCL: You’ve seen and treated all types of hair. What would you say is the most common mistake people make when taking care of their hair?
MT: The biggest mistake they make is not listening to their beauty professional. Once you are given the knowledge of how to care for your hair, it’s important to act on that knowledge. Take advice from a professional and follow through.
TCL: As you reflect on your career, what has been a career highlight for you thus far?
MT: There have been so many highlights, what comes to mind is the ability to give back to help and assist new talent. Whether it is a new nail technician, stylist, esthetician or massage therapist. Launching the careers of passionate young professionals is a true highlight. And now, for the last 7 years we have been launching modeling careers through Mario, Make Me a Model. It’s really very gratifying.
TCL: Briefly touch on the Make me a Model Campaign. What is it and what are you looking for when deciding on the winner
MT: Poise, confidence, photogenic, and a confident attitude that they can do this are most important. During the program we work to build the confidence of each of our finalist so they can have the self-esteem and skills they need to do the hard work to become a World Class Model.
TCL: Looking back to when you first began, describe the moment when you realized that you wanted to create a beauty empire?
MT: I know that when I started the company it was a moment of great risk, I mortgaged my house and committed completely. But I had the confidence in myself that we could do this. It really came together when I realized my gratification did not come from the money, but in making people look and feel good every day – and then I got paid on top of it. How good is that?!
TCL: What is something about you that people would be surprised to know?
MT: Many people do not know that I’m a pretty good cook. I love good old southern Italian cooking.
TCL: What has been the greatest advice you have ever received?
MT: To always stay a student of life, of your craft, whenever and for whatever interests you.
TCL: What’s next for you Mario?
MT: What I enjoy the most is time to give back to the industry; from advice to our seasoned professionals, young students at the university, or to encourage the shampoo girl and the new manicurist. I want to share with them the facts of the industry and the joys of a career.
Special thanks to Mario Tricoci for taking the time for this interview. I hope you now understand why this interview needed to happen! It was greatly appreciated.
Also thanks to the Mario Tricoci team for the photos!