By Jamie Shafer
“I never saw myself in this industry,” shared Sam Hills.It’s a special day for Sam, owner of High Five Salon (highfivesalon.com) in Cincinnati, Ohio. He is on his way to work, running errands as he gathers a few extra items for a birthday party. The salon is turning five years old today, and for any new business, that’s worth celebrating. According to Harvard Business School, about 75 percent of new businesses fail, most within the first three years. High Five, on the other hand, has solid bookings and was recently named among the “Top 100 Hair Salons in America” by ELLE magazine.
This wasn’t Sam’s original plan. “From an early age, I thought I was going to do vocational ministry,” he said. Both of his parents and his brother attended Cincinnati Christian University, and it seemed like a natural next step for Sam as well.
“Growing up, I was very involved in youth ministry. I love the fun, relational side of ministry.” He also has a love for music. At the close of his first year at CCU, he auditioned and ended up touring with Christian singer Riley Armstrong. Sam loved playing and says it jolted him out of his routine enough to question his plans.
In thinking about his return to school, Sam said he begin asking, “Is this something God wants for me? How could working at a church not be God’s plan?” He began praying and asking others for guidance. Along the way, the topic of doing hair came up. Sam said he experienced multiple confirmations along the way. But he had never done hair before.
He laughs at remembering his initial experiences at hair school and acknowledges that he began with a huge disadvantage compared to others in the room. “On my first day, I grabbed a blow dryer and thought, I do not even know how to turn this on.” Now customers wait weeks for an appointment with Sam, named as one of the city’s top stylists by Cincinnati Magazine.
When he thinks back on doing youth ministry, Sam said, “I could have done it and I would have done a good job, but I would have missed out on the opportunities I have now.”
What’s different about High Five? The stylists are committed to their craft and skilled in their trade. Sam said that the salon invests significant resources in its employees. For him, it’s all a matter of good stewardship, using what God has entrusted to them. But it goes deeper than that.
High Five’s vision of “Fresh Looks—Bold Love” begins with a simple, but countercultural mission, especially in the beauty industry: “We believe that everyone is born beautiful and deserves to feel that way.”
Sam doesn’t want High Five to be the only one with this mission to redefine beauty. “Our team is passionate about sharing what they know with other people. It’s our goal to open an academy for young stylists, for those passionate about making a dent in the dark side of the beauty industry. We want to start teaching people a different mindset along with how to do their craft.”
In Sam’s opinion, it’s all ministry. Rather than reaching out to high school students in a local church as he first imagined, he’s reaching people who look in the mirror and believe a lie about their beauty and worth.
One story comes to his mind. “We have our mission handwritten on cardboard behind our front desk. One day, a woman came in, looked at the mission, and she sat down and let out a sigh. I’ll have about 3,000 people in my chair this year. You hear questions, see facial expressions, and you start to realize things about people.
“She gave me cues that she was feeling heavy. When I asked, she said she was having a hard time justifying the words on our wall. She said, ‘That’s never been a reality for me.’ I realized she had probably lived three-quarters of her life not believing that she was beautiful.
“We talked about it. It was cool to talk to her about a love that is pure and relentless and will stop at nothing to prove to her that her worth is priceless. It has no measure. I got to sit there and talk with her as she cried in the chair.”
He went on to share, “We’re not the answer. We’re a haircut. But we want to serve as battering rams to people’s hearts. We break down the walls. For 30 seconds, if we can get them to believe, to give them hope and their heart receives worth, then we have won.”
Jamie Shafer is a communications strategist for Fishhook Communications in Indianapolis, Indiana. She and her husband, Eric, have two children.