Shannon King is the original man with a plan. “You can dream all you want, but it’s planning that gets you closer to reality,” says King, who, with wife Allyson, owns two Hair & Co. BRKLYN salons in Brooklyn, NY, and Beauty 360, a consulting firm that offers business coaching and technical development. None of this was a happy accident, but the result of a long-term plan that began when King was still in middle school.
“Both of my parents are hairdressers, and my twin brother Sean and I spent Saturdays in the salon with them when we were kids,” he says. “My dad gave us each a quarter to sweep or dry and fold the towels he brought home to wash. We learned early on that we had to do our job so he could do his and provide for us. When you learn how that circle works when you’re that young, you make sure you’re not the weak link in it.”
While King was fairly sure he’d pursue a career in hairdressing, he decided to hedge his bets and in eighth grade came up with a plan that would allow him to front-load enough college prep courses so he could graduate with an academic diploma but also allow go to vocational-technical school to study hairdressing in his junior and senior years. By the time he enrolled at Towson University in Towson, Maryland, to study business management, he’d already become a licensed cosmetologist. “Again, it’s all about planning,” he says.
Still, his first semester almost killed him. “I was taking 15 credits plus working at Hair Cuttery and commuting back and forth,” he says. “Basically, I was never home.” Still, he was making new friends, some of who lived in fraternity houses on campus. “They let me stay with them for free if I cut their hair whenever they asked, which cut down on my commute.” King also began going to fraternity parties where he met lots of girls who were willing to pay him to cut and color their hair. “I pocketed and banked all the money I made so I was able to pay for college by writing a check each year.” By “working the plan,” King reasons that he came out ahead of the game. “Beauty schools can cost upwards of $25,000, but by going to vo-tech, I only spent $307 for my kit and my uniforms.”
Still, King admits that while he showed talent in beauty school, he knew nothing about cutting hair when he started working at Hair Cuttery. Naturally, one of his first clients asked for a wedge, the one cut he hadn’t learned in school. He still remembers her as the most patient angel on the planet. “It took me an hour and 40 minutes to figure that wedge out, and she just sat there smiling. I told her that if she came back to see me again, I’d be better each time, and I was.”
That experience sold King on the value of education. Ratner Companies, which owned Hair Cuttery, offered free classes, and he began taking them every chance he got, and that’s how he met Lamar Weathers, who was education manager for Ratner Companies salons in Maryland. “He offered me an opportunity to become an educator, but I turned him down,” says King, who was in what he calls a place of want and need. “I was harvesting, gobbling up everything I could at the time.” Then Weathers told him about an opportunity to work for Paul Mitchell (Hair Cuttery carried their products). This time King listened. “He told me that they’d pay for my training and send me to other salons to share what I learned and they’d pay me to do that, too,” he says. “Those were the magic words because I was broke.”
At Paul Mitchell King worked with Sam Burns and Kevin Michaels, huge artists at the time, but when he was offered the opportunity to work for American Crew, a new line of men’s products that Hair Cuttery began carrying, he didn’t hesitate. “Men’s grooming had always been my passion,” says King, who was mentored by master barber, stylist and educator Kurt Kueffner, who told him that his was the best audition tape he’d ever seen. “He’s a very caring, loving human being, who expected excellence. Mediocrity was simply not an option.”
When Crew offered him an opportunity to become part of their national team, King jumped at the chance. He was still working as an educator for Ratner Companies, which sent him on the road with salon owner and educator Wayne Grund. “He was the first person who taught me razor cutting,” says King, who traveled with Grund and his crew, prepping models for trade shows. “I remember a show we did in Baltimore,” says King as if it was yesterday. “My mom and dad were in the front row. So we’re backstage when Wayne tells me that I had to go onstage that night because one of the educators missed his flight.” King was understandably nervous since he’d never been onstage before. “There were 2,500 people in the audience,” he says. “I don’t know how I made it through that first round of models, but I do remember how proud my parents were of me.”
Then in 1999, King was asked to audition for Lisa Kennedy at the Redken Exchange in New York City. “It was awful,” he says. When Kennedy agreed to a let him audition again, he asked her what he could do to improve his performance. “She asked me if I remembered my last audition, and I said yes, and she said, don’t do that.”
So when King showed up at The Exchange for round two, he decided to demonstrate his technical skills but also “show the humorous side of me that loved the industry and education.” As it turned out, he knocked it out of the park. All of the people who would become King’s mentors were there that day, including Christine Schuster, Chris Baran, Kris Sorbie and Sam Villa. “I still remember looking up and seeing Sam Villa giving me an ‘attaboy’ look,” says King, who spent the next 12 years as part of the Exchange Team, facilitating programs like “Cut and Know Why” and traveling to every continent but Antarctica.
King met his wife in Baltimore where she also worked for Ratner Companies. “We were two Type A personalities who butted heads all the time,” he says. Still, he saw a lot of her because she was good friends with his brother, Mezei. “We were always together,” he says. The two became close. Meanwhile, Allyson was operating a salon group called ColorWorks for Ratner Companies. The flagship salon was on Pentagon Row in Washington, D.C.. On September 11, 2001, King was in his car in Northern Virginia when he heard that a plane had hit the Pentagon. He called Allyson right away and told her to get out of the salon and take her clients with her if she had to. “She must have felt that I loved her because she told me she loved me right before she hung up,” he says. “I had a girlfriend at the time, but we broke up pretty soon after that.” The two married in 2006, while living in Chicago, and honeymooned in Australia. “We came back with a little souvenir,” he says of his daughter, who they named Sydney for obvious reasons.
While King was working in downtown Chicago, he was recruited by L’Oreal Professional Products Division, which offered him a job as Director of Education for Softsheen Carson, which was the #1 global ethnic beauty brand. “L’Oreal lets you move around within the company,” says King, who moved on to become Director of Matrix Global Training for a couple of years. Meanwhile, Allyson, who was Vice President of Training for Clarins, was offered a job with Dessange International. The only hitch? She had to relocate to Boston.
So the couple tried the long-distance thing for a year. “I stayed in New York with Sydney, who was in first grade, and Allyson came home on weekends so I could go on the road with L’Oreal,” says King, who admits that it wasn’t an ideal situation, but it was the best bonding year for him and his daughter as well as a very busy time professionally. Finally, he made the difficult decision to leave L’Oreal and join Allyson in Boston where as National Design Lead for North America, he helped Keune develop a cutting curriculum. “We just decided that we all needed to be in the same place.”
A year later King realized that it was time to put his and his wife’s expertise together and pursue their own dreams, so in 2015 he and Allyson decided to put down roots in Brooklyn and open a salon there. Business was so good that they opened a second location less than two years later. “We work really hard,” says King, who learned the value of hard work as a small boy. “Allyson’s mother always says, ‘Leave it to the man upstairs,’ and while I think it’s healthy to believe in something bigger than yourself, you also have to do your part.” In other words, make a plan and follow it to the letter.