Published 12:00 am Saturday, March 3, 2012
SALISBURY — Rick and Deborah Bowman are survivors. Twenty years ago, they hit on a formula — their hair salon combined with a ladies apparel store — that has carried Attractions on Main through economic downturns testing the mettle of every independent business.
They took chances — first, in a downtown that had lost all of its retail anchor stores and was only beginning to redefine itself. Back then, in the early 1990s, the newspaper called them and other new shop owners “urban guerrilas.”
Today’s downtown businesses can still identify with the term.
The Bowmans’ second big risk was leaving the central business district a decade ago and trusting their future to a former vehicle paint and auto parts store at the corner of Sunset Drive and South Main Street.
It was exactly a mile away from their first location, so the name “Attractions on Main” still worked.
“It was meant to be,” Deborah Bowman says of the current address at 2130 S. Main St. “We didn’t have to make any turns when we moved.”
No matter their location, the Bowmans always took a holistic approach. “We pretty much can take care of it all,” Deborah says.
Attractions on Main — the ladies’ fashion part of the business — has the jewelry and accessories to complete any outfit bought in the store.
Rick Bowman’s Salon, separated from the front store by an expansive wall of glass, feeds off Rick’s 36 years of styling experience.
He and Deborah consider and discuss their clients’ face structure and hair texture in coming up with styles to fit. They sell hair and skin care products and offer manicures and pedicures.
“I spend a lot of time with my clients,” Rick says. “We’ve never been a salon where we pump them out like on an assembly line.”
Both the fashion store and salon also pay attention to customer followup.
They send thank-you notes after haircuts and purchases. They call customers on the telephone to remind them of upcoming hair appointments.
They keep in contact with customers through emails and text messages, and customers are enrolled into a birthday club, which carries good discounts.
When the couple attends markets in Atlanta, deciding on new lines of clothing for the store, Deborah sees things she knows certain of her loyal customers will be interested in and she buys the appropriate sizes.
“We literally can almost be personal shoppers,” Rick says.
When the Underwood’s store in downtown Salisbury went out of business, it asked the Bowmans to consider providing a service for women coming back from breast cancer surgery.
Deborah became a certified fitter for mastectomy bras and prosthetics, and Attractions on Main provides that service.
Rick Bowman looks at his appointment book for the week and realizes every client — some still coming from Winston-Salem — has been with him for at least 15 years.
The same goes for Deborah. She still has customers from her days with Merle Norman in Kannapolis more than 20 years ago.
“Our customers really have stood by us,” Rick says.
The Bowmans met when Rick was still on the road, conducting hair shows and giving styling tips to professionals such as Deborah, who was in the front row of his audience one day in Charleston, S.C.
Within four weeks, Rick was asking Deborah to marry him, and the couple are coming up on their 23rd wedding anniversary.
Their first business in Salisbury was in one of the street-level stores of the Empire Hotel. At the time, today’s Meroney Theater was still a rundown movie house. The City Hall building was a bank, and Queen’s was home for a men’s clothing store.
Ralph Baker’s Shoes was the biggest retailer on their block.
The name, “Attractions on Main,” resulted from the Bowmans standing outside, looking across the street and envisioning one day that the old theater would be reborn and alive with people again.
And when that happened, Rick predicted, “We’ll be the other attraction on Main.”
The Bowmans liked the downtown and its reasonable rent. They weren’t paying a percentage of their sales to a shopping center landlord, and there was no outside maintenance.
The space was adequate in the beginning, though within a year, the clothing part of the business was catching up to the salon, prompting the Bowmans to knock out a wall and lease part of the space next door.
Tiring of the road, Rick gradually weaned himself off the hair-show circuit, especially when the couple’s daughter, Morgan, was born.
The Bowman’s biggest downtown drawback was parking and, as their business became more established, the rent went up. Rick Bowman said he was paying customers’ parking tickets so they would not be discouraged from coming back.
Looking back, the couple say the downtown proved to be a good incubator. In 2001, they purchased the building at South Main and Sunset Drive and moved to a place with 7,000 square feet.
“There are only so many corners, and we were able to buy the building at a good price,” Rick Bowman says.
This particular corner has a lot of traffic, especially because it’s a connection to Jake Alexander Boulevard. While their cars are sitting, waiting at the traffic lights, motorists can’t help but notice the Bowmans’ shop.
The couple utilize 4,000 square feet for their two businesses, and they lease a rear section to a Hispanic church.
The place required significant repairs and renovations, including pine flooring for the hair salon and construction of the attractive wall between the two businesses. The windows allow the stylists to have a good view of the clothing store in front.
Rick Bowman says clothing sales tripled during their first three months on the corner.
“They thought we were a new clothing store,” Deborah explains. “It definitely was a good move for us.”
The Bowmans finally had the convenient parking they longed for. They also had the space for Rick to conduct continuing education classes in styling.
Besides the Bowmans, the hair salon has Lora Griffin as a stylist. She has been with the Bowmans for almost two years.
The beauty of having two businesses under one roof is that when one is slow, maybe the other is doing better. Deborah says fourth-quarter 2011 sales in the clothing store suggest that things might be getting better for retail in general.
Meanwhile, the couple’s salon has proved to be the backbone for their two-in-one business. For Rick Bowman, it has never seemed like work.
“You have to have a passion for what you are doing,” he says.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263.