In second grade, Robert Allison learned the secret to making women smile: a trip to the salon. His first stint as a make-up artist was applying his mother’s treasured eye shadows and blush to his cat at age seven. Some 50 years later, Richard has learned to combine his two passions – making people feel beautiful and helping people in their time of need – into one business: Salon Chair of Hope.
His newly opened salon provides free services to cancer patients, including head shavings done in a private room, head wraps, wigs and salon treatments. The services are subsidized by clients who are not battling cancer but are looking for a quality cut, color, conditioning treatment, waxing or makeover for average salon prices. People who visit Allison’s salon can know that what they pay for their service is being paid forward to those in need.
“What I want is for my clients to know that when they’re going through this sickness they’re capable of healing,” Allison said. “They can get through this storm.”
Before devoting his time to making cancer patients feel beautiful again, Allison was jumping out of planes as an arctic paratrooper in the Army, working in the media industry and training in martial arts.
In 1992, he decided to follow his passion and enrolled in beauty school to become an esthetician in Alaska. Upon moving to Flagstaff in 2000, he chose to go back to school to get his licensing in Arizona. He then went back to school again to get his master’s degree in hair design. For the past 13 years, Allison has worked as a beautician at various salons around Flagstaff.
It was his encounter in 2002 with Lynn Stevenson, then an area trainer with American Cancer Society, that encouraged him to use his expertise to help people. Stevenson was in her fifth year of remission when she met Allison, but soon after they met, her cancer returned and took her life.
“She used to teach me when I volunteered for the Look Good, Feel Better program, and she used to look deep into my soul to make sure I was understanding everything,” Allison said. “After she died, I was sure that she’d taught me because she wanted me to step up and take her place.”
Allison did just that, until he realized he could do more without corporate overhead.
In 2007, he opened A Salon Called Hope, but despite working several side jobs to pay for the overhead costs of running a business, he was forced to shut down just two years later. Now, Allison feels more determined than ever to make his business remain successful.
“A man needs a purpose, and I found that in our industry there’s a lot of people who aren’t helping [cancer patients],” Allison said. “There was a hairdresser that charged one of her clients $65 to finish shaving her head, even though her hair had mostly fallen out. That’s wrong. And I don’t just limit myself to cancer patients. If there’s somebody who’s sick out there, I’ll help them.”
Allison has developed partnerships with local restaurants in Flagstaff, including Olive Garden and Pizza Furiosa, who have agreed to provide gift cards to cancer patients who visit Salon Chair of Hope so they can go out for a meal after their trip to the salon. Brian Patrick, the general manager at the Olive Garden, said that after meeting Allison, he was convinced that this cause was a good place to donate.
“We reach out to the community as much as possible,” Patrick said. “We are in contact a lot with community relations, we’re given so much [funding] to give back to different parts of the community, and this was just something I thought would be a great area to hit this time of year.”
Because the salon has barely been open for a month, Allison is already struggling to keep his styling chair filled. When days are slow, Allison and his wife hit the streets and spread the word about their business to the community.
“All you can do is just be busier and try to get enough contacts so you can keep the electricity on,” Allison said. “And you have to buy the shampoos, buy the wigs, buy the make-up, because people don’t donate that stuff. It’s an all-uphill road – it’s very difficult. But, a man’s got to have a job and a purpose.”
Allison’s wife, Sandra, believes the salon provides an opportunity for people to give back to their community while receiving a quality service at the same time.
“Everybody knows someone who has cancer. Everybody knows many people who have cancer. So everybody needs to take responsibility to help each other in this,” Sandra said.
For Allison, Salon Chair of Hope is his way of using his talents to help others.
“I’ve seen what it’s like out there, and I want to be a bright light on this Earth,” Allison said. “I just try to help people and inspire them because nobody else is doing it. We all need somebody to care about us – even if it’s just a passing moment in time. And that’s why I do it.” FBN
The Salon Chair of Hope is located at 1515 N. Main St., #6 in Flagstaff. For more information, visit the salon on its Facebook page (www.facebook.com/SalonChairOfHope). To book an appointment, call 928-856-0631.