What is your full name, title, and business name?

Debbie Penzone, CEO & President, Charles Penzone, Inc. / PENZONE Salons + Spas

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Debbie Penzone- CEO & President of PENZONE Salon + Spa

Give us a summary of your business in 200 words or less.

Our business, PENZONE Salon + Spa, has been incorporated for 52 years, and we provide beauty, wellness, and a grooming experience for our community. We also provide wonderful career opportunities for all of those in the beauty, barbering, and yoga industry. 

How did the idea for your business come about?

It’s having a passion and a talent for trade and being able to explore that as not only a career but also as a business and then eventually, a family business.

What were the first actions that you took to turn your dream into a reality?

Turning a dream into reality took understanding and learning the trade of beauty, as well as being able to deliver that service and understand everything it takes to deliver the service for your guests. The next action was being able to take that service and grow it into a business that could provide a career path for other beauty and barber professionals. 

What was the turning point for your business? Was there a moment you knew you had something special?

My husband, Charles Penzone, founded the company in 1969. In 2008, I became the president and since then, I have felt that leadership responsibility. But from my standpoint, the turning point was the relaunch of the brand in 2018. I am very fortunate that my husband let me do what I think is best for the brand on my own. I felt like the new brand was my turning point as not only a leader, but I felt the full risk and responsibility. 

Debbie Penzone- CEO & President of PENZONE Salon + Spa

PENZONE Salon + Spa in Dublin

What does it mean to you to be an entrepreneur and business owner? 

The definition of an entrepreneur is “willingness to organize, manage, and assume the risk of business.” Being an entrepreneur is taking the risk of what you love doing or having a talent and following that purpose then that becomes a business. Now, I feel responsible for 425 staff members, who we call our salon and spa family, and they have families of their own, so I feel very responsible for all of them. We also have about half a million guest visits a year who are coming into our salon and spa, yoga studio, and barbershop and we have to take care of them. It’s such a special, intimate gift. It’s also very personal. You always want to please and make all of them feel and look their very best. So, that take’s a lot of responsibility. We have so many moments that can go really fabulous or not so fabulous. So just that responsibility is something that I think about all the time. 

Why are you passionate and passionate about what you do? 

I’m passionate about what I do because like so many others in my industry, I grew up loving everything to do with beauty. I always did little makeovers on my sisters, brothers, girlfriends, you name it. It wasn’t until I went through a tough time in middle school, where I had eczema and I started to feel this kind of not too beautiful on the outside, that made me understand the gift of beauty that we can give others. Building confidence from within and seeing every single person for their unique beauty is such an amazing, incredible gift. When I was the one behind the chair, giving this gift to my customers was so empowering. I would see the confidence in somebody and their eyes would light up when they would look at this great cut or this beautiful color. It was so important for me that I live that feeling. I lived what our team is doing every day. I know and respect the power of the gift that they’ve been blessed to give to others. I never look at them as just cutting hair or doing nails, and that’s really what I try to empower our team with every day- that they truly have this gift where they can change lives, improve lives, and make a difference. I have felt very honored to be able to hold and share this amazing gift that my industry provides for so many communities across our nation. 

Are you from Columbus? What brought you here?

I’m from Springfield, Ohio. I’m a small-town girl and I loved growing up in a small town. Columbus was the big city when I came over here, for sure. I came to Columbus and went to cosmetology school here the summer right after I graduated from high school. 

What does the city of Columbus mean to your business? 

Everything, everything, everything! This city has been so supportive, so dedicated, so loyal to our brand since the beginning of 1969. We have so many wonderful stories. I think that’s what makes a brand stand the test of time, these wonderful stories that you pass down about what you’ve survived are those magical moments. One story we share with our team all the time is when Charles came back from Chicago seeing Vidal Sassoon cutting hair. Believe it or not, he introduced something called a ‘blow dryer’ that no one had heard of at the time because everyone was getting these big beehives done up in the salon once a week. Charles dared to come back and introduce that to Columbus. He put us on the map way back in the 70s that we were cutting edge because we were doing the Vidal Sassoon haircuts and as soon as we did this, the community believed in him and believed in this whole new direction of our industry. 

Another pivotal moment in our career was in 1989, I was there at the company and we introduced technology. We introduced computers into a beauty salon and our community and customers were once again cheering us on. It wasn’t easy for change to happen. In 1991, when we launched this huge day spa called the Grand Salon, once again, the community and our customers were right there with us, to walk with us and support us, even through the rough times. I think sometimes when you’re an entrepreneur and you’re at the forefront of creating innovation and change, it’s never easy. You walk in knowing that you’re going to be hitting some brutal bumps, that you have to go through and you have a strong team to withstand them. But also, most importantly for us, we had a strong customer base in Columbus that believed in us through all these times that we went through.

I can remember one time when I was a vice president at the office and we changed to a new computer system in the grand salon and it shut down for 40 days, 40 days. Chuck and I were in the salon and the whole, new computer system that we moved from one computer to the next computer wasn’t working. I had to start cutting hair again. After those 40 days, we said only a brand with a dedicated team, team members, and dedicated clients could make it through stuff like this. In those moments, when it gets tough and we go through rough times, we always stop to say thank you, we appreciate you. Without you, we could not walk forward.

Debbie Penzone- CEO & President of PENZONE Salon + Spa

PENZONE Salon + Spa in Polaris

What’s your advice for someone wanting to take the leap and start a business when they have a great idea?

If you have a great idea, oftentimes it means that you’re really good at something, a talent, or a new way of thinking, and it is important to listen to what the world is telling you. Also, my number one piece of advice is to do what you are most passionate about and have a purpose-driven life so that it’s not just a job or a business. If it truly blend your life together and you feel so empowered when you’re doing it and walking in that purpose-driven life, then it’s not just a business. It’s not just a job. It’s a way of living and giving back, and making a difference in this world. 

If you want to start a business, what is it that you feel you love doing every single day, every minute, that you could dream about and do it in your sleep? 

It’s like going to Disney World, and it’s amazing how all these steps start to fall into place when you create a business like that because you’re living it. You know the ins and outs of every single element of that business because you’re living it. Where I feel like with Chuck, my husband, and me, we have lived every single element of our business. We’ve worked behind the chair, we’ve worked with the customers, I’ve worked with the products, at the call center, the front desk, every element you can imagine. If you understand it, you know it and you live it. When you do your business, you are thinking about the whole business, not just the business as a product or service. A business becomes the living, breathing family unit that starts to grow and organically happens, even if you want it or not. It’s so much more than just the service or product. It’s that thing that you’re doing, or building, or giving. 

What was the best advice anyone ever gave you?

My dad always would say, ‘you have to do what you love and you will be successful. And if you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.” 

What is something that you did that was a game-changer for your business?

Well, in 2018, we rebranded ourselves, we reinvented our 50-year-old brand at the time, which was not easy. I was so fortunate that I used some new partners, who we had never partnered with before, to help me reinvent the business and the brand. We had a lot of people saying, don’t do that, don’t do that. You have a 94% name recognition with the Grand Salon, Charles Penzone. That was huge for us. I think looking for the future, we had to really criticize and look at every single thing we were doing and just say, we can’t rest on all of our success in the past. We have to recreate who we’re going to be for the future. I think as a leader, that was one of the most pivotal points and biggest moments for me.

What is something you’re working on now that you’re very excited about?

We just launched our new Penzone Salon and Spa in Gahanna/New Albany. We just bought the land and we put up the sign. So we’re so blessed and fortunate that, after the pandemic, we can be able to reignite these projects that we were planning for the future. So that’s a big one. I’m excited about that.

We also kept the original Dublin building and right now we have an art studio in the basement that my husband’s been going to during the pandemic to have fun, create and have a place to go to. It’s also a warehouse for all the locations. It’s three floors and 18,000 square feet. We are working on that right now. We just launched on April 1st. We’re going to bring our innovation office to the second floor. We’ve been working hard and planning hard. We had another corporate building that we own that we sold, we did a sale-leaseback. That project was put on hold for a while because of everything, and we’re excited to reignite that project. We have the main floor of that building and we’re looking for some cool partners. We want to have that space and rent that space for some cool partners that could help us and the brand innovate for the future. We’re looking for those perfect marriages for businesses. And with that, we love supporting all local businesses, which we’ve focused on with the new brand. We brought a lot of new businesses and that has been a wonderful part of the new future.

Debbie Penzone - CEO & President of PENZONE Salon + Spa

Renderings of the new PENZONE Salon + Spa building in Gahanna/New Albany

Who is your best Columbus resource (accountant, lawyer, marketer, etc.)? 

Kegler Brown is our law firm and they’ve been our law firm since Chuck set up a trust for his son Kolby, about 47 years ago or so. They’ve been with us through everything and they know us inside and out. 

GBQ has been our accounting firm. Mark and his team have been wonderful and guided us through so many things that we’ve been through. 

Then our bank, Huntington Bank, gave us the first $500 loan. Then for our new project, we’re working with Premier bank, which is a new bank that’s coming into town. We love to work with local partners and always expand our partnership. 

In 2008, Natalie Kleoudis helped us with the rebranding. She’s a designer and guides us in art direction. She’s been fabulous with our marketing team and helped us come up with how the new brand would look. 

We also worked with Ali and Adam from The Wonder Jam. I just love them. They came up with a whole, new brand voice for us for the future. They also continue to work with us to help and evolve it. They’ve been a great resource for this whole new brand and us.

What’s your end goal with the business? Is this something you want to pass down to your kids or would you like to eventually sell?

The kids both went out and wanted to do their own thing, which is great and they are very successful. Kolby has four kids and if the grandkids ever want to get in the business, we would love that. 

If anything comes up and I’m ready. I would love to sell it to our team. That’s something we’ve thought about and always feels like the right thing to do for me, long-term. But, gosh, I would love some of the grandkids or, we have other family that’s kind of working in the business, too. And I look at, you know, our team members as family members to me, a big family. I just look at ways that we can empower them and grow them for the future. 

We’ve always said it will last 100 years or more and we’re on 52 right now. We always see that long-term vision and planning. We’re always looking way into the future, trying to stay relevant, I think it’s important. Then, with us for the future, it’s looking at inner interweaving, all these different elements within the brand, too- that wellness, self-care, all of that. Future growth is going to be there.

What other entrepreneur do you look up to most? What current company or entrepreneur do you admire? 

I have a podcast now and I’ve been interviewing some cool entrepreneurs. The last one I just did was with Brett Kauffman of Gravity and he’s just amazing.

Also, I interviewed an amazing woman, Dr. Nadya Zhexembayeva. She’s known as the Chief Renovation Officer and she wrote a book called The Titanic Syndrome. She also has given around give or six TED talks all over the world. She is world-class, so smart, and just has been a wonderful person for me to get to know.

If you had to tell a visitor one thing to do/see/eat in Columbus, what would it be?

This is so hard because I love it all. We live in German Village, so I have to give a shoutout. German Village was ranked one of the best neighborhoods and we love it there. There are wonderful restaurants, of course, Lindey’s patio. Schiller Park is a must. 

We just got our tickets for the new Crew Stadium and we’re so pumped for that and everything that it will bring to this city is exciting. We are Buckeye Fans and they’re all kinds of sporting events you can do.

The Franklin Park Conservatory has been so dear to my heart. I’ve been on the woman’s board and I chaired their Big Hat Day Luncheon that supports the growing green program, which is vegetable gardens out in neighborhoods. It’s a beautiful program, where we teach the community how to plant vegetables and grow things. They give back to the community in so many beautiful ways. 

Also the Columbus Museum of Art. We love going down to the Scioto Mile and the Audubon Society and walking there. 

There’s also so much fun stuff out in the suburbs such as Bridge Street in Dublin. Short North is amazing and there are so many great brands that are continuing to innovate and get national press. The Budd Dairy building just opened up. 

Columbus is just on fire and we’re so proud of it. It is such a wonderful place that supports new businesses and entrepreneurs. If you look at all the brands that have grown here, I think a lot of it is from Columbus being so welcoming and supportive of those brands. We have such creative people here and I think we’re the best-kept secret in America.