Lisa Gleason and Jaime Curran have taken over The Mane Escape from longtime owner Lee Joyce

As Joyce curls up to retire, sisters clip into the Mane Escape

By Maureen Costello Belt - Correspondent
December 9, 2022

One day in late September, Dee Joyce began her life’s next chapter: retirement.

“That first morning when I woke up, I just laid back in bed,” she said. “I didn’t have to pick up my phone and read five text messages saying that someone was going to be out sick.”

Nope. Shuffling appointments around and covering for an absent employee was no longer Joyce’s concern.  She could get up when she wanted. Maybe play pickleball. Maybe not play pickleball. All decisions were at her leisure. Having sold her salon, The Mane Escape the day before to sisters aesthetician Lisa Gleason and stylist Jaime Curran, Joyce no longer had to worry about an agenda.

Gleason has worked alongside Joyce for 14 years, and Curran, who had worked the majority of her career at a Waltham salon, joined the team after salons began to reopen during the pandemic.

“I was just thrilled it could stay as a women-owned business,” said Joyce. “I sold to an employee who has been with me for a long time. It was a nice feeling. They’re a great duo and I think they’ll do really well.”

The sisters are equally optimistic.

“It’s awesome,” said Gleason. “This has literally been a dream of mine since I came to Concord, to have my own business – and with my sister.”

She is grateful for the opportunities Joyce has offered her over the years. “We have an unspoken respect for each other as human beings and employees,” Gleason said. “It’s the perfect scenario, all the little parts had to work, but Dee left such a great foundation. It’s huge to not have to start at the bottom.”

Joyce, who had three children under 10 when she opened The Mane Escape in 2005, built the foundation brick by brick. She drew from an innate business drive and a passion for wanting every Mane Escape client to look and feel their best.

“I never went to college,” she said. “I just kind of learned the ropes as I went. I took courses, and by the end the business was a well-oiled machine. I learned just by doing.”

Joyce has been learning the ropes since graduating cosmetology school in the mid 1980s, when big hair and perms were all the rage.

“Now, hair styles are more natural, easy wear and easy maintenance, and a lot of color. We do a lot of color,” said Joyce, who will still see clients two days a week at The Mane Escape. “We don’t do any perms, now.”

Salon ownership is more than just keeping up with trends. There are permits to acquire, equipment to purchase and maintain, employees to hire and retain, books to balance and personnel issues to field. Then there are the mandatory accounting and reconciliation reports.

A Brighton native, Joyce first worked in Concord at Salone Arte on Walden Street, (now Salone Arte II) before leaving in 1992 to open Maximum Image on Lowell Road. Though this venture thrived, she sold it in 2002, when her youngest child, Lauren, was born. The new owners of her old shop, however, could not keep her momentum.

“They fell apart,” Joyce said. “But there were a lot of old employees floating around.”

Joyce kept that talent pool in mind as she pondered becoming an entrepreneurial mother of three. Eventually she took on the challenge and The Mane Escape has been a mainstay on Thoreau Street since. Three years later, she hired Gleason, with whom she continues to  work harmoniously.

Like her first business venture, The Mane Escape thrives. An influx of clients, which the Mane Escape owners refer to as “guests,” necessitated the hiring of creative stylists and expanded services. Curran joined the team about 18 months ago, with the intent of owning a salon.

Beauty is big business. According to IBIS World, a global nonprofit that tracks industries worldwide, US consumers – most of them women – spend $48.3 billion annually at beauty salons. While there was a slight dip during the height of the Covid-19 Pandemic, that number is expected to increase by 7.1 percent annually going forward. More than 70 percent of American women invest in professional hair coloring, averaging an $1,800 annual expenditure each.

More than 60 percent of salons are like The Mane Escape — owned by women. More than 90  percent of stylists are women, and tips account for more than 65 percent of all stylists’ annual income. However, on average female stylists make on average 95 cents for every dollar their male counterpart earns. The report states that stylists in Massachusetts are the highest paid in the country.

Buying her own business at 41 with two school-aged sons, Gleason appreciates not having to start from the ground up. The Mane Escape has an excellent reputation and solid client base. But there are a few tweaks the sisters are experimenting with in making it their own.

“I want us to be known as a beauty house, not a salon,” Gleason said. The difference, she added, is that a salon can be a place where one stops by and has their nails and hair done then leaves after scheduling a followup appointment a few weeks down the road. A beauty house, she said, “Is having people come in and having an experience.  It’s like having someone come over for dinner. You want them to feel better about themselves when they leave. It’s not just about beautiful skin, beautiful hair and beautiful nails.”

While Mane Escape offers haircuts, styles, coloring, extensions, hair removal, nail care and a whole menu of treatments designed to rejuvenate skin, the new owners have already expanded. Dawn McCullough, a registered nurse, has joined the team and will offer Botox, fillers and laser hair removal, among other medical services.

“She’s a huge part of our puzzle,” Gleason said.

Other personal touches Gleason and Curran are considering are cooperative partnerships with other small local businesses. The sisters and Michael Oaks, owner of the Concord franchise of Fitness Together, are in discussions about “combining our worlds,” Gleason said.

A proponent of wellness, she said self care does not begin and end with a new ‘do. It expands to physical, mental, emotional and spiritual beauty.

In her 20-plus years in the field, Gleason has witnessed deep personal relationships blossom between guests who want to look and feel their best and the professionals who help them do it.

“They are so much more to us just as we are so much more to them,” Gleason said.

Scheduling a personal training season or a beauty treatment, Gleason said, is really about “people scheduling time for themselves and they’re choosing you to spend that time with.”

Gleason, too, will be spending a lot of time with someone with whom she shares a deep personal relationship: her sister and co-owner. Curran, the mother of two small children.

She could not be happier. “People are always saying, ‘Aren’t you afraid you’re going to fight,’ and I tell them. ‘we argue every day.’”