Detroit’s first blow dry bars to open downtown

Detroit Blows and Blo Blow Dry Bar debut this summer, offering a hair service downtown workers and residents have been waiting for in the city

Stephanie Steinberg
The Detroit News

In major cities like New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, it’s easy for women to slide into a blow-dry bar with hair a frizzy mess and leave an hour later with glamorous locks — ready to hit any important meeting or event.

These blowout bars don’t exist in Detroit — vexing many workers, residents and visitors — but that’s about to change with two businesses opening downtown this summer.

Blo Blow Dry Bar will become one of the first blow dry businesses to open in downtown Detroit on Washington Boulevard this summer.

Blo Blow Dry Bar will open its doors at 1500 Washington Blvd. and will share the space now occupied by The Last Tangle Hair Salon. Franchise owner Susan Peslar, 37, says she wants to offer an “accessible beauty solution” for the growing number of women professionals and residents.

“Currently, this service cannot be conveniently or affordably found downtown,” says Peslar, who’s moving to Detroit.

While a few hair salons exist downtown, none are blow-dry bars, where women can go solely to get their hair blown out. No cuts. No coloring. Just hair washing and blow-drying.

Native Detroiters and childhood friends Katy Cockrel and Nia Batts also are launching Detroit Blows on Library Street on the ground floor of the Z Garage this summer.

On Tuesday, Cockrel and Batts received a $20,000 Motor City Match grant to help fund the 2,100-square-foot space.

No surprise, the business was born out of frustration.

In 2010, the two marketing professionals wound up on a project together. Batts lived in New York at the time, and, as Cockrel tells it, she’d often fly into Detroit asking, “Where can I get a blowout? We’ve got this meeting at GM in two hours, and my hair is in a top knot!”

Nia Batts, 32, left, and Katy Cockrel, 31, are owners of Detroit Blows, a salon where women can go to get their hair blown out.

“We’d have to drive to Royal Oak and walk our dollars out of the city into the suburbs, which was incredibly frustrating,” says Cockrel, 31.

She adds that at her public relations firm, she’d sometimes start the day in leggings and find out mid-afternoon she’d have to attend a black-tie event that evening.

“When I lived in New York and Chicago, it was really easy to find ways to remedy that situation,” she says. “Here, again, I had to haul my dollars out to the ’burbs in order to have these basic services met.”

In the last few years, blow-dry bars have popped up nationwide, including in Detroit suburbs. In 2013, Arid Blow Dry & Beauty Bar opened in Royal Oak, pampering women with blowouts, makeup and waxing. Blo, which offers seven styles for $40, opened in Birmingham last July.

Others like the blowout behemoth Drybar, which has 70-plus locations (a spokeswoman reported no plans to expand to Detroit), serves Champagne and shows chick flicks. But there’s one thing these businesses are blowing past.

“They’re not really servicing women of all ethnicities and hair types and giving them the same quality and delivery of service,” said Batts, a 32-year-old with soft black curls. “... We thought it was really important to try and adjust for that.”

As a result, Detroit Blows will offer two services using a nontoxic, Paris-based product line: a traditional blowout with a hairdryer and a rollerset blowout for coarse hair. Prices start at $35 and increase based on hair length — not hair type. After unfair salon experiences, Batts says she wanted “democratic” pricing.

“Going into some salons, they’d say, ‘Your hair is thicker. That’s just going to be more expensive,’ ” she says.

At full capacity, Detroit Blows will employ 12 full-time and 13 part-time employees to service eight styling stations.

The business also is a social enterprise, as $1 of every blowout will be reinvested in Detroit women entrepreneurs. The philanthropic initiative, called Detroit Grows, includes a retail component where 25 percent of sales from products like candles go toward programs and micro grants supporting women.

“Every decision you make has the opportunity to positively impact other people,” Batts says. “We believe in that wholeheartedly, and we just wanted to make sure that we’re examples of that in the business we’re running.”

Solving hair hangups

Lauren Moser, co-owner of Hair Lab Detroit on Library Street, couldn’t be more thrilled blowout services are coming downtown.

The 36-year-old launched her appointment-only salon three years ago and says she gets daily calls from customers just looking for a blowout. But she books out six weeks in advance.

“I can’t accommodate those people, and it’s hard to find somewhere to send them. … It would be great to have somewhere dedicated to just those last-minute clients because we just can’t do it,” she says.

While Detroit Blows will offer express mani and pedis and a makeup station, Cockrel stresses salons aren’t their competition, and patrons shouldn’t feel like they’re “cheating on their stylist.”

“Like, there’s one person I trust to color my hair that I will never leave,” says Cockrel, rocking blonde highlights. “But I will get a blowout anywhere that I can find an empty chair.”

Kelli Coleman says the new blowout services will be “much appreciated for continuing to fill the void of personal services” in downtown Detroit.

The 32-year-old co-owns The TEN Nail Bar in Capitol Park, which became the first modern nail bar to open downtown in September. The TEN has over 3,000 customers in its database. Many are women who work or live downtown, and Coleman says they’re craving a blowout salon.

“We often hear a common wish that right after receiving a fresh mani pedi that they could get their hair blown out,” she says.

Paulina Petkoski is one of them. The 30-year-old co-owner of the creative catalyst Playground Detroit is based in Corktown, but drives 20 miles to Birmingham to get her hair done.

“I hate blow-drying my hair. I’m terrible at it,” says Petkoski, who has curly hair, but prefers it straight.

A blowout service just a few miles away will save time — and bad hair days.

“I’ve been asked to be on the news, I have to do public panel discussions,” she says, “so it’s always really stressful to have to try to make time to do something that I’m not good at myself in order to look professional.”

Peg Tallet, COO of the Michigan Women’s Foundation headquartered in Detroit, says a lot of women downtown would like to be “spiffed up” for occasions — herself included.

“There’s many nights that I have an evening event, and it would be so great if you could go out on your lunch hour and get your hair done,” she says.

The fact women are behind the new blowout services reflects a greater trend of women opening businesses in Detroit and nationwide, she says. According to the State of Women-Owned Businesses Report, the number of women-owned U.S. businesses increased 45 percent from 2007 to 2016.

“Women business owners are a growing part of the total economy, particularly in our region,” Tallet says, explaining the foundation has invested in 85 women-led startups, primarily in Detroit. “... We believe that women are a good risk.”

From tutus to hairdos

It all started with tutus and wands at Detroit-Windsor Dance Academy, where Batts and Cockrel met at age 4. It wasn’t until Batts worked for Viacom and became Cockrel’s client at Ignition Media Group that their friendship fell back in step.

“It was like we were right back in those tutus on stage,” Cockrel laughs.

Now at the PR firm Finn Partners, Cockrel returned to Detroit in 2009, and Batts began splitting her time between here and LA in 2015. They started planning Detroit Blows two years ago, after noticing other women were taking their blowout bucks outside the city.

“It started out by us just really thinking about how to fill a need we saw and a business that we really wanted to patronize,” Batts says.

Emily Cockels Smith, a salon manager in Bloomfield Hills, will head Detroit Blows operations. The 32-year-old has known Batts since they were 4 and says “her ideas are always out of this world.” She points to eighth grade at Detroit Country Day School, where Batts successfully petitioned for girls to be allowed to wear pants.

When Batts approached her about launching a blow-dry service for busy women downtown, she thought it was “brilliant.”

“Blow-drys are probably the No. 1 service in most salons,” she says. “Especially when it can last you three to five days, it’s so worth it. You don’t even have to think about your hair in the morning. You just go, and you’re already presentable.”

The name, Detroit Blows, is thanks to another friend who came up with it. Batts and Cockrel acknowledge that not everyone understands it. In fact, a Detroit Metro Times article called them out: “One day, yes, you will be able to name your business ‘Detroit Blows’ and have residents in on the joke, ready to laugh at themselves. But that day has not come yet.”

Cockrel says the name is meant to be “tongue in cheek” and “open for interpretation.” She adds that it signifies their core business — blowouts — but is also “a testament to the blows the city has withstood over the years.”

“My family has been steeped in local politics here for my lifetime,” says Cockrel, whose mother, Sheila Cockrel, spent 16 years as a Detroit City Councilmember and her father was the late attorney Ken Cockrel Sr. “So I’ve seen a number of those blows firsthand, and the city is incredibly resilient in how it comes back.”

“There are a lot of people who love the name and think that Detroit can take a joke,” Batts adds.

Petkoski, for one, sees the humor.

“At one point or another, I think everyone has been frustrated with the city, if you live in Detroit, and if you haven’t muttered that word, I’m not sure you really live in Detroit,” she says.

Ultimately, the goal is to have customers — women or men — walk out with “amazing blowouts,” Cockrel says, but also serve as examples for women with business aspirations, or girls like Batts’ 6-year-old sister Zoë.

“If we can make it a little easier for Zoë to build her blow-dry dreams or whatever her version of that looks like,” Cockrel says, “I’ll definitely be happy.”

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Twitter: @Steph_Steinberg