Case Studies

Derek Wallace – Chatters

Heads up as Wallace modernizes Canadian salon chain

Usually when a Canadian company expands its geographical footprint, it goes from the more populous eastern provinces to the west. But not with Chatters, which since 1991 has grown from a sole hair stylist in Red Deer, Alberta, to being Canada’s largest salon and retail products chain. 

The growth had been prolific with 116 locations and most of them out west. There are 41 in Alberta, 26 in British Columbia and 10 in Saskatchewan. While there are around 25 Chatters in the most populous province, Ontario, there’s room for many more, and that’s what Derek Wallace is making happen. 

“We’re doing a lot of modernizing,” Wallace tells Blueprint as the new year gets underway in Toronto. “The company hadn’t introduced any new concepts for at least five years and now we’re making up a lot of ground.” 

Chatters has hired a noted designer, Fiore + Greco Design, with whom Wallace can collaborate in layout, color palette and whatever else. The interior concept is getting favorable reviews, he says about the private rooms as well as the technological investments that are someone else’s responsibility. 

“We do sell the experience itself as well as the products,” he says. 

Overdue overhauls 

Hired last July as director of construction and facilities, Wallace had served in similar roles for a couple other Toronto-based companies and, before that, in the United States. Wallace now has 10 projects on his to-do list, mostly refurbishments in Ontario, that he expects to complete by midyear. A fresh feel is essential for growth, brand awareness and hiring, he emphasizes, and reckons the company is on the right track with, among other initiatives, an eastern headquarters in Brampton. 

Chatters had been mulling updates for several years, but COVID-19 back-burnered the initiative. Still the time didn’t go to waste, Wallace explaining how the executive team used it to solicit feedback from its 1,200 stylists, as well as clientele. The new approach has been called Style Consciously, which is broken down into the pillars of clean, cruelty-free, vegan and sustainable. 

As for Wallace’s role, it includes fashioning private salon rooms for customers wanting an individual experience, and a counter where products can be sampled. Then there’s accented lighting, wallpaper and seating areas with what Wallace says tastefully mix aesthetics and practicality. Chatters mostly growing through acquisitions, this will be the ambience from now on. 

“The most challenging part is utilizing space and ensuring it’s feasible for both our retail and salon segments,” he says. “It’s a big change from how they had done it before.” 

The size of a Chatters ranges between 2,000 and 3,500 square feet, with around half that space for retail. Each has got to be perceived as equally important. 

Wallace is aided by a team of just two, with the heavy lifting going to general contractors. There’s much collaboration, he says, between him and the rest of Chatters personnel, and the company expects to increase the number of its Ontario salons by annual increments of five. 

Not that Wallace is always in Ontario. He’s been making monthly visits to the Red Deer headquarters and 26,000-square-foot warehouse, and re-evaluates and reviews the western portfolio. But he’s not traveling as much as he did in other jobs, and that’s fine with him. 

“It’s a relief to not be on the road so much anymore,” he says. “My longest flight is four hours. More time to spend with family and two dogs … and to lose golf balls.” 

Travelin’ man 

His early roles had him crossing more time zones in North America and Europe. Wallace honed his skills from 2001 to 2014 as a construction project manager with Dallas area-based Guess, a builder and manager of retail and mixed-use facilities. He followed that with a couple years managing North American retail development for jewelry giant Michael Hill and then a 2016-2019 stretch as project manager at Prodigy Construction in Toronto. 

Then Wallace was tabbed for director of corporate and retail development at DECIEM\The Abnormal Beauty Company in Toronto. Much of that three-and-a-half-year period coinciding with a pandemic, Wallace recalls checking websites at least daily to see what was mandated where. Those trials and tribulations notwithstanding, there was something positive to be gleaned. 

“I would never be left behind the curve,” he says. “Whether I was dealing with something in the Netherlands, New York City or Canada, I’d stay informed and respond accordingly. I was in a constant pivot start-stop.” 

That attitude and experience made him an attractive candidate for Chatters when it committed to post-COVID companywide refurbishing. And for Wallace, what a challenge it would be to be point man for modernizing an increasing number of salons from Vancouver to the Maritimes. 

“That was the motivating factor in me deciding to come here,” Wallace says. “I had the skills, and they were looking for someone with a proven track record for these kinds of projects. It’s almost an overhaul from how it had been done before.”

View this feature in the Blueprint Vol. III 2023 Edition here.

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