Scott Sharkey was itching for a new opportunity.
Last summer at a retreat for his franchisees, the owner of Sharkey’s Cuts for Kids — the Westport-based, very successful, always fun childrens’ salon franchise — talked about his desire to find complementary businesses.
Someone casually mentioned lice removal.
Over the years, Sharkey had been contacted by lice removal companies. But nothing stuck.
Focus groups confirmed that having employees pick nits out of kids’ hair next door to their friends who were getting styled was not a bang-up business model.
But Sharkey’s interest was piqued.
One of the people who approached him earlier was Allyson Greifenberger. A 27-year Westporter, she and Westonite Kristy Gordon were owners of the Hair Genies in Norwalk.
Sharkey called. He said he was thinking about getting into the lice trade. Would she be interested in selling?
Last November, Sharkey’s Cuts for Kids acquired Hair Genie. Sharkey moved the Norwalk location to the Post Road — between Calise’s Market and the Citgo gas station.
It’s close to his salon, opposite the Westport Inn. But it’s far enough away not to worry that lice will be transmitted to anyone having a haircut.
In fact, Sharkey says, that’s one of the myths about lice. They don’t fly or jump. They spread only through head-to-head contact. That’s why they afflict kids — at sleepovers, school and camp.
They feed off blood in the head. They live for only 24 hours in a bed.
Sharkey rattles off info like that as if he’s discussing the common cold.
Aha! “The common cold takes longer to cure than lice,” he notes. “This is a completely solvable problem.”
It’s also, he stresses, not an embarrassing one. At least, it shouldn’t be. “Your kid got lice from someone else,” he notes.
Hair Genies is designed as a kids-friendly, mom-stressless place. The chairs are comfortable. There are TVs and other distractions. A waiting room upstairs is a great place for siblings to chill (TV, free food) or do homework. (There’s also discreet parking in the back, if that’s an issue.)
During treatment, parents can use a discount coupon for Fred’s Car Wash, down the street in Southport.
That’s not as random as it sounds. A thorough interior cleaning can remove any lice eggs left behind.
Sharkey says that Hair Genies fills a need.
“What usually happens is a kid feels itchy. His mom thinks it’s dandruff, sand or bugs. They go to a pediatrician or dermatologist. It takes time.
“Now they can come here. We can tell within 10 minutes if it’s lice.”
If it is, treatment begins immediately. Technicians remove all lice — strand by strand.
The combing is thorough — and chemical-free. “It’s a very natural, manual process,” Sharkey says.
“One and done. After one treatment, you’re lice-free.”
Treatment also includes checking every member of the family. The goal is to make sure the house is lice-free too.
Kids come back 3 to 5 days later for a free head check. That’s in case nits remained in the house or car.
Not at all, Sharkey says. “We’re all about being helpful.”
Since opening in early June, Hair Genies has been busy. Sharkey advertised a bit on Facebook, but most business comes from referrals. He told pediatricians and school nurses that he’s here, and of course parents tell each other.
“We want to spread the word,” he jokes. “Not the lice.”
The other day, 24 new Sharkey’s Cuts for Kids franchisees came to Westport for training. Along the way, he showed them Hair Genies.
Suddenly, haircuts and lice treatment don’t sound like strange bedfellows at all.
(Hair Genies is open 7 days a week, from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., at 748 Post Road East. Click here for the website; appointments are available online.)