Mario Tricoci shares how Schaumburg helped launch salon empire

  • Salon chain founder Mario Tricoci discussed the methods behind his success with members of the Schaumburg Business Association on Tuesday.

      Salon chain founder Mario Tricoci discussed the methods behind his success with members of the Schaumburg Business Association on Tuesday. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

  • Salon chain founder Mario Tricoci was the keynote speaker Tuesday at the Schaumburg Business Association's monthly "Good Morning Schaumburg" event.

      Salon chain founder Mario Tricoci was the keynote speaker Tuesday at the Schaumburg Business Association's monthly "Good Morning Schaumburg" event. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

  • Mario Tricoci said he launched his salon empire in the suburbs not to make money, but to make people happy. He spoke about his success with members of the Schaumburg Business Association on Tuesday.

      Mario Tricoci said he launched his salon empire in the suburbs not to make money, but to make people happy. He spoke about his success with members of the Schaumburg Business Association on Tuesday. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 3/12/2019 12:17 PM

He's one of the most successful entrepreneurs to ever emerge from the suburbs, but Mario Tricoci says his passion for his business was born not of a desire for money but to make people happy.

The Italian-born hairdresser told members of the Schaumburg Business Association Tuesday morning how a life-changing visit to relatives in Chicago in 1958 led to him starting his own beauty salon business that by 1999 operated 26 locations throughout the Midwest, making $73 million in annual revenue.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Tricoci merged the company with Elizabeth Arden in May 2000, but he and his family bought it back a year ago to right its legacy.

He began in the industry as a teenager. By the time he was 17 years old, his knowledge and unique style impressed the owner of John Edward's salon on Michigan Avenue enough that he was offered a job once he could get his green card.

Tricoci moved out on his own in 1961 and started a new business in Villa Park, side-by-side with another future famous name -- Portillo's.

It was his dream to do something radically different that led him to open an 1,100-square-foot salon in Schaumburg's Woodfield Mall in 1977 that would pave the road to the empire he would build. The Woodfield site sported an impressive $20,000 interior design, but it eventually moved to a 2,800-square-foot site closer to the center of the mall that did $3 million in business each year.

"I was everyone's hero in the mall," he said Tuesday with a laugh.

Expansions followed, first to Oak Brook and then an innovative day spa in Arlington Heights that drew on a visit to historic spas in his native Italy.

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In Chicago, Tricoci's brand recognition grew to be second only to Coca-Cola, he said.

The 2000 merger with Elizabeth Arden proved to be an imperfect match -- especially after it was later sold to another firm entirely.

That's the decision Tricoci sought to reverse by buying back his brand last year. One of the ways he's built success, he said, is to seek out smart and positive people, which he's now applying to a search for a new CEO take the company forward.

Another key to success was his early recognition that there were always other people he could learn from -- and that hasn't changed in his 61 years as a stylist.

"Today I'm as much of a student as I was 50 years ago," Tricoci said. "The day I say I know it all, shoot me. We have to stay green."

Tricoci still exercises his own skills on special occasions for charity. His haircuts start at $500, with all the money going to either Misericordia or Bear Necessities Pediatric Cancer Foundation.

Tricoci said the support of his wife has been another pillar of his success, something he hopes all men and women in business would have from their spouses.

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