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Tuesday, July 11, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Equity fund to buy Gene Juarez chain

Seattle Times retail reporter

Gene Juarez, founder and namesake of the region's iconic Gene Juarez Salons & Spas, is known for three decades of risk-taking in the pursuit of high fashion.

Now, the risk-taking will shift to someone else.

Juarez on Monday said he would sell the company, for an undisclosed sum, to Seattle-based investment fund Evergreen Pacific Partners — a move that would enable the chain to expand its stores and services, but without its namesake at the helm.

As part of the buyout, salon and spa veteran Janet Denyer will join the company as chief executive officer.

Gene Juarez Salons & Spas has eight locations, two training academies and an advanced training salon. Its revenues were about $75 million last year, according to industry sources, and it employs more than 1,300 people.

Juarez said he began talks with Evergreen a year ago, at a time when he planned to buy out his business partner Michael Coe, and needed capital to fuel further expansion. Evergreen is a $275 million private equity fund.

"It wasn't a quick decision," said Juarez, who will remain an adviser while co-owner Coe plans to pursue other interests. "It was the right decision for the right time."

The sale closes a chapter for one of the region's most prominent Hispanic-owned businesses and one of the region's hair-design trendsetters for the past three decades.

Juarez, 63, was raised in Wapato, a small farming town south of Yakima, which bills itself as the "Salad Bowl of the Valley."

He decided at an early age to pursue a life beyond farming, and so at age 18, enrolled in Mr. Lee's School of Beauty in Yakima.

After graduation, Juarez moved to Lee's high-volume headquarters salon in Seattle, eventually moving onto larger and more prestigious salons.

When Juarez opened his own salon in 1971, "I knew exactly who I wanted to be." He went off to study for six weeks under Vidal Sassoon in London.

In a business where his calendar was packed with weekly settings and comb-outs, he found the rest of the world moving to monthly haircuts, with women learning to style their own hair in between appointments.

"I had probably 60 customers that I took care of every single week and I told them I wanted to see them once a month," he said. "I was just going to be a haircutter."

While many of his customers traveled to the fashion capitals of New York, Paris or London, Juarez decided that "I would love to have that kind of trust where they would allow me to be the one" to dictate the latest fashions.

All along, said Juarez, "I broke all the rules. It was part arrogance, part luck and God's blessing that I was able to pull that off."

A downtown Nordstrom Gene Juarez salon followed in the mid-70s, and he continued to break rules.

In the early 1980s, the Juarez salons went from frosting caps to foil and more recently, moved from British to French hair designs.

Fueled with new capital, the chain plans to open three to four new locations in the Puget Sound region, and expand revenue 40 to 50 percent, in the next five years.

The company will upgrade some of its locations, including its Northgate and Southcenter mall locations.

Denyer, previously senior vice president of operations for Elizabeth Arden Red Door Salons and Spas, has opened 18 spa locations in the past five years.

She said the company has room to expand its hair-care lines and offer more spa services, like microdermabrasion.

"The total experience is a big trend right now," she said. "One of the appeals of a high-end day spa is multiple services under one roof. We pretty much want to be the one-stop shop."

Juarez, who traveled to each location with Denyer on Monday, said speaking to his employees is "the hardest thing I've ever done."

"It isn't goodbye," Juarez said. "It's just a new chapter. I'm still here. I'm going to be here to protect and motivate and guide them. I see that the organization still needs that. I have a great sense of duty about that."

Monica Soto Ouchi: 206-515-5632 or msoto@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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