Revised and updated December 24, 2020.
The salon and beauty industry is a large and incredibly varied one, providing a host of different ways that people can change their bodies to improve how they look. While hair salons are the most widespread and widely used, the industry also includes businesses dedicated to lashes, nails, waxing, cosmetics, and combinations of these. This range of activities is reflected in our list of top franchises.
Cutting hair at home has become a fringe activity, with almost everyone in the US going to a hairdresser. As a result, hair and beauty is a huge industry, employing 721,000 people, nearly 78% of them as hairdressers, hairstylists, and cosmetologists. The industry was worth $66 billion in 2019, $47 billion of which consisted of hair and nail businesses, with an annualized growth rate of 1.4%.
The COVID-19 pandemic had a staggering short-term impact on the hair and beauty industry, as public health restrictions forced shops to close. Even as they reopened, concerns about transmission reduced some customers’ willingness to go for beauty treatments. The market is expected to shrink to under $58 billion in 2020, after years of steady growth.
In the longer term, hair and beauty businesses are likely to be among the quickest to bounce back, both from COVID restrictions and from the economic downturn that the disease has triggered. Hair salons are considered by many to be largely immune to economic downturns because so few people cut their own hair anymore, even when money is tight. Every time restrictions ease to re-open hair salons, clients rush back, filling the available bookings. Beauty salons benefit from the “Lipstick Effect,” as even in tough times, people indulge in smaller expenditures such as cosmetics that make them feel good about themselves.
The pandemic has accelerated an existing shift toward more online work for the beauty segment. This might sound counter-intuitive for an industry that has always been about in-person interactions, but people still care about their appearance while meeting over Zoom, and had already started finding and purchasing beauty products online. While some beauty businesses have collapsed during the pandemic, others have grown through online consultations, sales, and marketing. Social brand building has become more important than ever.
Online marketing, particularly through visually-oriented social networks like Instagram, is now a huge part of how salons attract customers. A strong, easily identifiable brand is invaluable in that sort of marketing and is therefore one of the big assets of a franchise. While much of the industry still consists of independent businesses, the power of known brands in online marketing is likely to lead to a growth in franchising over the coming years. Franchises will also see an opportunity for growth in places where existing businesses have shut down and customers are looking for a replacement.
Other adjustments are also taking place for a COVID and post-COVID world. Social distancing measures and improved cleaning and disinfection increase the costs that salons currently face. Over 90% of those surveyed have brought in PPE for staff, over 70% have increased sanitation training, and nearly 50% have brought in contactless payment options, while over 60% have altered their opening hours. These measures have let them survive the pandemic, and once vaccines become widely available, ongoing costs and limitations will fall.
Looking at the longer term, hair salons have become increasingly varied over the past twenty years. The standout brands, with impressive marketing and a focus on making the most of your appearance and experience, used to be women’s hairdressers, and many of these are still strong. But men’s salons have grown in strength and developed distinctive identities, using a range of strategies to draw customers in. These include hip hairdressers for a young, cosmopolitan crowd; ostentatiously old-fashioned barbers for the traditionalist; and sports-oriented salons for those who want to feel extra manly while they have their hair cut.
Despite this, businesses oriented toward men represent only 5% of the hair care industry, leaving women to dominate. Specialist kids’ salons are also increasingly popular, as the entertainment they provide removes much of the pain in taking children for a haircut.
The strategies used by different salons vary in other ways. Some make a merit out of convenience, with walk-in appointments or online booking. Others use low pricing and discounts. At the opposite end of the scale, there are businesses that provide a premium, pampered experience, and where the higher price tag is a sign of status. Catering to different market sectors based on skin or hair type is common, whether explicitly stated or implied through the way a salon is presented.
These salons don’t just rely on the services provided in store for revenue. Sales of related products such as shampoo and makeup also contribute to a large and growing industry. Salons help people to feel good about themselves, and that’s a service that’s always going to be in demand.
The Top Salon and Beauty Franchises of 2021
1. Great Clips
Great Clips offers customers haircuts seven days a week with no appointments needed. This chain dominates the hair salon segment not by being fancy but by sticking to the basics – they don’t even offer hair coloring services. But they’ve also kept up with the times with Online Check-In, which allows customers to add their name to the waitlist before arriving, and Clip Notes, a system for stylists to take notes about each customer accessible from any location.
Founded by Steve Lemmon and David Rubenzer near the University of Minnesota campus in Minneapolis in 1982 and franchising since 1983, the number of locations has continued its steady upward climb from 2,852 in 2010 to the current total of 4,473 (up from the previously reported total of 4,473), of which none are company-owned and 157 are located outside the US.
Supercuts is trying hard to catch up to Great Clips but it has a long way to go. This chain of no-appointment-required salons offers a broader range of services beyond haircuts, including color services, waxing, and tea tree oil scalp massages. Any haircut can end with a Hot Towel Refresher.
Supercuts recently rolled out a funny ad campaign featuring a bald man frustrated by people who take their hair for granted. The company has also launched a new Opensalon mobile app and Google feature allowing customers to directly book appointments and check in at locations. The chain is a subsidiary of Regis Corporation, which owns 27 different salon brands.
Founded by Geoffrey M. Rappaport and Frank E. Emmett in the San Francisco Bay Area in 1975 and franchising since 1979, the number of locations has expanded in the past decade from 2,133 in 2010 to the current total of 2,814 (down from the previously reported total of 2,883), of which 210 are company-owned and 108 are located outside the US.
3. Sport Clips
Sport Clips was created for guys who don’t want to go to hair salons that feel more like they’re for women than men, but would also be more engaging than a standard barber shop. Each store features many televisions playing sports, and is decorated with a sports theme. Like the other big hair-salon chains, Sport Clips has rolled out an online check-in platform so customers can get in line virtually before they arrive.
Founded by Gordon Logan in 1993 and franchising since 1995, the number of locations has grown steadily and rapidly in recent years from 704 in 2010 to the current total of 1,879 (up from the previously reported total of 1,838), of which 70 are company-owned and 39 are located outside the US.
4. Merle Norman Cosmetics
Merle Norman Cosmetics develops, manufactures, and distributes its own full line of skin care and cosmetics products sold through independently owned and operated Merle Norman Cosmetics Studios. Its products and ingredients are never tested on animals, nor does it engage in third-party animal testing, relying instead on human volunteers for testing.
Founded by Merle Norman in 1931 and franchising since 1973, the number of locations has been steadily declining in recent years from 1,386 in 2012 to the current total of 1,050 (down from the previously reported total of 1,117), of which only one is company-owned and 47 are located outside the US.
5. Fantastic Sams Cut and Color
Fantastic Sams Cut and Color gives a full-service salon experience that is accessible to everyone because of its affordable pricing. As a discount haircut chain, each location offers cuts, coloring, styling, and shampoo treatments. In 2011, Fantastic Sams was purchased by Dessange International, a French company that owns several brands of personal care products and services.
Founded by Sam Ross in Memphis, Tennessee in 1974 and franchising since 1976, the number of locations has declined steadily during recent years from 1,284 in 2010 to the last known reported total of 1,002 in 2018, of which two were company-owned and five were located outside the US.
6. Cost Cutters Family Hair Care
Cost Cutters Family Hair Care provides affordable, no-frills haircuts in a family-friendly environment without requiring appointments. Quite a few of its salons are located inside Walmart stores. The menu of services includes haircuts, coloring, waxing, texturizing, and tanning. The chain is part of the Regis Corporation family of salon brands.
Founded by Joe Francis in 1982 and franchising since then, the number of locations has been steadily declining in recent years from 811 in 2010 to the current total of 676 (up from the previously reported total of 608), of which 129 are company-owned and all are located in the US.
7. First Choice Haircutters
First Choice Haircutters is a Canadian hair salon chain catering to value-conscious families with its walk-in model and salons that are often located in strip malls. It also offers a seven-day guarantee on all its products and services. The chain’s full-service offerings include haircuts, trims, coloring, deep conditioning, and waxing. First Choice Haircutters is part of the Regis Corporation family of 27 different salon brands.
Founded by Bud Cowan in Ontario, Canada in 1980 and franchising since then, the number of locations has declined in recent years from a high of 452 in 2011 to the current total of 362 (down from the previously reported total of 386), of which 26 are company-owned and all are located outside the US (in Canada).
8. Amazing Lash Studio
Amazing Lash Studio offers eyelash extensions to its customers. The lashes are semi-permanent, lightweight, and come in four different basic styles. They’re attached to existing lashes using a pharmaceutical-grade adhesive about 1 mm from the eyelid and won’t come off except when your natural lashes fall out. The process takes 1.5-2 hours for first-timers, with follow-up refill visits lasting 45-60 minutes.
Founded by Jessica and Edward Le in 2010 and franchising since 2013, the number of locations has expanded rapidly to the current total of 249 (up from the previous year’s total of 229), of which none are company-owned and all are located in the US.
9. SEVA Beauty
SEVA Beauty, with its motto of “beauty to the people,” positions itself as a fast-casual spa with one-stop-shop convenience at affordable prices. Its menu of spa-like services includes brow shaping by threading and waxing, brow tinting, eyelash extensions, makeup applications, hair removal, and facials. The SEVA express format is small (150-475 square feet) and can be located within other stores, such as Walmart and other chains, while the SEVA Spa format is bigger.
Founded by Vas Maniatis in 2008 and franchising since 2010, the number of locations has dropped in the last couple of years from 182 in 2016 to the last known reported total of 142 in 2019, none of which are company-owned and all of which are located in the US.
10. Blo Blow Dry Bar
Blo Blow Dry Bar calls itself “the original blow dry bar” where the main service is “wash, blo and go,” although many locations also offer makeup application, nails, waxing, and bridal hairstyling. In 2014, the chain received a big boost when actress Gwyneth Paltrow and her own hairdresser, David Babaii, became partners.
Founded in 2007 and franchising since 2009, the company website claims nearly 130 locations in the US, Canada, and the Philippines (no change from the previous year).
Drybar offers wash-and-dry blowout stylings in a bar-themed environment where women sit facing a U-shaped bar with their backs to the mirrors. The names of the different stylings are also bar-themed, such as Dirty Martini, Cosmo, Mai Tai, and so on. And the company’s gift cards are designed like coasters.
Founded by Alli Webb in Brentwood, California in 2010 and franchising since 2012, the number of locations has grown to the last known reported total of 126 in 2019 (up from the 2018 total of 105), of which 86 are company-owned and all are located in the US.
12. Waxing the City
Waxing the City provides waxing services to women without having to go to an expensive spa. All licensed estheticians complete an extensive training course to become “Cerologist” technicians for the company. Franchising is accomplished through a partnership with Self Esteem Brands, parent company of the world’s largest co-ed fitness franchise, Anytime Fitness.
Founded by Summer Hartshorn Vasilas, Marilyn Hartshorn, Robin Schoh, and Alex Arlotta in Denver, Colorado in 2003 and franchising since 2010, the number of locations has climbed rapidly to the current total of 119 (up from last year’s total of 108), of which eight are company-owned and all are located in the US.
13. Cookie Cutters Haircuts for Kids
Cookie Cutters Haircuts for Kids eases the all-too-painful experience of haircuts for kids. Locations feature in-store playgrounds, touchscreen play units in waiting areas, televisions, video games, and fantasy chairs on the cutting floor that are like little vehicles for the kids to sit in while getting a haircut. Families with multiple children get discounts after the first haircut at regular price.
Founded by Larry and Cookie Shelton in Salt Lake City, Utah in 1994 and franchising since 1996, the number of locations has jumped in recent years from 24 in 2014 to the current total of 110 (up from the previously reported total of 102), of which two are company-owned and three are located outside the US.
14. The Lash Lounge
The Lash Lounge approaches lash extensions with PASSION, an acronym that stands for Professional, Appreciation, Service-oriented, Servant leadership, Integrity, Ownership, and Never-give-up-attitude. Founded by Anna Phillips in 2006 and franchising since 2010, the number of locations has risen to 108 (from the previous year’s total of 84), of which three are company-owned and all are located in the US.
15. Roosters Men’s Grooming Centers
Roosters Men’s Grooming Centers brings back the classic American barbershop for men who want an updated version of the traditional men’s haircut shop. Other services include facial shaves, head shaves, coloring to blend away gray, beard trims, neck shaves, and men’s facials. Roosters is part of the Regis Corporation family of 27 salon brands.
Founded by Joe Grondin in Lapeer, Michigan in 1999 and franchising since 2002, the number of locations has grown in recent years from 25 in 2010 to the current total of 90 (up from the previously reported total of 85), of which three are company-owned and two are located outside the US.
16. Deka Lash
Deka Lash prides itself on several innovations, including a professional training program developed over five years; its proprietary studio design featuring custom-designed beds, chairs, and work areas; a highly-personalized customer experience with a unique check-in system; and a membership program.
Founded by Jennifer Blair and her husband Mike in 2013 and franchising since 2016, the number of locations now stands at 85 (up from the previous year’s total of 60), of which three are company-owned and all are located in the US.
17. Sharkey’s Cuts for Kids
Sharkey’s Cuts for Kids is a little different from other kid salons because it serves youth in addition to young children. For the youngest kids, it has toy-car vehicle chairs where kids can watch their favorite cartoons. Older kids can play Xbox or Playstation on 40-inch screens during their haircuts. There are special lounges just for tweens and teenage girls for glam styling and painting nails. The chain also offers “Glamour Girl” birthday parties.
Founded in 2001 and franchising since 2004, the number of locations has marched steadily upwards from 33 in 2012 to the current total of 76 (up from the previously reported total of 66), of which two are company-owned and three are located outside the US.
18. Pigtails and Crewcuts
Pigtails and Crewcuts is another hair salon chain for kids. It features kid-centric vehicle-shaped chairs for the littlest customers, the latest books, videos, toys, a wooden train table, and a treasure chest stocked with surprises for after the trim. Stores also have a party room that can be booked for birthday celebrations.
Founded in 2002 and franchising since 2004, the number of locations has expanded to the current total of 66 (up from the previously reported total of 62), of which only one is company-owned and all are located in the US.
Snip-Its is a salon concept for kids that makes getting a haircut fun and entertaining. The chain has its own cartoon characters in various games and stories, the Magic Box that dispenses a prize in exchange for a swatch of hair at the end of a visit, and its own all-natural line of haircare products specially formulated just for kids. Locations also host birthday parties that include hairstyling and dress-up costumes.
Founded by Joanna Meiseles in 1995 and franchising since 2003, the number of locations has declined in recent years from a peak of 67 in 2015 to the current total of 58, of which three were company-owned and all were located in the US.
LunchboxWax offers speed-waxing services with a cheeky hipster vibe for customers who don’t need or want a lengthier spa experience. The chain serves both women and men with no fewer than 33 different waxing services, each of which is focused on a different and very specific part of the body. Founded by Debi Lane in Boise, Idaho in 2010 and franchising since 2013, the number of locations now stands at 47 (up from the previously reported total of 44), of which two are company-owned and all are located in the US.
21. V’s Barbershop
V’s Barbershop bills itself as a traditional, upscale, authentic barbershop that offers men’s haircuts and hairstyling, hot-lather straight-razor shaves, facials, facial and neck massages, free neck shaves for regular customers, and even shoeshines in many of its locations. Founded by Jim Valenzuela in Phoenix, Arizona in 1999 and franchising since 2005, the number of locations now stands at 47 (up from the previously reported total of 45), of which none are company-owned and all are located in the US.
22. Lemon Tree Family Salons
Lemon Tree Family Salons is a family-oriented, full-service, value-priced salon offering haircuts and styling, beard and mustache trimming, up-dos, body waves, highlighting, coloring, and permanents. Founded by Joan M. Cable in Bethpage, New York in 1974 and franchising since 1976, there are currently 43 locations (down from the previously reported total of 45), of which eight are company-owned and all are located in the US.
23. Cherry Blow Dry Bar
Cherry Blow Dry Bar brings a membership option to the blowout styling concept. The Signature Membership includes two blowouts per month and the Trendsetter includes four blowouts per month, with any unused blowouts automatically rolling over to the next month. Customers can also pre-pay for 12 blowouts and use them any time they want. Additional services on the menu at each location include hair extensions (HotHead tape-in extensions), makeup services, lash extensions, hair treatments, braiding, and scalp massages.
Founded in 2008 and franchising since then, the company website currently lists 21 locations, all of which are located in the US.
24. Scissors & Scotch
Scissors & Scotch is another recent entry into the rapidly grown men’s grooming segment of hair salons. The company website describes the model as a place “…where traditional barbering and modern spa services meet your favorite watering hole. Sit back, relax, get groomed – then enjoy a cocktail, coffee, or cold one in our private lounge.”
The company also offers a membership model in which customers can pick and choose the services they want and how often they want them. Membership perks include guest passes for free services, free upkeeps, discounts on products and drinks, and priority access to networking events.
Founded by Erik Anderson in Omaha, Nebraska in 2015 and franchising since 2017, there are now 10 locations (up from the previously reported total of 8), of which two are company-owned and all are located in the US.
25. Hammer & Nails
Hammer & Nails – Grooming Shop for Guys is like a cross between a barbershop and a spa just for men. It offers traditional haircuts and shaving services, but its core focus is foot and hand grooming. It’s essentially the ultimate man cave for manicures and pedicures. Each customer gets their own TV and remote, noise cancelling headphones, no bright lights, a complimentary beverage (beer, spirits, soda, water), custom-crafted barber chairs for haircuts and shaves, and overstuffed leather chairs for mani/pedi services.
Founded by Michael Elliot in 2013 and franchising since 2015, there are now nine locations (down from the previously reported total of 11), of which none are company-owned and all are located in the US.
An Important Note About Our Methodology
The franchises on this list were ranked according to the number of units in the franchise system. If you are a prospective franchisee searching for franchise opportunities that meet or exceed certain performance benchmarks for sales, profits, and return on investment, please check out this list of America’s Most Lucrative Franchises.