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One cut at a time

December 5, 2012
by Gary Enos, Editor
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Don Prince

Don Prince’s business focus has shifted from trimming hedges to trimming hair, but his life and that of his employees have taken on an even more radical transformation.

Prince, 50, knew he wanted to establish a “people” business after getting into recovery, and his location within the hub of addiction treatment in Palm Beach County, Fla., made his Serenity Styles salon an ideal concept for the area. Prince exclusively hires stylists in recovery, leaving it up to each employee to decide how much of themselves to share with their customer base.

The signs that Delray Beach-based Serenity Styles is not a typical salon remain subtle: The name of the business, of course, immediately carries meaning for many observers, as do some of the salon’s marketing taglines, such as “Bring the body and the mind follows.”

Prince’s business, which opened in December 2011, is doing a large part to put a different face on a profession where recovering individuals often struggle to find a safe haven. “It’s a party industry for sure,” says Prince, 50. “In many salons, alcohol is served to customers when they come in.”

High-functioning alcoholic

Prince, who grew up on Long Island, says he took his first drink in high school and experienced a blackout the first time he got drunk. After his parents divorced, his home became the “available house” for drinking and being part of the crowd.

As an adult, Prince sold landscaping equipment for a number of companies and also served as a volunteer firefighter, but never could muster the reserves to get help for his ongoing alcohol problem. He never had a DUI during his drinking days in the Northeast, but then tallied three in succession after moving to Florida.

Prince says he was never court-ordered to treatment, but explains that his physical and mental condition gradually deteriorated to the point where he eventually found himself seeking inpatient care at the Wellness Resource Center in Delray Beach.

“At this point, I was unemployable,” Prince recalls. “I stayed at Wellness six months, but I left twice.”
While Prince was in inpatient treatment, his mother died. He wanted to put the money she left him to good use, but didn’t feel qualified to give back to others as a treatment program leader or sober home operator. Today he gives hope to stylists in early recovery who likely feel as lost as he did when he left treatment. At Serenity Styles, the people whom Prince hires become able to cope through creativity.

“This is a recovery-based business for people who are licensed and need a new start,” says Prince. “I’ve hired people who are still in halfway houses and are just stepping down from treatment.”

He adds, “I hired two girls who were scared to death to be here—they didn’t know if they could cut hair sober.”
Prince’s professional recovery circle extends even beyond his staff, as everyone from the real estate agent for the property to the plumber and electrician who worked on transforming the site is also in recovery. Serenity Styles also operates adjacent to a 12-Step meeting site.

The business is marketed as a moderately priced, service-oriented middle ground between the chain operators and the highest-end salons.

How open to be?

Prince decided to join Delray Beach’s Chamber of Commerce to enhance business networking opportunities, but on the occasion of making a presentation to a chamber subcommittee he struggled over how much he should reveal about the story behind the business. “Do I come out or don’t I? Am I just another salon?” he recalls asking himself.

He decided to be upfront, and in the question-and-answer time after his talk he quickly came to realize that his community represented friendly turf. “I don’t even think about it anymore,” he says.

Some of his employees freely discuss issues around recovery with their customers, and it is clear that many patrons enjoy the opportunity to support a business that in turn supports a community of recovering individuals.

For Prince’s part, he says he no longer is afraid to ask for help as well as extend it. He says his relationship with his ex-wife and others in his family has improved greatly, and he recently assisted his son in being admitted for treatment at the same facility where he was helped.

Prince thinks his business concept could be conducive to franchising. For now, he enjoys seeing his staff members blossom in a friendly work environment, and he has no qualms about seeing them eventually leave for bigger and better opportunities in the profession if that’s where their recovery takes them.

“I expect people to come and go,” he says. “What I focus on now is, ‘Is the person safe? Is the person well?’”