Life changing encounter leads duo to open first Sanké hair salon in the United States

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31 October, 2018 By Johnston Farrow

Mere steps away from opening her own salon, a potential investor backed out on hair stylist Lisa McSwain at the last minute. A scheduled cut with long-time client Mary Rocco changed everything.


Rocco introduced McSwain to her husband and son, John and Jeff, after McSwain shared her misfortune during the appointment. They would soon join McSwain as investor and business partner in Sanké Kingwood, a progressive, European style salon with an emphasis on education and aesthetics. It quickly gained a strong following in the community since opening in April 2017.


“We met up with Lisa and she pitched the idea,” Jeff Rocco said. “I could tell that she really believed in the Sanké concept, what they had to offer, and what she thought the potential in Houston would be. So, we went for it.”


It was a life-changing meeting for Jeff Rocco. A businessman in the aviation industry, his company asked him to relocate to New York. Opening the salon allowed him to stay close to his parents, despite being a complete 180 turn, job-wise.


For McSwain, it was simply the next step in her three decades-long career in hairstyling. She quite literally grew up doing hair. Her parents owned the long-time salon A Hair Place in Kingwood, where she spent many afternoons in her youth.


“From 10 or 12 on, I was up there after school working, answering phones and sweeping up hair,” McSwain recalls. “Doing all the grunt work.”


After years working at Arturo’s Hair Design in Kingwood, she wanted to make her own way as a small business owner. Researching her options, she decided to pursue the model of Sanké, a Belgium-based salon that focuses on education and a forward-thinking European aesthetic to cutting hair. There are 20 Sanké salons in Belgium with McSwain and Rocco opening the first in the United States.


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The Kingwood location employs 10 staff members that work on a commission model rather than the traditional chair rental model. It allows McSwain and Rocco to maintain creative control over the salon and ensure high-end service for clients.


“I just wanted something that was unique to Kingwood,” McSwain recalled, “With a culture that was team-based, education oriented, a downtown atmosphere without being stuffy, still being friendly, and very accessible. Our girls have accomplished that, for sure.”


Some of the services offered at Sanké Kingwood includes coloring, balayage, blowout, highlights, men’s and women’s haircuts, and extensions. The salon features four color specialists as well as microblading and waxing. Relaxing shampoo and aromatherapy massages are also included with haircuts.


McSwain and Rocco are serious about keeping staff educated, a major pillar of the Sanké brand. Staff members fly to Antwerp, Belgium at least once a year to learn new techniques and cuts at the Sanké Academy.


“It’s just staying current with cuts and looks,” McSwain said. “It’s subtle changes that you don’t really notice until a decade later - you look back and no one looks like that anymore. The clients love it. They absolutely love that we stay fresh.”


For Rocco, he has no regrets about his career change, even after Hurricane Harvey inundated the salon only months after they first opened. He sings the praises of his talented staff that have embraced the challenge of working at a new salon with a new concept.


“It’s been a lot of fun,” Rocco said. “We have a great team and I think we have something really special here. We got off to a great start, Harvey definitely set us back, but we are ramping up again. We’re really excited.

Written by

Johnston Farrow

Johnston Farrow is also a columnist for Houston's CultureMap and has been a journalist for over 15 years, covering everything from news, entertainment, sports and more.

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