By Mark Thomas
Sean Barnard is the affable owner of Bambou, a salon offering hair and beauty services in downtown Overland Park. He’s relatively new to owning a salon after a lengthy career in the casino world.
“I’d been doing casinos for 37 years and I’d had enough,” he says. “I thought, ‘What am I going to do?’ I wanted something that was completely new, that I could learn from the beginning. It really is refreshing, exciting and a bit scary, but it’s been a lot of fun.”
Barnard’s English accent reflects his expatriate status.
“I began in casinos in 1979. They don’t pay well in England, so I went to the Bahamas. In 1991, I came to the U.S. to open an early riverboat [casino] in Illinois. It was very early in the boat industry. Then it was on to Vicksburg [Mississippi] and Lake Charles [Louisiana].”
He worked his way up to a general manager position, but took a hiatus to run his own marketing agency for a time. After Hurricane Katrina affected his marketing firm, he returned to casinos with a stop at a tribal facility in Michigan and then the Ameristar Casino in Kansas City.
While at the Ameristar, he became a founding board member of the Mid America Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce. He now serves as the board’s vice president.
In September 2016, Barnard purchased a salon. Although it was an established business with a good clientele, it was in need of refurbishing, he says. He saw a lot of potential.
“I lucked out when I bought this one,” he says.
Even though this was a complete change of industries for him, he brought some sound ideas.
“I had found in casinos that great chefs often think they can run a restaurant, but they can’t always,” he says. “I figured out when I bought the salon, if I was a good leader and took care of my staff, and they are true to what they do, the business will be successful. I intend to bring best practices behind the scenes.”
Barnard waited to introduce a name until the business was completely remodeled.
“I found a graphic that I really liked, a stencil of bamboo,” he says.
That graphic became the color scheme and the new name, which uses the French spelling.
The staff of 10 were all retained from the original salon (plus one new member), and Barnard says they are critical to its success.
One of the cultural changes that he introduced to the newly christened Bambou is a healthy investment in charity events.
“We try to find ways to say yes to involvement,” he said.
One example is Bambou’s leading sponsorship of the MAGLCC and Human Rights Campaign-KC’s March 30 observance of the International Transgender Day of Visibility.
The salon also differentiates itself by offering services beyond hairstyling. Skin care, nails and wedding and prom packages are on the menu.
So is inclusivity, he says.
Barnard notes: “It’s not always that easy if you’re transgender to find someone to do your hair.”
Barnard enjoys travel, but finds himself always drawn to Kansas City. He points to culture, art and a wide variety of aspects of the area to take pride in.
“We’ve got it all: urban, suburban, gay, straight, loft or house!”