Jennifer and Michael Blair graduated from Trinity High School a year apart. “We knew of each other, but we didn’t know each other” at the time, Michael said.
That changed a few years later when a bride and groom selected them for their wedding party, he as best man, she as maid of honor. They got to know each other then, and following a courtship, went from playing significant roles in a marriage to becoming significant others.
Twenty years of wedded bliss later, the Blairs are parents of four and owners of a rising business that will catch your eye. It has been a wonderful lash-up.
Michael and Jennifer founded Deka Lash, a company specializing in eyelash extensions. They launched in 2011 in a rented room in Pittsburgh, and in seven years have nurtured their operation into a franchise with 40 locations in 17 states. All operate seven days a week.
Seven are in Pennsylvania, all within 30 miles of Pittsburgh: Old Mill in South Strabane Township, Peters Township, Bethel Park, Green Tree, Shadyside, Wexford and Monroeville.
Deka Lash has a payroll of 340, 300 of whom are called lash artists. The company trains them, and they are required to be cosmetologists. The other 40 are corporate employees who mostly work in the 10,000-square-foot headquarters in Southpointe. That figure is destined to grow along with the company footprint.
“When we started the franchise in 2016, we awarded 200 locations for territories,” said Michael, the chief executive officer. “We hope to have 50 of the 200 open by the end of this year, and we’re shooting for 100 by the end of 2019.”
The couple, who reside in Peters Township, plan to open a franchise in Canada next year.
Deka is a distinctive name for their business. It was formed from the first two letters of the eldest Blair children: Demi and Karli.
Both daughters work for the company – Demi, 21, as a cosmetologist, Karli, 18, as a representative in the customer service center at Southpointe. They have two brothers, ages 13 and 9.
Not all couples who run a business do so successfully, but Jennifer and Michael Blair have prospered. They readily compliment each other for their complementary skills, a perfect marriage of abilities, so to speak.
“He’s always had the entrepreneurial spirit. Michael’s owned a couple of businesses,” Jennifer said.
Deka Lash, her spouse asserted, “has been Jennifer’s brainchild from the beginning. And she said, ‘Let’s not just be local, but national.’
“It’s almost become a perfect storm,” Michael continued. “Jennifer has more training experience and customer experience. I’m more on the tech and operations side.
“Jennifer does a lot of public speaking. She was interviewed by Cosmopolitan magazine, was on a TV show in Denver. She’s very inspirational to other women.”
Their business launched modestly. “I was a stay-at-home mom who wanted to do something for myself and get a little extra money,” said Jennifer, who grew up in the Avella area before moving for her senior year of high school.
“My first shop was in Shadyside because Shadyside had several high-end opportunities. I was very concerned. I had signed a five-year lease. But once I started working, I said, ‘I’m going to make it.’ Once I was established, I opened a second shop in Peters.”
That initially was called Spa in the Hollow. The business, by either name, has existed along Washington Road near the intersection with Valley Brook Road. On Monday, however, the Peters Deka Lash will relocate about a mile to the south, also along Route 19.
The Blairs opened their first two standalone studios in 2013, launched a training academy more than a year later and decided to try franchising a year after that. They signed their first franchisee in Salt Lake City in 2016.
Their studios generally are in smaller shopping centers and malls, with about 1,200 to 1,800 square feet of space. Jennifer and Michael strive to provide affordable services, which are strictly eyelash-related. All elements of the formula seem to be working.
Although they have gone national – soon to be multinational – the Blairs remain as devoted to their hometown as they do to appealing eyelashes.
“We’re doing more national stuff, but we want to let people here know what we’re doing because it’s really exciting,” he said. “We’re really doing well.”