‘Do what you love’, has never been a truer statement to describe what Katie Hoke Harrower, owner of Hank and Ax Salon, has done her whole life. She has always followed her intuition which led her to live in Colorado and California, go to beauty school, and a little over three and a half years ago; open Hank and Ax. And along the way, she has never wavered from being herself.
An Omaha Native, Katie has been in the industry for 17 years. Before becoming a licensed hairdresser, Katie explored her options. She graduated from the University of Nebraska Lincoln with an English degree in hopes of becoming an English professor. Instead, Katie moved to Denver with her husband where she became a sales representative for Paul Mitchell as a job she could do in between going snowboarding. While she lived in Denver, being a sales rep for Paul Mitchell, she fell in love with the industry. It wasn’t until she moved to Newport Beach, California with Paul Mitchell, that one of her biggest mentors, who was a hairdresser, told her she needed to go to beauty school to better her sales. Katie went on to beauty school….“And sure enough, I fell in love with doing hair,” she says.
“So that is how I got into this biz…..by accident.”
But Katie was always a natural when it came to doing hair.
“I should have known better because, in my sorority house, I would make money doing hair,” Katie says while the Hank and Ax girls are riding around on swivel stools. Which led to her saying in a lighthearted, but serious tone, “You guys, if there is hair in those wheels”….*gives them a stern look*.....”it’s coming out of ya’ll paychecks!”
But that is how Hank and Ax is, they are all boss babes and get the job done, all while having fun and making memories.
What was your reasoning on moving back to Omaha and starting a salon here?
“I loved living in Denver and I loved living in California….Ray (Katie’s husband) and I got married when we were 21. Our deal was, before we had children, we were going to live by the mountains and live by the ocean; we are going to snowboard and we are going to surf before we have children...and we did that. And then I got pregnant with Henry in California. So I had Henry out there, and then we moved back about 6 months after he was born. I just wanted to raise my kids with my parents and my family. I knew I wanted to have a business, and I knew I wanted to be back with my friends, and Omaha...it was calling me back.”
“I missed Omaha, I saw this whole scene coming up in music….and I thought people were more open with fashion….it was happening back here and I thought ‘I think it’s time to go back, I think it will be good.’”
When Katie moved back to Omaha, she went from working for Paul Mitchell, to being a stylist in a salon, to having her own salon suite.
“I loved that that for about a year, but then I really missed the camaraderie of other hairstylists,” Katie said.
The idea of opening up her own salon was never a pipe dream for Katie.
“I think I always wanted to open up something that was fun and mine.”
“I grew up living next door to my grandparents and they were both entrepreneurs. They both had their own businesses and I always thought that was so much fun. I loved that they had their own employees and I remember my grandpa at the cash register at the grocery store and I was like ‘I’m going to have my own cash register someday’. That was a thing that I wanted….and I got one!”
With an entrepreneurial mindset instilled in her at a young age, there was never any hesitation when it came to the decision of opening up her own salon.
“I was always like….’yeah, I’ll just have my own’…..I wanted to create my own space,” - Katie
“So, it was never a ‘Can I do it?’ It was more of ‘When I do it…” - Allie
“Yeah, I never really thought of it that way….I don’t think the scares came until about two years in, when you realize you are responsible for people you really care about….I have to to survive. Yes, for me and my family, but also for people that I completely love, that are dependent on me.” - Katie
How long has Hank & Ax been open for?
“The salon has been here for a little over three and a half years….and it was just me to start. I didn’t have a front desk, I didn’t have anybody, and then Kelsey came and we’ve just been growing since then,” said Katie.
“But you had this space,” said Allie, referring to the space the salon is in currently.
“Yeah , we gutted an old salon, painted it white, and I was like ‘okay we are good’...I didn’t put too much into it because I thought “we’ll just build from there’,” said Katie.
Where did the name Hank and Ax come from?
“Oh, well it’s my two little boys. Henry, who is ten and a half, his nickname is Hank...and then Axel is my eight year old. Ax is what we call him.”
Pit and Peak of Owning a Business
“They are almost one in the same for me. My peak is getting to create with young people. Getting to create with early twenty somethings. Being inspired by what kind of hair they do. Being inspired by how they dress, what artists they see coming up because it keeps me super relevant on how fast Instagram is moving. I didn’t have that growing up. So that is a peak for me.”
“The peak is seeing these guys succeed. The peak is seeing me succeed in something new. Working with these girls is my peak.”
“My pit, it’s also my pit. Learning how to work with a new generation. Understanding how they purchase. Understanding what makes them feel special. Understanding what makes them feel sad. I would say those are my pits. Like me getting frustrated with someone that grew up a certain way, and understanding how - what I think - how business works, how responsibility, how respect works is very different one or two decades below me. So coming to that common ground, we have our pits and our peaks within all of that. More importantly, out of the whole thing, it is a peak. Because as soon as we figure out how to communicate together and have successes together, educate together, and create together, I don't think there is a better way for them to learn and feel wise, nor is there a better way for me to feel like I’m keeping up and staying relevant and youthful.”
“That pit and peak is that understanding of the different generations coming together and sometimes colliding. I’m CHOOSING to work with young people. I’m choosing to work with people who could be my kids.”
Are you thankful that you did open up your salon later on in life?
Without any hesitation, Katie says, “yes”.
“Yes. I’m happy that I went to beauty school later on in life. I’m happy that I opened my salon later. And I’m happy that I chose not to grab experienced hairdressers to work here. I am happy that I chose hairdressers in school and just out of school to build their career here and learn from them and to have our failures and successes together. Seeing it from two different lenses, really, has been cool…..There is nothing harder, but more gratifying than seeing someone who’s a year into the business and 100 percent booked and they are making a lot of money. That makes me happy.”
When talking about her girls and the power of social media….
“It’s how they market themselves. We work really hard on that. It’s like, ‘How do you want to be perceived?’ because it’s very important - what your social media presence is and who you are...There better be a nice, solid bridge in between that because people are coming for one or the other.” - Katie
“That’s what I think is so great about social media for hairdressers. You are marketing yourself, showing off your talents, and hopefully building your clientele this way.” - Allie
“And that’s why we did Hank and Ax. We did Hank and Ax because we wanted something where these girls show up to work, the business supports them in their education, and the business supports them in their social media. That’s why I have BB, my right and left hand….These girls could literally go in and say, ‘Hey BB, I want to do this with my social media. I want to look like this. How can we curate this? What can I do?” And she is like, ‘Got it’. That’s for them.” - Katie
Side Note: During the interview, every so often Katie would look over at her girls, who are with their clients and say words of affirmation and complement them on their work. With that, not once does she call them her employees, but they are her girls. As if, and because they are a family here.
Five, ten years plus...where do you see Hank and Ax?
“Oh my gosh, this is so fun. You know when you go to bed at night and you think, ‘Let’s just day dream a little’ and you think of really good things. In five years, I would say, we would be in a different location, and we will build it from the ground up, and there will be more emphasis on skincare, because we are bringing skincare in. Kaitlyn will be handling all of that….So in five years, I really want a new space, that is more catered to the whole guest experience...all of the mistakes I have made, I am learning from them. I would have more, way more, luxury services like skincare, …..a whole area for coloring, a whole area for cutting.”
“Ten years...my kids will be all graduated from high school. I could see myself partnering off with one of these guys and running the whole show…..will they want to run it? I don’t know. I don’t see it going away, that’s for sure!”
Who would you like to thank, those people who helped you grow, have been behind you, and have helped you make this business what it is today?
“Oh, that’s such a great question! That one gets me a little weepy, because I could go back and say ‘well, I want to thank my grandparents, and I want to thank my dad’. I could thank all of my sorority sisters, and my college girlfriends, and all of the strong women in my life. I could even thank all of the people I had at Paul Mitchell, and all of my mentors. All of my Female mentors, that’s a big one….I have been really blessed with strong women in my life. Right now, in this moment, I am going to thank all of my staff. I am going to thank BB for coming in on Sundays and helping me clean up. I am going to thank all of these girls for keeping a positive attitude. I am going to thank these girls for holding each other accountable when someone has a bad attitude, and someone needs some lifting up. I am going to thank these girls for dealing with my temper tantrums. I have a lot of people to thank. That’s the thing, I never think of this as myself. I never think of this as ‘This is my business.’ Sometimes that is unhealthy. Sometimes I need to stand in my own power….There are a lot of people, but ALL of the strong females in my life that fail, stand up, fail, stand up.”
What does it mean to beyourself?
“Being yourself….I can remember the moment, in my life, when I CHOSE to stand on my own two feet and be myself.”
For Katie, it was the summer between Freshman and Sophomore year of high school.
“I realized that the people I was hanging out with….I wasn’t being authentically myself with.”
Katie was part of a group where she thought she has to act and dress a certain way, even though there was another group that she was more like.
“I was like, ‘I’m more comfortable hanging out with these people’. They might not be the ‘coolest’ people in the world.…..I got made fun of for it, but I didn’t care because I was truly, authentically being myself…..And you make your best decisions when you are being yourself…..That was a hard year for me. That was a whole transition year. And I feel like I haven’t wavered from that year AND I feel like my relationships are so much stronger and people respect me - and they’ve told me that - because that is (being yourself) is the most important thing to me.”
What’s In The Works for Hank and Ax?
This month, the salon got a little revamp…..think muted pink walls, a new skincare room, a coloring bar, and a fun seating area in the center of the space.
With the remodel, they have invited a more open concept. Hank and Ax is offering new and very exciting services like skincare and lash extensions! (I got my lashes done by Abbey a couple of days ago and love them!)
For Katie, Hank and Ax isn’t just a salon, but a place her and her girlfriends; present and future, can chat and hangout. When I asked if Katie had a vision or mission statement for Hank and Ax she said, “We’ve wanted to get together to come up with that, but we always get a little squirrelly when doing so, but the thing that we always come back to is we want everyone to feel like we’ve been waiting for them all day...like a friend is waiting for you at their house...we want everyone to feel like they are apart of something.”
Thank you for reading.
always remember to beyourself,
Hank and Ax Information
To book an appointment at Hank and Ax, visit their website, www.hankandax.com, or text the number (402) 932-6599!
Location: 3667 N 129th St, Omaha, NE 68164