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Loyal Lucie

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Lucie Marino runs a relic of a business, a throwback to say, 2005, when people were willing to drop a few hundred bucks on a trip to the hair salon every two weeks.

But this relic has resolve.
Marino's business — hairstyling, makeup and beauty to the well heeled and well known — is thriving despite the recession. Marino, based out of Sarasota, has regular clients she sees every two weeks in Palm Beach, every month in New York and a few times a year in Montreal.

Her appointments at the Four Seasons in Palm Beach, where she leases space for a chair, are booked out a year in advance. Marino even sometimes uses an agent in New York City that books her for other jobs.

And those are just the regulars. Marino also has an eclectic list of past clients that would make a gossip reporter drool. The roll call includes Queen Noor of Jordan; singer Mariah Carey; author Tina Brown; actress Olympia Dukakis, singer Billy Joel's ex-wife. Marino was also the lead hairstylist at the 2005 wedding of Donald Trump and model Melania Knauss.

Even with that star-fueled success, Marino took one of her boldest business steps yet in late October. That's when she opened a boutique-style, one-chair salon in a converted hotel room at the Hotel Indigo in downtown Sarasota. She named the salon LEA after her sons Luca, 4, Aidan, 5 and Ethan, 8.

Marino is in the process of building up a client base for LEA, where prices range from $20 for a pedicure to $195 for a facial. Men's haircuts start at $45, while a woman's haircut starts at $85.

Not exactly bargain prices to combat a recession.

“I know there are some people not doing well, but there are some people doing OK,” says Marino. “I think it's important to have someone that will cater to the people that are OK.”

Moreover, Marino has found that even in a supposedly dead luxury marketplace, a high-end business can still make it. One key lesson she has learned along the way can be applied to just about any company in any industry: Loyalty goes a long way.

That works for both prices and keeping secrets. On prices, Marino has had to bend a little for some clients in the short-term to maintain the long-term outlook. On secrets, even though Marino dropped a few names of some famous clients, she doesn't cut and tell.

“Loyalty is one of the most important parts of any business,” Marino says. “[But] especially with beauty because I'm sometimes the only person that sees and hears the real things that are going on in my client's life.”

The loyalty concept has taken on new meaning the past 18 months, as she has heard the name Bernie Madoff mentioned several times from clients sitting in her chair. Still, Marino says her New York and Palm Beach customers have stuck with her, albeit sometimes going longer between appointments.

“The price of beauty is more important than buying a new dress,” Marino says. “You can wear the same skirt twice and still look terrific.”

Marino declines to discuss annual revenues, only to say that she's busy enough to be profitable. That includes the Sarasota operation, even though it has been open for less than three months.

Marino was born in Spain, raised mostly in Montreal and spent several years crisscrossing the globe as a hairstylist for fashion shows and magazines. Marino attended law school in her 20s, but she ultimately decided to focus on a career in hair and beauty.

She moved to the Miami area in the 1990s and she soon opened the first of two trendy salons in Palm Beach. Those salons ultimately grew to include 20 employees.

Marino moved to Sarasota with her husband and children five years ago. She decided to stay here and work on the East Coast because she loved the area and wanted to send her children to local schools.

— Mark Gordon


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