Denny Kemp

Denny Kemp

OWNER/STYLIST NE Minneapolis & Edina

How did you get started in the business?
At a young age, cutting hair was more of a creative outlet for me than a career path. While I’m an artist at heart and I’ve always loved to paint, at a more basic level my true passion is really about changing, rearranging and improving things. When I was growing up in Iowa, there wasn’t a lot of innovation around me in terms of hair styling, but I was already drawing inspiration from pop culture. I remember cutting a Chatty Cathy doll’s hair, and being inspired by one of the Beatles’ girlfriends to give a sleek 60’s bob with bangs to a neighborhood girl whose long braids had never seen a scissors. My early experiments evolved into cutting my own hair in a style that was pretty fresh for that time, and doing perms, cuts and color for friends.

"I remember cutting a Chatty Cathy doll’s hair, and being inspired by one of the Beatles’ girlfriends to give a sleek 60’s bob with bangs to a neighborhood girl."

How were you trained?
I attended school at Horst, which really gave me a strong technical foundation, but what shaped me the most are the teachers and mentors I’ve worked with in this business including Horst Redelbacher and Jon English. Horst was super creative and had a strong business sense, and his high standards made me want to push myself to keep learning and evolving. I also learned a lot assisting Jon English, whose precision and positive nature made a strong impression on me. After a few years working as a stylist for Horst, I became Creative Director in charge of advanced education, developing new looks and teaching them at the school.

How did DK come to be?
I knew I loved teaching and the technical side of the industry, and after seventeen years as Creative Director for Horst I’d had the chance to travel across the U.S. and internationally. Being exposed to photos, video, music, fashion was exciting and it kept me fresh, but I felt ready for more creative control. I credit the early success of my business to those first brave employees and loyal clients who gave me tons of support and followed me to our first location on Hennepin.  I continue to work alongside the staff at DK because I like the one-on-one aspect of getting to know my clients, and understanding their personal style.

How would you describe your salon?
Our role at DK is to elevate people’s lives. Some people are looking for dramatic change, and others want a more gradual evolution. Either way, we want to give them a great style and a great experience, every time. That’s one of the reasons a salon needs to be inspiring, from the décor to the attitude of the staff, to the magazines in the waiting area. We’re in the business of making people look good, but it starts with being open to new possibilities.

"We're in the business of making people look good, but it starts with being open to new possibilities."

What do you look for in your staff?
There are a lot of talented stylists in the Twin Cities, and I hire the best of the best – people who have solid skills, a passion for the business, and who know what’s going on in terms of style. But even more important is hiring people who care about making a difference for the client. Clients need to know you’re going to be present for them, and do a great job each time they sit in your chair. You want to push each client to help them to look their best, but at the same time, understand how they want to wear their hair and how it will work with their life. This attitude carries over to our spa as well, where we’re lucky to have passionate staff who care about quality, and who keep up with the latest and most effective treatments.

What are you most proud of?
It feels great when you make a client happy -- and even better when you develop a long-term trusting relationship with them -- but what I’m most proud of, hands down, is the success of my employees. A lot of them have been with me for a long time, so I get to see them grow in their personal and professional lives. We’ve built an environment at DK that nurtures creativity and freedom, but also accountability. When people find working here to be fulfilling and they make a successful career, that’s the best reward of all.