Carol Davis opened Gila Rut with her daughter, Keri Davis-Duffy, in 1992. Now retired, she remains a true force in the industry, thanks to her lasting legacy of care and passion.
Keri Davis-Duffy is the reason Gila Rut exists. She and her mother Carol Davis opened the first Gila Rut in 1992. Since then, Gila Rut has grown to include three locations, all Aveda salons. Needless to say, it’s been quite a wild ride!
What was your profession before you became a stylist and opened Gila Rut?
Keri: At 19 I worked at Sea-World in concessions waiting for my name to come up for financial aid to go to Cosmotology School. I attended Delux Beauty School and went on to work at Cory’s Salon. I had worked there for three years and one day I showed up to work and the doors were chained shut! Everyone was scrambling to find a new salon to work in. I found a new salon the next day and worked there for another three years. I was traveling and teaching for Paul Mitchell across the country and building my confidence but I hadn’t quite found ‘my place’ to be and plant my roots. I knew it was my time to create the place I dreamt of working!
Carol: I worked for Weight Watchers. Now I’m retired. Gila Rut feels like my home—I love my Gila Rut family. They keep me young! It’s been wonderful to watch Karla step in as a partner and grow with the company. She’s like a daughter to me.
What was your vision for Gila Rut?
Keri: I wanted to open a business where the team was treated like employees of an actual company; a company with benefits (health, sick leave and education) and an opportunity for growth. I was committed to doing things differently so hairdressers could prove their income and do things like buy houses and cars when they wanted. That kind of salon didn’t exist at the time so I decided to create it, and I asked my mom to go into business with me.
What was it like to open your own salon?
Keri: Back then, we had no internet to help with the process—we were driving around looking at chairs and fixtures. Mom and I took a business course to figure out how to run a business and happened to meet the builder of the shopping center where we wanted to end up. As far as management goes, we decided really fast which one of us was in charge…it wasn’t my mother! Haha (it was ME!)
How did the reality compare to the dream of owning a business?
Keri: It was hard work. We were there working side by side every day at first. I remember getting down on my knees in that 1000-square-foot space, scrubbing the floors with my dress tied up. It wasn’t glamorous! But we did well for ourselves. We opened Hillcrest in 1992. On the very first day, we made $1,992. To us, it was a sign…it was meant to be!
How has Gila Rut evolved over the years?
Keri: We started with eight chairs, and we always carried Aveda products, but we also had Paul Mitchell at first because I was a Paul Mitchell educator. In 2005, we became an Aveda Concept Salon. Now all our locations are all Aveda. We opened Otay Ranch in 2006. This is when Karla became partner. Our third location opened in 2011.
Whose hair would you do, if you could choose anyone?
Keri: Donald Trump’s—for the greatest image fix of all time and the chance to do historical hair. Or Oprah’s—for her spirit. I love her hair already; I really just want to take her to lunch!
What’s the craziest thing someone in your chair told you?
Keri: My client said she was cheating on her husband with another woman. I happened to know the other woman…crazy!
Carol: I used to get asked if I am gay a lot…but I have never been asked out on a date!
What advice would you give yourself if you could go back to 1992?
Keri: As hard a practice as it is, knowing that everything happens in its divine order and is the plan for your bigger picture and highest good. Trust! Unfortunately, a lot of this comes with age 😉
Carol: Make decisions based on culture, not on the person.
What’s next for Gila Rut?
Keri: We don’t plan on opening any more locations, but we are building an online educational company that we are super excited about. This company will help other salons to institute in-salon education to their staff, something we, as a company, would never live without! We’ll have to wait and see what opportunities present themselves! They always do!