Husband-and-wife team pivots from brides to braids with new Ottawa salon

Ember Hair
Greg and Lisa Horner operated a bridal boutique for nearly a quarter-century before packing it in and opening a hairstyling salon. Photos by Rebecca Atkinson

After operating a bridal-wear boutique for nearly 25 years, Greg and Lisa Horner have traded in their fabric shears for scissors of a different sort.

Late last year, the husband-and-wife business partners opened Ember Hair Retreat, a salon at the corner of Somerset Street and Wellington Street West – the same Hintonburg location where their previous store, Yen’s Bridal, used to be.

“I never thought that, one day, hairstyling would be a full-time job of mine,” says Lisa.

Their decision to pivot to a new business came after the couple witnessed major changes in customer tastes and habits in the bridal fashion industry over the past decade or so.

The Horners say the growing trend toward online shopping cut into sales at Yen’s Bridal. But the couple also noticed a shift in attitude among many clients.

Greg usually worked the main floor of the bridal shop, assisting customers looking for dresses, while Lisa, a seamstress who studied fashion design, did the alterations.

Towards the end, Lisa says 90 per cent of the women who came into the store weren’t interested in having alterations done.

“People nowadays are more realistic,” she says, explaining fewer customers were interested in altering an item of clothing they’d be wearing only for a few hours.

Instead of closing up shop and retiring, the Horners started anew with the help of their daughter, Elisa, who now works in the salon part-time and plans to eventually take it over.

Ember Hair Retreat opened in October 2017, four months after Lisa and Greg closed Yen’s Bridal.

"I'm glad it's over ... because for the last few years, it was nothing but frustration."

“I’m glad it’s over,” Lisa says of the bridal business. “Because for the last few years, it was nothing but frustration.”

A new trade

Launching a new venture from scratch hasn’t always been smooth sailing, she concedes. The store is slowly building a clientele, and the couple hopes to see a bump in traffic over the warmer summer months.

Lisa and Greg say they’d been mulling over the change for some time, in part due to the influence of Lisa’s various family members, who run seven independent hair salons in the Ottawa area.

When the bridal business started suffering, Lisa’s family encouraged her to go back to school to earn her hairstyling diploma.

Because she grew up around salons, Lisa had experience cutting hair, but was still reluctant to embark on a whole new trade.

Ember
Photo by Rebecca Atkinson

“The first few years of a business are the hardest, and I didn’t want to go through that again,” recalls Lisa.

Eventually, though, she and her husband realized they needed to take action. In 2014, Lisa enrolled in Algonquin College’s two-year hairstyling diploma program.

“I wasn’t sure,” she says. “I started telling myself and Greg, ‘I’ll give myself two weeks, fully paying attention to school, and after that, I will know if I will continue with the class or not.’ Well, I loved it after two or three days.”

From there, the couple started reducing their bridal-wear inventory. As soon as Lisa got her haircutting licence, they announced the business was shutting down.

New challenges

With the dresses gone, the floors were changed, and the front window bridal displays were replaced with a photo of a model with swooping, coloured hair. And of course, shears were swapped for scissors.

For Lisa, the new business wasn’t a huge leap.

“It came very naturally,” she says.

Ember2
Photo by Rebecca Atkinson.

Now, the pair face a new challenge.

“We have to prove to people we’ve come here and we are going to stay,” says Lisa.

“That’s the way it was when we first opened in Hintonburg 20 years ago,” adds Greg, who opened the couple’s original bridal store on Rideau Street with his wife in 1993. “It was not the desirable neighbourhood it is now when we came in.”

Lisa recalls people back then wondering how long the shop would survive.

“We stayed,” she says. “Unfortunately, we couldn’t last, though.”

Recently, Greg also decided to return to school to study hairstyling at Algonquin College.

“While she was studying, guess who was studying along with her?” he says. “I didn’t know anything about hair. But now I was helping her.”

The Horners are no strangers to working together and toughing it out. Raising four children and now operating their second business, they’ve been side-by-side through it all.

“We’ve been working together for so long. A lot of people thought it was weird a husband and wife can so work well together,” says Greg. “We’ve been through thick and thin, the good years and bad years and the in-between years. Here we are again, on a new venture.”