Martha Matilda Harper

Martha Matilda Harper as the embodiment of the American dream

Martha Matilda Harper is a businesswoman who created the first franchise network of 500 Harper salons. Her biography is also an example of the true American Dream when an ordinary, persistent maid was able to build an empire.

The early days of Harper Salon

Born in 1857 in Ontario, Canada, Martha was sent to work as a maid by her parents at the age of 7. After 22 years, when she was a grown woman, Harper went to the United States, where she continued to work as a maid. Her last job as a servant was in a doctor’s house in Rochester. The man’s speciality was hair health. Martha became interested in his work, and the doctor trained her. When he died, he left her a recipe for a hair tonic.
It is worth noting that many of the ingredients used for medicinal purposes at the time were doing more harm than good. But Martha wanted her product to be as safe as possible. She modified the given formula slightly and, having saved up enough money, started making the tonic. But she faced a new challenge: finding a way to sell her product. With her remaining savings of USD 360, Martha opened Rochester’s first hair salon. Harper decided to change the way hairdressers delivered their services, which had previously involved visiting clients in their homes.

Martha Matilda Harper businesswoman

Franchise development

Although Martha had only a primary education, she knew how to reach consumers. She became the main advertisement for her product. Her beautiful long hair left no doubt about the product’s effectiveness and attracted potential customers’ attention. The business developed actively, and in 1891, the world’s first franchise appeared – Harper salons opened in various cities around the country.
Never forgetting where she started, Martha employed former servants in her salons, which were run entirely by women. She taught them the basics of the business herself and monitored the quality of the work.
As well as building a successful business, Martha also came up with a number of inventions that are still in use today:
– a woman came up with the idea of using reclining salon chairs for head-washing to make customers more comfortable;
– the services included a head massage;
– the salons were open in the evening so that every woman had time to use the services;
– hairdressing salons were open to children, with staff looking after them while the client was being served;
– Harper’s hair care products were made almost entirely from natural ingredients;
– the salons did not use harmful dyes or perms.
Gradually, the company grew to 500 franchises, serving ordinary women as well as celebrities, including first ladies and actresses.
Martha died aged 92. Her husband, whom she married at 63, continued to run the business.