When you meet Michael Suba you will likely be struck by his calm, welcoming demeanor, you might however not guess that he is an infamous figure in the hair replacement industry. Though it is an industry that serves and impacts the lives of millions every year, the hair restoration industry is not one that we often feature in the media. The truth of the matter is, experts like Mr. Suba deliver an invaluable service to individuals suffering the emotional and psychological impact of hair loss day after day. In a recent interview with Mr. Suba The Hair Society learned about his passion for the hair replacement industry and his own personal experiences as a hair loss sufferer himself.
HS: Why did your parents first enter the Toronto hair replacement business 50 years ago?
MS: My parents had a small Toronto-based beauty salon at the time that they decided to establish Continental Hair. Believe it or not, wigs and hair pieces were so popular, that many in the hair industry feared that their business would become obsolete. As wigs and falls became a major fashion statement, my parents made the strategic decision to enter the hair replacement business.
Unlike competitors who entered the Toronoto hair replacement industry at the time, my parents made the choice to go straight to the source. My father regularly traveled internationally to meet with vendors to ensure the quality of the Continental Hair product line.
HS: How do your source your products today?
MS: Just as my parents did, I still go directly to the source. I spend anywhere from $10,000 to $30,000 a year, to travel to our manufactures around the globe. Just like my parents, I don’t believe that there is any substitute for touching and feeling the products that go into our hair replacement systems. I like to meet with our manufactures firsthand, to tour their operations and ensure I can stand behind every product we sell.
HS: How do you equip yourself and your staff to help women dealing with the emotional impact of hair loss?
MS: For many women, the loss of one’s hair goes far beyond the physical. It often comes with the loss of their sense of identity and even the loss of their privacy. For those undergoing chemotherapy, the subsequent hair loss makes their illness apparent even to strangers.
At Continental Hair it is our goal to ease the pain associated with hair loss. In fact, in many cases the women we serve are pleasantly surprised to learn just much how we can help. It really is a point of pride, for myself and my entire staff, to help women suffering from hair loss maintain their identity and privacy, and get back to living life. Most of the women we serve report that they simply want to forget about their illness between treatments and at Continental Hair, we are committed to helping them do just that.
HS: How do you deal with “unsatisfied” clients and how are you impacted by negative comments online or in the press?
MS: It cuts to the quick when you read a negative review about your business. When we receive negative reviews, they are typically from customers who have not voiced their dissatisfaction to me or my team. In most cases the issue can be easily fixed. All I ask is that our customers tell us when they have a problem. In fact, at Continental Hair we are the only Toronoto hair replacement studio that will always take responsibility for a mix up. We are always happy to provide a refund or a replacement to ensure our client’s satisfaction. While it is tough to read a negative review, the hundreds of positive reviews, letters and emails we receive every year make it all worthwhile.
HS: How many satisfied clients have been seen in 50 years?
MS: Though we do have an occasional complaint, the truth of the matter is the vast majority of our clients are satisfied. I would estimate that we have easily served upwards of 30,000 satisfied customers over the years.
HS: What are the best and worse times in this business?
MS: The worst would definitely be when a staff member left only to set up a competing Toronto hair replacement studio. In the end it turned out to be a blessing when I learned that many of our existing clients were relieved to hear that she was no longer with us. In fact, shortly after her departure we experienced our strongest sales month to date.
The best times are spent working with young hair loss suffers and talking to their parents. The parents are always so thankful when they learn what we can do to restore normalcy in their child’s life. As a parent myself, this hits particularly close to home.
Another career highlight was opening a Continental Hair studio in the Sunnybrook Healthy Sciences Center. We are coming up on our 17th year with Sunnybrook, an accomplishment we are all incredibly proud of.
HS: What makes your staff unique?
MS: Every member of my staff is specialized. Everyone is encouraged to learn our process and select the area that inspires them. Some are better at certain cuts and products. We currently have 5 specialized stylists, which really enables us to address anything that our clients ask of us.
HS: What trends have you seen in the business over the years?
MS: Though we have been focused on serving the unique needs of female hair loss suffers since the mid-90’s, many of our competitors have followed suit in recent years. However our extensive experience has made it nearly impossible for them to compete.
Another industry trend we have seen in recent years is the move to trichological treatments. These therapies are becoming more advanced every day and are the ideal solution for those who are experiencing thinning but are not yet ready for a hair system.
HS: What is your stance on price vs value?
MS: I tell my clients to get the nicest system they can afford, specifically when undergoing chemo. I remind them that they will be wearing their system for a year or more, therefore they will want to buy something of quality that they can wear with pride.
When it comes to the postiche, there is really no savings when buying a cheap version. If a client chooses a low quality postiche they are much less likely to wear it. I instead encourage them to save and purchase a system when they can afford to purchase one of quality. Finally I remind all of my existing and potential clients that it is imperative to see samples. Unlike my competitors, I allow my customers to see and even touch the hair that will be used to create their hair system. We are completely transparent with everything we do here at Continental Hair.
HS: Tell me about your “Wig’s for Kids” program.
MS: The idea behind our “Wigs for Kids” program first started on a phone call late one afternoon roughly 20 years ago. There was a similar program in the US and, together with the Canadian Cancer Society, we decided to start one here in Canada. Through the program we provide free wigs to children, under 12, suffering from hair loss. Today we receive 4-5 ponytail donations every day and we are committed to sending thank you letters to each and every person who donates. We are very proud to head up this program and we consider it a privilege to have the opportunity to make a positive impact on so many children’s lives.
HS: What kinds of reactions do you receive after clients sees themselves in a hair system for the first time?
MS: It’s nice sometimes because you don’t get the reaction right away. Sometimes I get caught up in creating beautiful hair but it’s great to know that my work is changing lives. Honestly, it can be tough being in a business that by definition no one can spot my good work.
Sometimes we don’t hear about the impact we made until months or even years later. We often hear from people who were helped during a difficult time. An example of this was a woman who reconnected with her sister after she fell ill. After she passed away the surviving sister emailed and thanked us for the entire experience and the role we played in making the last few months of her sister’s life so much better. Hearing this kind of feedback makes my job incredibly rewarding.
HS: What challenges do you face when styling hair systems?
MS: It is always a challenge to match our clients’ hair perfectly, but it is one of the most exciting parts of my job. The biggest challenge is often in ash tone colors. A lot of times we purchase hair from younger people who have more of a red undertone. In these cases, our stylist put their extensive experience to work until they achieve the right tone.
When styling, it can also be difficult to achieve certain looks without using a lace front hair system. We often try to avoid lace front caps because they require adhesive which can damage new hair growth. Short cuts can also be a challenge, but we are always up for it.
Finally, sizing can be difficult when a client is undergoing certain medical treatments. Chemotherapy patients are often given steroids that cause weight gain. In these cases a client’s needs can change over time. This is something we always explain and work together to overcome.
HS: Do you consider yourself an authority in the field of hair replacement?
MS: Yes. I have been in this business all of my life. Colleagues often turn to me for answers and advice. I travel the world to see the factories and materials being used and I therefore have a firsthand account of how this industry works. When you’re involved in every step of the process, you naturally become an authority.
HS: When you’re not running Continental Hair what do you do with your free time?
MS: My family is the center of my life. My wife and I will be celebrating our 22nd wedding anniversary this year and my kids are growing up fast. My son is 19 years old and is currently attending one of the top hair styling schools in Canada. My daughter is 16 years old and very independent. She is very busy with school and friends. Finally, my 10 year old daughter is still a daddy’s girl. I spend as much time with my family as possible. I also love to play hockey. As the goalie I consider myself the last line of defense on the ice, just as I do at work. My clients come to me after talking to surgeons, doctors, etc.
HS: What does your morning ritual entail?
MS: I don’t usually eat breakfast but there is a wonderful Italian coffee shop right near the office. I go in most mornings and get a double shot latte for myself and the staff members who share my love of coffee.
HS: What has made Continental Hair successful for 50 years even with so much competition?
MS: For the longest time we were the only Toronto hair replacement studio focused solely on women. Though competitors have since entered the game, we have established an impeccable reputation over the years. Much of our business is from repeat customers and referrals. We have always had an unmatched quality guarantee which has kept us afloat in slow times and helped us experience incredible successes in good economic times.
HS: Please explain the difference in synthetic hair, Remy hair and European hair.
MS: Synthetic hair is inexpensive and is a great option for those who can’t afford higher priced hair systems. It is however important to note that these systems don’t typically fit as well.
Remy is 100% human hair from Indian, Asia, China or Indonesia. It is however processed and has typically been colored and treated with silicone. If used in the right cap, Remy hair can be beautiful. We often encourage those with darker hair to consider Remy systems.
European or “virgin” hair is superior in every way. It lasts longer but it is important to note that this type of hair is getting very expensive. Finally, the Cesare Ragazzi system or CNC is the very best option on the market today.
HS: Why do you focus primarily on women?
MS: We made the decision to focus on women in the 80’s when everyone was focused on men. My parents didn’t want to get in the race for men’s hair. When I was going through chemo I noticed that we were hearing from more and more women. It was at that time that we decided together to put our efforts into designing the world’s best hair replacement systems for women.
HS: Please speak to the different kinds of hair loss you treat at Continental Hair.
MS: Many people are surprised to learn that men and women experience hair loss at the same rate. Though men typically experience balding while women experience thinning, just as many women are suffering from hair loss today as men. Roughly 1/3 of our clientele are undergoing chemotherapy, 1/3 are suffering from alopecia and the other 1/3 are experiencing general thinning. We have solutions for each of these populations and we are always happy to tailor a solution to meet our clients’ individual needs.
Continental Hair A Division of Continental Tress LTD.
92½ Avenue Road
(north of Yorkville Ave)
Toronto, ON M5R 2H2 Canada
Tel: (416) 923-7747
Toronto Sunnybrook Odette Cancer Centre
2075 Bayview Avenue (north of Eglinton Ave)
Breast Centre, M Wing, 6th Floor
Toronto, ON M4N 3M5 Canada
Tel: (416) 480-5157