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Music at Björn Axén

Back in the early sixties, hairdresser Björn Axén made a name for himself by displaying a flair for new trends.

His salon attracted a broad range of glamorous celebrities, including Grace Kelly, Elizabeth Taylor, and the Swedish royal family.

After Björn’s passing in 1993, his former apprentice Johan Hellström inherited the salon. Under Johan's leadership, the Björn Axén brand has grown to become Sweden’s most prestigious hair care company. The Björn Axén brand continues to evolve, inspiring a new generation in Sweden and abroad.

We paid a visit to the brand's flagship salon in downtown Stockholm for a coffee with Johan Hellström, the man who inherited Björn Axén's world.

How did you get your start with Björn Axén?

– I worked for Björn as a trainee for two and a half years, beginning in 1984. After that, I chose an entirely different career, as a professional dancer and musical artist. But then Björn died, and I got a call from his lawyer. He asked me if I was sitting down. Then he told me I had inherited the salon. “Excuse me?” I said. “I left eight years ago!”

Soundtrack of Björn Axén


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That must have been a shock?

– Here's the even crazier part: He had put me in his will seven months after I started. I was 18 and sweeping hair from the salon floors. The two of us never even had dinner together. We didn’t socialize. Don’t get me wrong, he was my mentor and I had lots of respect for him. But I would never have expected to inherit him. I would have been grateful even if he’d left me a comb and a pair of scissors.

A life changing moment?

– Yes, it was, and it made big news in the press. But when I sat down with the lawyers, I realized I’d been given a sinking ship. The company was on the verge of bankruptcy, and I was strongly advised not to take this on. That made me angry. I’ve never liked people telling me what I can and can’t do. Twenty-two years later, we’re in a very different situation. From the original salon with 19 employees, we now have four salons and 150 people working for us. We also have an academy and sell our products all over the world.

What turned it around?

– We created a culture where hairdressers and their clients want to stay. There’s a healthy environment of mutual respect here, and we have decreased staff turnaround significantly. We're also often fully booked, so our clients get used to trusting us as a brand instead of trusting one specific hairdresser.

What role has music played in building brand loyalty?

– It’s so important to build a brand in which everything that comes in contact with your clients, consumers, or staff needs to be well thought through. From our color choices to the furniture, it’s all combined with our core values and identity. Music is crucial.

I understand you enlisted music bloggers to make your playlists. Talk me through that process.

– We showed them our brand book and explained who we are. I love working with creators as they can come up with ideas based on how we feel. They help us balance a modern feel that still needs to be relaxed. We can’t have our clients or hairdressers feeling stressed. It’s a careful balance as we don’t want things to become boring either.

Do you adapt the music for different times of the day?

– We are open nine to six and have a special morning playlist, one at lunch, and another one in the afternoon when people are more awake.

”Now it's so easy to establish a brand sound and one that we can stand behind.”

Johan Hellström
Björn Axén

How does your staff feel about the music?

– Most of them think it’s super. We listen to input from both employees and clients, but we've set up different zones here so we can quickly switch one off. If someone is sensitive to the music, we can remove the music from that area.

That’s quite a nice point of service. And this place feels luxurious, do you aim to reflect that in the music?

– We do a lot of fashion shows, and I’m aware of all the aspects that go into them. I think music brings out the glamor in an entirely different way. Style and music need to complement each other. It’s important to get the feel right. We're classical but with an edge.

How has the focus on music changed since Björn’s time?

– I’d say he was very aware of music and would be especially aware of what was played at shows back then. All I remember from the salon was lots of people debating the music all the time. No one said, "This is the kind of music we play." Now it's become easy to create a brand sound that represents us.

Björn Axén’s guide to creating brand loyalty

  1. Happy employees make happy clients. Make sure to create a culture where all your employees are great brand ambassadors.
  2. Create a store atmosphere that your clients love, but don’t forget that it should also communicate your brand’s core values.
  3. Be consistent. Remember that everything your customers come in contact with is an opportunity to build your brand. That means everything from the color of your doormat to the sound coming from your speakers.

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