Sat, 26 Apr 2003

A slice of life with Johnny Andrean

Bruce James, Contributor, Jakarta

While the tough may get going when the going gets tough, hairstylist-cum-bread store owner Johnny Andrean is firmly convinced that it's better to have a plan B at the ready.

A self-confessed positive thinker, he learned his lesson the hard way in May 1998.

Professional and private success as one of the country's leading hairstylists and a husband and father of four counted for nothing after 19 of his salons were picked clean by looters in the rioting preceding president Soeharto's exit from power.

"They took everything -- the air-con, the chairs, towels, even the shampoo sinks. Can you imagine that? In one year, you can open maybe four or five salons, but in one night 19 were gone ...," he said.

"I told all my employees that we're in this together, and we moved the employees from the closed salons to other ones. Nobody complained even though they were losing part of their commission."

Tall, lean Johnny, who now wears his hair shoulder length and looks younger than his 43 years, soon left with his family for the United States, returning by himself three months later. He and his wife, Tina, a bridal gown designer, now divide their time between Jakarta and a home near San Francisco, where his children are in school.

The panic and anxiety he experienced during those days of mayhem are gone, but the traumatic memories remain, and were brought back recently by the images of lawlessness in Iraq.

Still, unlike some Chinese-Indonesians who continue to waver on returning to their homeland, Johnny is embarking on a new venture where the cloying fragrance of hair spray is nowhere to be found.

Located in cavernous Mal Kelapa Gading in the upmarket North Jakarta suburb, Bread Talk is touted as a "premier boutique bakery", its gleaming silver racks holding breads bestowed with catchy names such as "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Bacon" and "Osambal", the latter so named in dual homage to its spicy filling and the most wanted man in America.

Johnny believes the new business is not such a radical departure from his usual vocation. For one, the shop, as with hairdressing, is meeting a public need, with Johnny remarking that more Indonesians are eating bread.

And it's a boutique after all, its glass-enclosed, open-plan design looking more like an Italian fashion store than a bakery.

"When I saw this store in Singapore for the first time, I realized the concept was so different from other bakeries," he said. "It's like fashion -- they create the shape, the name, which is so unique in itself and has its own story ... And I love fashion and style."

Business has been brisk in the three weeks since the opening, Johnny said, with the rolls and buns selling like, well, hotcakes. It could be put down to the novelty value, with Jakarta residents always looking to latch onto the latest food trend before discarding it for the next flavor of the month, but on a recent Friday afternoon there were still long queues snaking out of the store and past a neighboring coffee shop.

Johnny may be cooking up success in the bread business, but he is not about to hang up his scissors at his salons, now numbering 187 across the country.

The son of a businessman and a salon owner, Johnny was born one of five children in the bustling city of Pontianak in West Kalimantan.

"I helped my mother in her salon from when I was very young ... The salon part is from my mother, but the business side is from my father, he was a very wise man and both my parents supported me."

Johnny said he loved the freedom hairstyling gave him to help clients stand out by changing their look. He moved to Jakarta in the early 1980s, starting small with a salon in North Jakarta and opening a second a couple of years later.

"I saw that the problem in building the salon business here is how to keep the stylists, because mostly they want to have their own business and in Indonesia it's not difficult to own your own salon," he said.

Johnny's solution was to open training schools, graduating stylists equipped with the necessary skills to move into his expanding network of salons.

Apart from the training centers, he emphasizes building relationships with his employees.

"We give them a good salary, a good bonus, a commission, but people also need care, because other people can always pay them more. We try to keep close to them, and listen to what they want, so hopefully we can keep them as long as possible."

He credits Tina with supporting him in building the business, which also includes a range of hair-care products, and exploring new fields.

"A family, the people you love, motivate you to be the best," he said. "Other people don't care about tomorrow, what they get today they spend, but I have my children, and I have to take care of their future. I have to keep doing the best for them."

Although Indonesia is a huge market for beauty products, Johnny said hairstylists and salon owners needed to understand the subtleties of keeping the customer satisfied.

"A salon is not only the skill of the haircut, but how it treats the customers, that still needs to be developed in Indonesia. In my salons, I prefer more personalized service, one- on-one, so when they come in, we're like friends ..."

He said there was also an urgent need for control of the industry, with anyone able to call themselves a hairstylist and work through their ambitions on an unwitting victim.

In general, Johnny is optimistic about the future, believing that Indonesian society is opening up and becoming more tolerant, especially the younger generation.

But it's also a case of once bitten, twice shy.

"In 1997, people told me to move my kids to the U.S. or Australia because something would happen, and I said no, I wanted my kids with me, and that there were a lot of foreigners in Jakarta, it would be protected," he said.

"What happened in '98 really hit me, my positive thinking rebounded on me. I'm still optimistic, but now I have something to fall back on, and not just panic when something happens. There's a plan A and a plan B now."