Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in November 2016.
There had to be something special about Chester County for Biff Piner and his husband, Thomas Crisp, to settle down here.
After all, the co-owners of the Balance Hair Spa in Exton and the Balance Hair Spa Studio in West Chester have lived in places both near and far, before finding their permanent home in the area.
“There’s no doubt that Chester County is a great place,” said the 45-year-old Piner. “Our business has done well here, and our clientele are accepting of who we are.”
And who they are, their employees would say, are the anomalies of an ultra-competitive industry.
“One of the reasons we named our salon Balance is because there’s not much of it in our field, and that leads to a lot of competitiveness,” Piner said. “We don’t want to be a part of that.
“We encourage our staff to work together as a team, to share clients, to bounce ideas off each other. That collaboration builds camaraderie, and our clients notice that right away. They feel that positive energy.”
Piner grew up on the outskirts of Des Moines, Iowa, before moving to Minneapolis, where he flourished as a DJ in his early 20s. Eventually, he was lured to Atlanta, a few years before the city hosted the 1996 Summer Olympics, where spinning records was a lucrative business.
He also freelanced for Billboard magazine as a music critic, a role that enabled him to meet the likes of Prince, Whitney Houston, and Paula Abdul.
In Georgia, Piner met Crisp, who had owned several salons after graduating from beauty school, but was beginning to burn out and suffer from Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. Crisp gradually transitioned into the education aspect of his industry, and the couple moved to Baltimore.
Crisp’s role as a national educator for Alterna Haircare Academy then forced them to move to either Toronto or Philadelphia, two cities with huge markets for their skills. They chose the latter.
By the time the couple relocated to Chester County almost 10 years ago, Crisp, now 48, had also trained at Vidal Sasoon and Aveda Strictly Business, and had experience with several product lines, including Paul Mitchell, Wella, and Tocco Magico.
All the while, Piner had one foot in the skin-care industry.
“Because of my psoriasis, I have always been very cautious about what products I use on my skin and hair,” he said. “While working as a DJ and traveling around the country doing gigs, I was always aware of my skin and how it would react to new products and environments.”
In 2007, the couple opened Balance on Route 100 in Exton, which has 10 chairs and four spa rooms over 3,500 square feet and is open seven days a week.
“That was Thomas’s idea,” Piner said. “He always knew how to build a business and enable it to grow. Sundays are great days to be open, because for a lot of women, their husbands are busy watching the game. So why not treat yourself to a day at the spa?”
In 2013, they opened their Studio on East Gay Street in West Chester. It offers all of the same hair and makeup services as the Balance in Exton, only in a more intimate, boutique environment.
Crisp even serves on the board of directors of the West Chester Business Improvement District (BID), the mission of which is to create a partnership among business and property owners to achieve long-term economic growth for the borough.
After having been together for 14 years, Piner and Crisp married in 2014, as soon as it became legal in Pennsylvania, along with 13 other couples in front of the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia.
“We were looking forward to that day for a number of reasons,” Piner said. “Not the least of which is that we could finally file our taxes together and get the same benefits as everyone else.”
Because of a death in Crisp’s family, the couple are now raising their 11-year-old great nephew.
With business booming, the new parents are as busy as they’ve ever been.
The two are quick to credit their diverse staff for all the talent it brings to the table.
“Our employees are great,” Piner said. “They get a lot of education. Most salons don’t provide that type of continuing education, but for us, it’s important. They are always learning new things.
“And that’s critical in an industry where the styles are always changing.”