Martha's Salon Shop: The Birth of America's Modern Franchise System

No, it was not A&W Root Beer or Termimex Pest Control or Howard Johnson restaurants. It was Martha Matilda Harper (1857-1950) who developed a network of franchised beauty salons in 1891. Each salon was owned and operated by a woman trained in the “Harper Method”. Harper inspected the franchised salons, provided training, group insurance, worldwide advertising and beauty products. Harper developed her own organic shampoos and tonic to be used in the Harper Method encompassing hygiene, nutrition and exercise.

At the height of their success, there were more than 500 Harper salons along with a chain of training schools. Ultimately, Harper opened a laboratory in Rochester, NY and added new products to her line including other hair preparations, creams, makeup, permanent wave and hair coloring products.

The franchised Harper shops changed the lives of hundreds of women who became owners through Harper’s flexible financing. Harper shops were customer-focused with reclining shampoo chairs, scalp massages and other stress reduction relaxation techniques. They also provided childcare and evening hours. Harper introduced flextime, profit sharing and paid personal time off. She created the first widespread franchising system and a model that included training, centralized management, quality control standards, independent ownerships and wider opportunities for women.

Martha Matilda Harper is sometimes called the "Mother of Modern Franchising"


About the author: Stanley Turkel, MHS, ISHC operates his hotel consulting office as a sole practitioner specializing in franchising issues, asset management and litigation support services. Turkel’s clients are hotel owners and franchisees, investors and lending institutions. Turkel serves on the Board of Advisors and lectures at the NYU Tisch Center for Hospitality, Tourism and Sports Management. He is a member of the prestigious International Society of Hospitality Consultants. His provocative articles on various hotel subjects have been published in the Cornell Quarterly, Lodging Hospitality, Hotel Interactive, Hotel-Online, AAHOA Lodging Business, etc. Don’t hesitate to call  917-628-8549 or email