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In the Spotlight: KBS Hair Designs

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This article began as a mystery story.  There I was, driving around Grass Lake Village looking for a scoop.  Turning off East Michigan Avenue onto North Lake Street I noticed an advertisement for Infinite Potential, a new chiropractic clinic set to open soon.  It seemed promising so I decided to check it out. My publisher would be pleased.

The lights were on but nobody answered the door.  Facebook yielded little information.  I called a high-ranking Grass Lake official and asked for a tip.  “Search me,” I was told.  I sent a message offering to write an advance for the Grass Lake Times.  An appointment was made but yielded no connection.  ‘Fake news’?  Infinite potential or infinite jest?

The following Friday I received a call from Karen Smith, owner of KBS Hair Designs.  “Didn’t we have an appointment?” she asked.  “Or two?  Where were you?”

It was a case of mistaken identity.  Smith posted the information on her Facebook page because the new owner of Infinite Potential, Kathleen Kenny, asked Smith to support her clinic.  Each time I sent an instant message it went to Smith instead of Kenny.

The mystery solved, I offered to write a feature on KBS, saving face in the process.  Here’s the story.     

Smith, who has the patience of Job, started out in cosmetology in the early 1980s.  Originally from Toledo, OH, she landed a job after Beauty School, working at Katie Butterfield’s Hair Design, long since out of business.

Recalling her formative years, Smith said “I answered the ad and got the job. I was excited to get into a salon, to meet new clients.  Katie was a good teacher.”

Smith said that the beauty academy isn’t what it was in her day.  A lot has changed since then, she said, including tuition, which can run five figures. Since many students at cosmetology school have to work to pay for tuition, it takes longer to earn a degree and costs more money.

Smith, who spent part of her upbringing in Grass Lake with her family, has no direct competition in the area, apart from hairdressers who work from home.  She relies on a steady clientele to keep her shop in the black.   

“Most clients are return clients,” she said.  A constant 38 clients keeps me busy.”

The toughest aspect of her job is the number of hours she puts in each week.  “I work about 12 hours a day,” she said matter of factly.  “I could put in longer hours if I wanted to.”

Most of her customers are women, but she also cuts men’s hair and does manicures.

Anybody who spends that much time on their feet might want to consider making an appointment with the chiropractor a few doors down.

A beauty shop wouldn’t be a beauty shop without an opportunity for stylists and customers to dish the dirt.  Smith acknowledged that sometimes she feels like “a little therapist.  But what happens in the beauty shop stays in the beauty shop.”

A walk-in showed up at her shop on Inauguration Day Eve.  The salon was as warm as a terrarium, spray bottles at hand to water hair as well as the plants.  “President-elect Trump, comb over or toupe?” the walk-in asked.

Smith thought a moment then rendered her professional diagnosis of the 70-year old Trump’s corn-colored hair.  “Comb over and possibly hair plugs.”   

An amazing conversationalist, Smith can hold conversations with several women in separate chairs, the stories augmented by sidebars delivered by stylist Brenda Shelhart who has worked on and off at KBS for more than 20 years.  It isn’t one conversation but one-on-one conversations with each client.

Summer is her busiest season, what with proms, weddings. Her Rolodex includes regulars, prom queens, brides and bridesmaids, and snowbirds that return from the Sun Belt to Michigan each summer.

“Grass Lake has been good to me all these years.  I like my little shop — small, comfy, cozy.  I like it.  I’m good.”

KBS Hair Designs is located at 131 North Lake Street in the Village.  For an appointment call 517-522-8060 or email

Walk-ins are welcome.

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