When Donna Robinson gave her mother Dee a gift certificate for a personal colour analysis 35 years ago, she had no idea how much her mom would appreciate it. When Dee Cannell had the Colours makeover done, she was amazed at how much better she felt, radiating confidence and positivity.
“When I got out of the car after the appointment, I tried to wave at my neighbour, but he didn’t even recognize me,” says Dee.
Dee at work in hotel management in the early 1980s.
The Colours transformation made such a difference for Dee, she travelled to the company’s head office in Toronto and inquired about purchasing a franchise. She crunched the numbers and realized that she could open a niche cosmetics business in Dartmouth and quit her job in the hotel management industry - but she couldn’t do it alone. Dee convinced Donna to leave her nursing job at the Halifax infirmary and take the entrepreneurial plunge as a mother/daughter team. That was in June 1986.
“It was crazy! By the end July, we were open for business on Portland Street in in the bottom of Seacoast Tower and we were busy from the get-go,” says Donna.
Donna graduating from nursing school, a few years prior to opening Colours in 1986.
Even though downtown Dartmouth was experiencing a decline in the late 1980s, Colours continued to attract new clients for their signature makeovers. The duo knew their long-term success depended on repeat customers, so Donna became a certified esthetician to offer a wider range of beauty treatments. The plan worked and the business soon moved across the street to a bigger location. Then, in 2006, Colours moved to its current address at 59 Portland Street.
“We have evolved over the 35 years. Those that had their colours done in the 80s and 90s are now bringing younger family members in. We get multigenerational repeat clients – sometimes three generations!”
Donna does all the esthetic treatments and Dee manages bookings and retail. The team says demand for electrolysis and brow treatments has gone up since the pandemic began, while skin and nail treatments remain in high demand. Requests for personal colour analyses continue to be popular, as a new generation discovers them.
“Just the other day, we had a 15-year-old performer come in to have her colours done. She was getting ready for a promotional photo shoot and wanted to look her best,” says Donna.
Both Dee and Donna say they love all their clients, and it’s the friendships they’ve formed with them over the years that keep them going strong into their fourth decade of business in downtown Dartmouth. Both women say they are thrilled with how the community has revived in recent years, with new restaurants and shops filling almost every vacancy on the street.
“My dream is for a running store in downtown Dartmouth! I’d love to be able to get my running shoes close to home and not have to drive to Halifax or Bedford,” says Donna.
Donna credits running and yoga for allowing her to keep up with demands of a bustling business. She and her mother say they plan to continue making downtown Dartmouth a more colourful place for years to come. If you walk by the shop, you’ll likely spot Dee in the window, with her signature lock of purple hair. She’s there ten hours a day, six days per week, with no plans to slow down, despite recently celebrating her 80th birthday.
“If you want to look great at every age, get your colours done! And exercise. And drink lots of water! Two glasses a day is not enough!” says Donna.
Photo credit (modern day portrait at top) - James Arthur MacLean Photography
Photos above contributed.