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St. Louisan Opens Haircutting Franchises, Volunteers in Community

Bill Van Luven has lived near the Clayton-Richmond Heights Patch area since 1982.

Editor's note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified the year in which Bill Van Luven relocated to St. Louis and the year in which he began working for Great Clips. He arrived and began that work in 1986.

St. Louis transplant Bill Van Luven never retired. He didn't know what he would do with himself.

So after a successful career with paper-packaging companies such as Smurfit-Stone, he began opening Great Clips franchises in the St. Louis metro area and serving in numerous volunteer positions.

He recently learned he'd been named an Ageless-Remarkable St. Louisan by St. Andrew's Resources for Seniors System.

"I was pleasantly surprised to be included in this group of 20," said Van Luven, a Central West End resident whose business mailing address is in .

A cut above
Van Luven, 80, grew up in Ohio, served in the U.S. Navy from 1950-52 and worked in places such as New York City, Chicago and Princeton, NJ, before relocating to St. Louis in 1986*. He lived in Ladue for awhile before moving to the Central West End.

He began working with Great Clips in 1985. He had spent a career in a larger corporate environment and wanted to participate in a different business model. At the time, the haircut company had 110 locations. That number has since grown to 3,000. Van Luven's business goals are twofold: run his locations well and continue to grow them.

He attributes the company's success to its seven-days-a-week service, employee benefits and strategy about where to open new sites, among other factors.

With the upcoming opening of a new Springfield, IL, franchise, Van Luven will have launched 28 stores. He sold his St. Louis stores awhile back and has since put a focus on central Illinois. He actively manages 11 locations.

Consulting to nonprofits, visiting the sick
Van Luven knows there are a lot of people in the world who need help. That's why he's been involved in a variety of volunteer projects.

From 1989-93, he served as executive director of the former Executive Service Corps, a group of retired business leaders that provided pro bono consulting services to nonprofits. He also has worked with Combined Health Appeal of Greater St. Louis, Places for People and United Way's Management Assistance Center.

He and his wife have been trained as lay chaplains and work one day each week in the post-intensive care unit at Barnes-Jewish Hospital. They work closely with nurses, visit with people in need and offer prayers at their request. He also serves on the board and president's council of Grace Hill Health Centers, which provides medical services to those in need.

Active in the office and outdoors
Van Luven is quick to downplay the efforts he has made to help others. For him, the work is a way of putting seeds back in the ground of a city he enjoys.

There is always work to be done. Opening a new Great Clips location requires attention to municipal regulations, furniture, financial transactions, plumbing and more. He meets monthly with his managers. He believes in good communication and uses a BlackBerry to stay in touch.

"You have to pay attention to your business without micromanaging people," Van Luven said.

Outside of work and volunteering, Van Luven enjoys skiing and biking. He and his wife, Barbara, have a place in Colorado and spend time there during the winter. He also participates with a group that bikes in a different country each year. He's been to Italy to or three times, to France twice, to Sweden and to Denmark. He works out three days a week.

The couple have four children. Two of them, Eric and Jay, live in St. Louis. They also have six grandchildren, three in St. Louis and three in Ohio.

"It's a pleasure to get up in the morning and have something to do that you like to do," Van Luven said.

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