Suiki Lor has a simple explanation for why he adorns the walls of his hair salons -- called Architects and Heroes -- with art: the atmosphere provides employees "creative stimulation," while also adding significantly to the bottom line.

The 43-year-old Canton-born hairdresser spends $6,000 (about 0.5% of revenues) annually to decorate the walls of his San Francisco and Hong Kong salons with emerging artists' latest creations. Exhibits change every two months and are ushered in with evening receptions and dance parties hosted by the salon. Expenses are more than recouped, Lor claims, from the increased word of mouth and media attention generated by the salon's novelty, as well as the 15% to 20% commissions retained on each art sale.

Boston's new Bella D'Arte Hair and Beauty Salon gains a similar marketing edge through the arts. Two nights a week customers can listen to a live jazz pianist and sip a glass of wine while having their hair cut, lashes tinted, or nails polished. Owner Robin Reiser, a former music teacher, says the $150 weekly expense pays off handsomely in customer satisfaction and return business.

-- Alessandra Bianchi