Getting a haircut can be an unpleasant experience for a child: Sharp shears, strange smells, uncomfortable basins. Not at Cartoon Cuts, where getting a haircut is a fun family outing.

Almost 10 years ago, Cartoon Cuts president and founder Kathleen Perkal and her husband tried to find a great place to take their children for haircuts. Unsuccessful in their search, they found a missing niche in the haircare industry.

"We researched and traveled around the country," she says. "There were some mom-and-pops and some full-service adult salons with a separate room for kids, but no one was addressing the children's market in a big way."

Perkal devised a business plan in 1991 and raised enough capital to open her first store at Fair Oaks Mall in Fairfax, Va. Today, 16 Cartoon Cuts can be found along the East Coast, from the northernmost store in Philadelphia to three in South Florida.

After nine years in business, Perkal is ready to double her roster of stores. She plans to open between 10 and 15 stores in the next year and as many as 25 in the next two years through a combination of company-owned and franchised stores. Initially, most new stores will be franchised. The Springfield, Va.-based company is in the process of filing its Uniform Franchising Offering Circular, the legal document required before it can offer franchises.

To help Cartoon Cuts with its franchise debut, Jorge Salvat took over as CEO in April. Salvat has a background in the service industry through stints with Burger King and Dryclean USA.

"We are looking to franchise areas on the East Coast, though we would consider other opportunities," Perkal says. "We are targeting North and South Carolina heavily."

In addition, one unnamed retailer has approached the company about putting Cartoon Cuts inside its locations. If the agreement comes to fruition, the first two experimental stores will open this year as company-owned facilities. If the idea works, Perkal will open up the opportunity to franchisees.

Most Cartoon Cuts are in regional malls, but Perkal also considers power centers as viable locations. In fact, the company's No. 1 store is located at Congressional Plaza in Rockville, Md., a power center. Perkal seeks locations in areas with 100,000 people in a three-mile radius with strong percentages of children. Perkal prefers the 1,000 sq. ft. stores to be near other children's stores. Children's shoe stores, in particular, seem to attract clientele.

"While Mom or Grandma can buy clothes or toys without the child in tow, it is awfully hard to buy shoes unless the kid is with you," she says.

Cartoon Cuts attracts children with its bright yellow walls and other primary colors. A Sega Dreamcast keeps older kids occupied while they wait, and younger children can color at the art table. Each store has at least one shampoo station with padded tables and a fiberglass elephant whose trunk is used to shampoo hair. At the hair-cutting station, a television replaces the typical mirror, and children watch one of four videos of the day while the stylist snips away.

"It is such a bright and cheerful store that kids who don't know it is a hair salon are drawn in by the activity and bright colors," Perkal says.

Cartoon Cuts sells its own line of products, along with products by Back to Basics, Jungle Care, Matrix, Nexxus and Paul Mitchell. The store also sells hair accessories, brushes, combs, and trendy cartoon merchandise, such as Pokemon and Crazy Bones items, to tie in the cartoon concept.

Contact: Kathleen Perkal, president and founder, Cartoon Cuts, 5501 Backlick Road, Suite 115, Springfield, VA 22151; (703) 354-3801, ext. 209.