Hair-salon operator Regis Corp., which has been looking for a buyer or other strategic options since August, said Thursday it expects to wrap up that search within the next three weeks.

CEO Paul Finkelstein said at the Edina-based company's annual shareholder's meeting that if the company receives an offer that is satisfactory to the board and reflects the value and potential of the company, "we are open to a sale in order to provide that value today."

If the price is too low, said Finkelstein, Regis Corp. will move on and focus on new initiatives to attract and retain customers.

Among those initiatives: a sophisticated customer database and point-of-sale system that will be companywide by the end of fiscal year 2012, enhanced customer service training for stylists, and more aggressive direct mail and mall-based promotions.

On Thursday, the company announced a new strategy that takes direct aim at the fast- growing Sports Clips franchise. Regis Corp. will overhaul the existing Pro-Cuts brand into a pure sports-themed salon and plans to open two in Minneapolis by spring.

Pro-Cuts has been around since 1982 as a no-nonsense and value-priced salon for men and families with a "neighborhood" feel. The new Pro-Cuts has chucked that design waaaay down field.

Huge black-and-white photos of athletes act as wall barriers, referee stripes adorn the lower walls and bright purple, yellow and red jewel tones found in team logos dominate the salon. The wooden floor is marked like a basketball court, and stylists will toss towels through a basketball hoop slung over the hamper.

Haircuts will start at $17.

While the 160 Pro-Cuts currently are all franchises, over the next decade Regis intends to have 900 Pro-Cuts with a 50-50 mix of franchises and company-owned salons. Current franchisees will not be required to update the stores. Regis aims to open six company-owned salons this fiscal year.

Preston Luman, who owns Sports Clips franchises in Bloomington and Eagan and will open a third in Eden Prairie in February, seemed nonplussed about a new competitor as large as Regis.

"Not to seem too overconfident, but we do have quite a head start on them," said Luman. "Regis has a great track record and they're the biggest. Obviously, we're doing something right if they want to do something similar."

Sports Clips, based in Georgetown, Texas, is one of the nation's fastest growing franchises. Launched in 1995, it now has about 720 locations, including 10 in Minnesota.

Regis Corp. is the world's largest salon operator, with 12,700 salons worldwide under such banners as Regis, Supercuts, Cost Cutters and Hair Club for Men and Women.

Regis launched Raze, an upscale men's salon that also offers hot face towels and brow waxing, in August 2008 just months before the global financial markets collapsed. It was the first new concept for Regis in seven years, but only two have opened -- in Minnetonka and the Shops at West End in St. Louis Park. Finkelstein said both are profitable but at $200,000 they were too expensive to franchise.

"Pro-Cuts will have all of the customer service aspects of Raze," he said, with vastly different flair.

Regis also announced first-quarter earnings Thursday, posting a profit of $18.3 million, or 30 cents a share. Absent non-operations items, the results were on par with the same period last year.

Earlier this month, Regis said revenues had decreased 4.5 percent to $578 million and that same-store sales dropped 1.5 percent.

Finkelstein lamented the company's struggles during the recession but said he was "extremely optimistic about the future."

The company has slowed growth of new stores considerably, cut the commissions of some stylists and is seeing growth in its value-priced brands. It also has a strong cash position of $195 million.

In August, the company announced it was looking for ways to enhance shareholder value.

Several private equity firms have shown interest -- including Apollo Global Management and Clayton, Dubilier & Rice, which has an investment in beauty supply distributor Sally Beauty, according to unnamed sources contacted by Reuters.

Others, including Cerberus Capital Management, have expressed interest, but it's unclear where they now stand.

Bids will come in during the next few weeks. Finkelstein said he hopes to have a resolution by mid-November.

Jackie Crosby • 612-673-7335