My Salon Entrepreneur Story

Updated: Jan 7, 2019

Welcome to my blog!

In 1990, my first salon was remodeled and stations were hand crafted by my dad, who was one of my biggest supporters.

Beauty, hair and makeup has been a part of my life since I was very young.

It was the mid 60's and the women would come into Aunt Juanita's salon with scarves covering their heads looking as if they had just finished doing the laundry, and would leave looking like movie stars with shiny, perfect waves and curls, and topped off with lipstick. My Aunt Juanita always said that there was nothing that made her customers feel better than a new hairdo and lipstick. She made sure that all of them left with a smile on their faces and a promise to see her again in two weeks. She loved how the women felt about their transformations and was monetarily rewarded generously. She loved not having to go out and work for someone else with the promise of little wages. As a little girl, I was inspired by her independence and more intrigued by the drastic change in the women. She performed miracles with a hot comb, curling iron and lipstick. I wanted to be a miracle maker too. She was a true entrepreneur even before the name came into vogue.

By the age of 15, makeup and styling my own hair had become the norm. I then started trying some of the things that I learned from Aunt Juanita on my sisters and anyone else who would let me. As a young adult, my heart’s desire was to be a hair stylist and makeup artist and maybe one day own my own salon. I had a passion for enhancing the beauty of hair and makeup on other girls. However, my parents had other plans for me. They wanted me to go to college, and that was not a bad thing. It was just not the thing that I wanted for myself at the time. My dad saw ‘doing hair’ as just something that women did in their kitchens and any other available space that they had to hang out with other women, so, to him it was not a real job. I had no desire for college, but back then, I had no choice. I reluctantly enrolled in the local campus of Indiana University, NW and concentrated on business administration while working as an office assistant at Manpower. I didn't realize it then, but my mind was being prepared to be an entrepreneur.

At 19, I got married, dropped out of college, promising my dad that I would return later. Later was delayed when I became pregnant with my first child. For the next four years, I concentrated on taking care of my home and my baby. However, I never gave up the hair and makeup thing. When I went into labor, I had neatly roller set my hair and put on some makeup. After thirteen hours of labor I looked like hell with the hospital bonnet on and hair rollers undone, and makeup smeared all over my face. As soon as I could lift my fingers, I cleaned my face, brushed my teeth, reset my hair and reapplied my makeup. I certainly did not want to look like I felt. The nurses kindly teased me about being vain. I was ok with that.

In the mid seventies, I taught myself how to do hair weaving and used my sister, Janice, as my hair model. She had gone to one of the established hair weaving salons where they used a hair weaving machine. Within a few months, she started losing her hair each time they tightened the weave. After seeing how much hair she had lost, I convinced her to allow me to try by braiding her hair down first and hand sewing the tracts to the braids. I had no idea at that time that braided sew-ins was a thing. I do know that it worked. When my daughter turned four, I decided to go back to school, but this time, I chose nursing. My dad still did not see ‘doing hair’ as a real job, so I went just to please him. I was also working in a nearby nursing home as a nurse’s aide, and between the two of these things, I was convinced they were not for me. I did not like sticking people to draw blood, and I would throw up any time patients would throw up or poop everywhere. It was just not for me. It is surprising that I actually stayed for three years.

I finally made the bold decision after my second child was born 1983 to take a permanent leave of absence from my job as accounts payable secretary for a construction company and enrolled in beauty school. It was the best decision I ever made. After finishing beauty school, I worked in one of the more popular salons and quickly started making ‘real money’. My clients from the beauty school followed me, and within a few months, my clientele began to grow. Through it all, I held on to the dream of opening my salon. I wanted to reflect my own vision -- an environmentally friendly, salon, with a focus on building strong relationships with clients and staff as well as being a strong force in the community.

During this time, I had also gotten my Real Estate certification. A sure sign of growth was my ability to purchase the building that I found while showing a property to a client. It was the perfect building in the perfect location. I was able to convince my dad, the best carpenter I knew, to design and remodel my salon. We visited the Belvedere showroom in Chicago so he could have an idea of what a salon looked like. I told him that I did not want a 'hair shop', I wanted a beauty salon. I wanted him to see my vision.

While designing my salon, I continued to work in the salon where I had started right out of beauty school until early one morning, the salon caught on fire. It just so happened that the stylists working there had made a habit of carrying their tools home each evening so we were spared losing our tools. We lost a few other miscellaneous items, but our major tools were saved. Lucky for us, my new salon was almost complete with stations and equipment and the utilities were already turned on. We went in and cleaned away the sawdust and set up shop anyway. Some of my girls and I begin working there during construction and made the best of it.

Long story short, my first full service salon with six hair designers, a nail tech, a massage therapist, and receptionist opened in August of 1990. We had a successful grand opening, and even the mayor was there to congratulate us.

The road to success was certainly not easy, but we had a great support system that came our way. I had hired a dear friend, an accountant, a friend of a friend, who helped me create a business plan and referred me to the SBA. I was also introduced to a university professor’s business class who helped me with my business plan as a part of their class assignment. They helped me to write a beautiful, almost two-inch business plan. I used an architectural student to design my floor plan, and the majority of the demolition was done by my family and I, with my dad doing all of the building and remodeling, which was a blessing. It was a fun and exciting time.

I learned many things along the way during those two years of planning. To prepare for this exciting adventure, I took salon industry courses to strengthen my business acumen such as Salon Management and several other seminars. I was then introduced to the bank manager who was a friend of my accountant. With the backing of the SBA, everything was presented, perused, and approved! I was one of the first young black woman business entrepreneurs introduced during the perfect time when the city was looking for new businesses to be developed. Call it luck. I call it a true blessing. It was my time.

Being passionate about what I did, I found myself working 6 fun days per week, and spent hours in the salon being owner, manager, hair stylist, makeup artist, and every other position necessary to run the salon. I had learned enough business sense so as not to have a complete disastrous experience, although we did have some. However, stuff happens. We got through it with flying colors. Preparation met opportunity and I found that education, having a business plan in place, some knowledge about finance, salon management, client retention and recovery and more was essential for salon success. Some things I learned from the salon owner where I first worked, and some things I learned not to do. Every seminar that I could fit in and every book that I could read, along with prayers and the support of my family and staff got us through. It may sound as if it was easy. I believe hard work, commitment and dedication can make difficulties look easy to those looking from the outside in.

During the first year, a huge bit of success was when we were chosen to be in one of the AT&T magazines with a full color spread of us being one of the first salons in the area to use a computerized system to not only identify callers, but if they were a client, their whole profile popped up on the computer screen. We overcame extreme adversity being the new kid on the block by standing out as a leader in salon technology. I was blessed to have some young, eager, beautiful and awesome hair stylists who were business minded like I was to join me on my journey. To this day, even though I have moved to other cities, we stay in touch. It blessed my heart that some of them were inspired by my efforts all those years ago and are now awesome salon owners themselves. They treated my salon in my absence as if they were the owners. It couldn’t get better than that. My only regret was I could not bring them with me when I moved.

After getting divorced, selling my salon and moving to another city, I always found that the beauty business would always be a permanent part of my life. I have been a salon manager for a couple of private salons as well as a corporate salon manager for about ten years. The experience gave me much insight into how salons not only can survive but thrive. I also learned many of the pitfalls that cause salons to fail. I learned how to help startups and struggling salons optimize their growth by putting learned strategies into action that returned almost immediate positive results.

I retired from behind the chair in 2016, closing my small studio salon after five years. I owe my success of salons that I owned and managed to excellent customer service, client retention, keeping most of my designers happy, and the satisfaction and loyalty of clients. I loved the transformations that resulted from clients sitting in stylist’s chairs, some coming in looking like a hot mess and leaving the salon looking like models or movie stars. It brought back those long ago memories of me watching my Aunt Juanita in her home garage salon.

I am grateful for the ongoing education that I have received from the years at the corporate salon that kept me up to date on color, haircuts, chemicals and all-around hair and skin care. Being in the beauty industry is a very competitive market, and the best thing to keep abreast of is educational tools that are needed to launch and grow a salon business. The opportunity of it all has given me the freedom of knowing what I want in life and knowing who I am. I will continue to be an advocate for small salon businesses, spurring them to achieve success. That is the best reward. My ultimate goal now is to assist potential and struggling salon business owners one step at a time in how to achieve their own dream of being a salon owner.

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