Salon Ownership: The Beginning/You Can't Stop Change
Salon ownership, the beginning, 1993 – you can’t stop change.
It’s 1993, the year I became a salon owner. I’m 25 years old, partying like a rock star, dancing my nights away to Paula Abdul and Janet Jackson, sporting my bright yellow MC hammer pants, Madonna lace corset top, L.A. gear jacket, and matching L.A. gear sneakers.
I was young, clueless, and had NO IDEA what I needed to do to run a business. I didn’t understand that running a salon was different from what I was already doing behind the chair.
On Thanksgiving week in 1993, in a 650-square-foot space, my first salon was born. It was downtown in the middle of the hustle and bustle and in front of a busy stop light. I squeezed four stations, a reception area with a desk, a pedicure corner (and I mean corner), and an esthetician room in that salon.
The salon had a huge picture window, and immediately, I hung a poster of two half-naked women with a half-naked man squeezed between them, which was risky in 1993. There wasn’t a car that came to a stop that didn’t glance over at that picture and check out the salon. That poster was my first lesson in marketing.
I had no idea how much money I brought in, what my expenses were, how much money I needed to make to pay the bills, and I NEVER thought about a paycheck or how much money I needed to pay my bills.
I had been in the beauty industry for about eight years when I opened the salon. I wish I could say I was a great hairdresser back then, but I wasn’t. I had many years to go before I mastered my craft, but I could crank out those not-so-great haircuts every 15 minutes, and that's what I did.
There was so much wrong with how I approached and ran my business, my day, my clients, and how I made money. I did the grind, that hustle we all talk about; I was in it. I was undercharging for services, and people pleased; I never said no; I stayed late, came in early, came in on my days off, and missed important family events because I didn’t want to inconvenience my clients. If we're being totally honest, I was in pure survival mode.
Salon ownership was hard, but I had two things I knew I was good at. I found connecting with people easy. I knew my clients felt comfortable and safe in my chair and the salon. I worked hard and put in 12-16 hours daily.
As hairdressers and salon owners, this is another crazy cycle we’re still stuck in. We still think that if we work more hours behind the chair and fit more clients in our day, we’ll be successful. I realize success looks different for everyone, but killing yourself and your body behind the chair and working until you're 90 and never retiring because you can’t is not a picture of success.
My salon was cutting edge at the time; we were one of the area's only salons offering hair extensions, not the easy-peasy ones we know today. We had wefts; we sewed them in, but we had to cornrow the entire head and sew them in. We hand-mixed custom colors and custom-blended highlights into the extension hair. Back then, most of our hair extension clientele was exotic dancers from up and down the East Coast.
I call my first salon my high school salon; we smoked in the back room; we had half-naked women running around the salon, showing off the new boobs they (or their sugar daddy) just bought or wanted to share the new fancy way they shaved their downstairs. It was crazy, loud, and fun; most clients found the salon entertaining.
We didn’t have computers, the internet, google, email, cell phones, credit card machines, online booking, call waiting, self-adhesive stamps, or envelopes. We didn’t have a music streaming service; we had radio stations with commercials and the news.
Salons didn’t have products or companies dedicated to hairstylists, education, or hair salons back then. When I started my career, Paul Mitchell had just started theirs. They had three products: Shampoo One, Shampoo Two, and The Conditioner.
My first hair show was in Boston in the early 80s. Paul Mitchell and John Paul DeJoria were on stage working their magic. It was mind-blowing and revolutionary what they were doing, and I didn’t understand any of it.
Salons didn’t have a lot of inventory, and we didn’t track it. We didn’t know what we sold, how much profit we made, or how much to buy to restock the shelves. And the back bar. Forget it; that was just a guessing game and completely haphazard.
Salon owners and hairstylists didn’t understand the importance of having and selling retail to help grow their business. As hairstylists first, all we wanted was fun new products that smelled good and could hold our 90s big hair up when we were dancing at the club all night long. As hairstylists and creatives, we loathed the feeling of being “salesy.”
We had paper appointment books, and when we were busy managing the five clients we had going at the same time and answering the phone, we did our best to remember to write all of their information down. One of the biggest challenges at the front desk was terrible handwriting and eraser crumbles. I genuinely believe salon owners kept #2 pencils in business.
We didn’t keep records, phone numbers, or addresses, and if someone called out sick (and trust me when I say that was rare back then), we all came to work sick as dogs because we didn’t want to inconvenience our clients. The only way we could find a phone number was to flip back in our paper books and hope the phone number was there and legible. And if it weren’t, we would try to decipher the handwriting so we could place blame.
We fought and paid big money to advertise on the front or back page of the phone book in hopes of getting the most advertising exposure we could. We walked the streets, left flyers on cars, and introduced ourselves to our neighborhood businesses. We didn’t have Staples, printers, or Canva to help us create flyers. We hired graphic designers and ordered everything we needed in bulk from our local printer.
We didn’t have social media to advertise all the beautiful hair we did. We had multiple three-ring binders throughout the salon with pictures from magazines we cut out to make “look books.”
We advertised with direct mail and newspaper ads and didn’t have insights or ways to track those ads. We had customers bring in their clipped-out ads (or coupons). We piled them in the desk drawer and counted them when the ad date ran out.
We didn’t know how many new clients we got, how many client requests, or what recurring clients were coming in. We didn’t have words like “average ticket” or “KPI” in the beauty industry yet.
We didn’t have team huddles, one-on-one meetings, or goal setting. We didn’t have the business education and didn’t dare talk to other salon owners for fear of them stealing “our” clients. There was no fear of stealing staff because we were all doing the same thing.
If I went through my 30 years of business and never changed myself or made any changes in my business, I might not have survived past five years.
Change is inevitable, and In business, everything changes all the time. In the beauty industry, those changes are happening at warp speed.
I believe the beauty industry is hitting the most significant changes it’s ever seen, and It’s a good thing. It’s good because we need it, and we can’t salon the way we did 25 -30 years ago, we can’t salon the way we did ten years ago, and we can’t salon the way we did two years or even a year ago.
I know change is scary; I know sometimes we think it’s easier to stay the same, but is it easier, or is the fear of the unknown and learning something new holding you back from making the changes you know you need to make in your business and your life to keep moving forward?