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Hairstylist and salon owner: Starting and owning a salon business

Sam talks about her path to open a salon and the challenges and opportunities she has as a business owner.

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Video transcript

If you would've asked me five years ago, do you see yourself owning a salon? I would've said no, 100%. I never wanted to open a salon, even 2 1/2 years ago. If you would've asked me a month before I decided that this was what I was going to do, I would've told you you were crazy, I would never open a salon. My business partner and I created this concept of a membership-based hair salon. So essentially, where you would normally come into a salon and you would come in and get your hair cut or your hair colored and just pay whatever the cost of that individual service was, we decided that...well, we figured out that there's a better way that that could be handled. And we created the membership model. So essentially, what our clients can do is, they pay a monthly fee, based on whichever membership level that they're in, and then get unlimited services within that membership level. So we've got one for unlimited blowouts, which blowouts have been all the rage in our industry for the last couple years. There's one that includes color, haircuts and blowouts, and then we have a men's membership, which is unlimited men's cuts. And what that's done is, it's really changed the salon culture. So our clients can come in as often as they like. It's created a more dynamic relationship between our clients and our salon staff, which is really incredible to see. And then, it's a new model, so we're testing something that hasn't been done before, and it's been wildly successful. So about a year before I opened my salon, which is called Society, there was this new phenomenon in the industry, and it was blowouts. Obviously, well maybe not so obviously, but people have been getting blowouts for a very long time, but the birth of a new company dramatically changed our industry. You would go in, they did nothing other than blowouts. So you'd go in, get your hair blown out and then leave. So as soon as they opened, within a couple months, we started to see a really dramatic shift in our business. We saw a lot of our clients not coming in, our numbers were dropping, which means sales were dropping. And for an individual stylist, that was damaging to our income, which is never a really fun realization. So I came up with a couple ideas of different things that I thought we could do to counteract what was happening and keep our clients in our business. Ultimately, I tried to pitch them to my manager, and it just wasn't a good fit for that salon. It was a little painful for me and some of the other stylists to swallow because a substantial portion of our income was gone. And there was really not much that we could do to get that back. We had to figure out a new way to earn it, and the new ways we were coming up with just weren't gonna work where we were. So I was talking to a really good friend of mine who is my business partner. We just started going, and I was pitching her some ideas, and we were just going back and forth. And ultimately, we came up with what is now Society and decided that we should move forward on figuring out how to start something new, something that, obviously, the industry was changing, so what could we do to not fall behind on some of these changes that were happening and be on the forefront of it instead of constantly trying to play catch up. So that was kind of how the birth of our membership started. Then from that point on, my mind was completely and utterly dedicated to figuring out how to bring all of this into fruition. At that point, I knew absolutely nothing about running a business or starting a business or anything related to business other than showing up at work, doing my clients and collecting a paycheck. So for me, it was a lot of new learning, but luckily, I do love to read, and I love to learn new things, so Google was my best friend. I Googled absolutely everything endlessly, absorbed anything I could read about opening a new business, whether it was a hair salon or not, just figuring out what that entailed. The next step was putting together a business plan, because everything that I had read was put together a business plan. So I slaved over this thing for about seven months, looked at 100 different formats of what it should be like, what it should look like. Again, I didn't go to college for this, so I'm literally getting everything off Google. And anyone who's searched anything on Google, there are a million contradictions to everything you read. So I put together what I thought was a brilliant business plan, and encompassed everything I had read and had a little bit from here, a little bit from there. I was like cool. Now, what do I do with this? I have this. Why don't I have a business yet? The next step was raising capital, and finding somebody to, essentially, fund the process of building the business. And I didn't know what to do. I didn't know where to start with that. I didn't know what that looked like. So I started doing research on that, and then I got really lucky, actually, which I think luck has a little bit to do with it. So I was at work, and I was cutting one of my client's hair that I had been cutting for a very long time. We always connected over fishing and camping and hiking. And literally, this was the day after I finished my business plan. And he was like, "Hey, I never actually asked you "if this is what you wanna do for the rest "of your life." And I was like, "What do you mean?" And he's like, "Just work here and cut hair. "That's awesome, but I never asked you." And I was like, "That's so funny that you asked me." I was like, "Actually, I thought that was the case, "but I came up with this new business model, "and I want to start my own business." And he was like, "Oh, what does that look like?" And I gave him the details of our membership business and, essentially, what that would look like. And he was like, "Oh, you should come and sit down with me." And I was like, "Why would I do that?" And he was like, "Did we never talk about what "I do for a living?" And I was like, "No." And he was like, "Oh, I own a venture capital firm." And I was like, "I know that that means that you "invest money in businesses, but isn't that more "for like tech startups and everything in Silicon Valley?" And he was like, "No, no, we'll sit down, and we'll talk." He gave me his personal phone number and was like, "Call me, and we'll get together." So I went home, and I was ecstatic, because this just fell into my lap, and it was the most incredible thing ever. So I went home. I scheduled a meeting with him, went through a bunch of bumps along the path leading up to finally opening, but ultimately, was able to raise the funds that we needed in order to open this location. For our individual location, what I learned along the process was that I was so far off, and luckily far off, in terms of what I thought it would cost us to open the business. When I was calculating it out, I was calculating as if we were gonna build from nothing. So buying a piece of land, building a business, and you know, the ground up is how much I could've encompassed with my original budget. But we were very fortunate to find a location that was previously a salon, which is a huge game-changer if anyone is looking to open your own salon business, I would definitely suggest if that is at all a possibility for you, to definitely find a location that was. So we did. We found a location that was previously a salon, which cut our budget by more than in half. And then I'm also very lucky to have a father who is a contractor and a builder by trade. So once we got the location, the budget that we, ultimately, wound up getting was far less than I had originally anticipated. So what I had hoped to get and what I actually got was dramatically different, but it was enough. And that's all I really needed. So we worked within the budget that we were given to make this happen. My dad and I slaved over this place for 29 days straight, 18 hour days building, because as anyone who's ever lived in Los Angeles, rent on anything is wildly expensive, and our landlord, unfortunately, didn't give us any leeway in terms of when the rent would start. We had one month of rent, essentially rent free. And we were like, okay, then we need to start earning income in a month. So from the time we signed the lease, from the time I got funding to the time that I signed the lease was about a week, so I had a week to finalize and figure out everything. And then from the time we signed the lease to the day that we officially opened and were having our press launch party was 29 days. And we had to completely gut this entire salon and rebuild it from the ground up. Working on a budget, we didn't have the budget to bring in a team to do this, so it was literally just my dad and I without a single other person for 29 days straight, no breaks, 18-hour days, every single day. I thought I was going to die at the end of it. But, hands down, the best experience of my life. Typically, I would say that salon owners are either making next to nothing, because they're putting everything they have back into the business to keep it open, or they're doing really well. And we're on the growth up, which is really great for us. For us, our focus is on making our business really profitable, keeping the money inside of the business so that as soon as we're ready, we can take everything that we've earned and open new locations. We will have to repay a portion of the funding that we initially received to start the business. And I'm very confident that that won't be an issue, which also feels really good. And the reason I'm confident about that is because we've been very systematic and strategic in terms of saving and creating a business and growing this business to a very sustainable point. My job as the owner encompasses anything from training new staff, hiring new staff, creating the schedules, running the business day in and day out, creating the marketing plans, which is figuring out new strategies that's gonna work for the business, whether it's finding a new billboard or sending out digital marketing campaigns, whether it's through social media or different kinds of ads and then raising capital. When we first opened, in terms of raising the funds that we needed to get open and then continuously looking for ways that we can expand. Often, my goal is to bring new business into the salon. In Los Angeles, it's a really competitive market, where everyone's competing for the same client's attention. So what we'll do is, we'll come up with a creative concept, whether it's in particularly a photo shoot, and use the images from the shoot to send out either through social media campaigns or email marketing campaigns. In the past, we've actually used the images for billboard campaigns around the city, which has been really incredible. So in terms of getting that project executed, I pretty much do start to finish. So it's everything from deciding what The creative side of it’s gonna be What do we want the end result to actually look like? And then finding the photographer. Finding the models, organizing the team, getting our team together in terms of who wants to actually work on that particular project. And then model hunting, vetting models, seeing which one's gonna be the best fit for the actual shoot. And then, obviously, day of and being here, doing the hair, getting the creative looking exactly the way we want it to. So knowing exactly what that image needs to look like for how we're gonna send it out. And then getting that image done. Everything after that, from into post, which is gonna be editing the images and then sending them out through whatever channels we're gonna use, whether that's the billboard, email marketing or social media marketing. In order to figure out whether the billboard or individual marketing channel that we chose was successful, we have to do one of two things. For the billboard in particularly, we will ask every client who calls in where they heard about us from, and the majority of the time, we get pretty good feedback on that. Sometimes people are a little bit off. But most the time, people will be like, "Oh my God, I saw that billboard of you guys "over on Sunset Boulevard." And we'll track it that way. We have a system in our computer that can keep track of that. And then if it's something that it's more digital, whether it's social media or email marketing, we have built-in systems in place, whether it's through a company like MailChimp or Constant Contact that's gonna track those conversions for us. Our whole process for bringing in new business is very strategic. And everything needs to be tracked. Everything needs to be accounted for. I wanna make sure that I'm focusing my energy in the right place all the time, because I tend to be doing a little bit everywhere. So it's really important for me to make sure that I'm focusing my energy on the right thing that's working for us. So being able to track those conversions and strategically see what's working and what's not allows me to pick what's working best and move forward in that direction and not work with things that haven't performed well for us in the past. My worst day on the job was actually really terrible. When we first opened Society, one of the things that we needed to do in Los Angeles was to get a publicist, a PR agent. I, again, was really lucky to have a really good friend who referred me to her best friend, who is an incredible publicist. So we started working with her right away. Over the first year of our relationship, she quickly became one of my dearest friends. Worst day on the job was that she, unfortunately, passed away while we were working. And that was really, really difficult. She was my teammate, even though she was not my business partner, she was my teammate through every single aspect of the business. And that was really difficult. I attribute so much of our initial success to Courtney and the work that she did. So when she passed away, it was difficult on every level. Obviously, on a personal level, I was shattered. But on a business level, I felt like I had really lost a leg of our tripod. She did so much to make sure that we were wildly successful, and it was hard to come back from that, because that was a side of the job that I had never learned how to do or had any desire, necessarily, to learn how to do. And so much of that is connections. So even if I wanted to learn that side of the business, it was just so much more than I could possibly take on. And I didn't know how to replace it either, because she was so good at her job. And because we had such a great relationship, the work that she did and the quality of the work that she did and what she was delivering for us and what we were giving back was just a relationship and a situation that could not ever be duplicated. And that was really difficult to have to come back and figure out how to balance after her passing. And we only recently have been able to kind of figure out a new path to get down that is different than what she was doing but trying to get us back on that same path. So the best day on my job actually just happened really recently. I'm very proud of the team and the culture that exists within this location. I think the team that has been built here and that come and show up here every day are working to create this vision and this company that we all love is, I would die for them. I love every single one of them so much. So the best day on the job was a day recently where a really good friend of mine who I went to hair school with, the salon that she was at was closing down, and a small group of four incredible women decided to come over and join our team. And the first day of having them join the existing team and just seeing how well everyone worked together and how happy everybody was, it was incredible. Everyone was coming up to me all day long and was just telling me how much they loved the energy and how it was that little step that everyone needed to feel like we were continuously moving up at the perfect time. And it was incredible. It was bliss. As an owner, again, I don't think that you're very limited at all. I think the only limits you're gonna face are whatever limits you impose on yourself. So you can open one business, and you can decide that that makes you really happy, and you just wanna keep that business running successfully for the next 40 years. And I think that's beautiful. Or you can decide to turn that one salon into a big corporation and multi-location salon business. You can open up a chain of salons, which you're gonna get into franchising then. You could be a single salon owner, start a product line, and then wind up going down that path of getting into retail. And then that could transcend back into owning a multi-location salon. You can also become a spokesperson as a salon owner. And everything you could do as a stylist, assuming you also have your cosmetology license, you could do as an owner and do the same simultaneously. It's just gonna depend, again, on what makes you happy and what kind of workload you're looking for and what drives you.