Opening your first salon can be the most exciting time of your life — but it can also be the most challenging. Robbie Schaeffer lets you in on the trials and tribulations of opening Rob|b: An OPI Concept Salon.
Normally, when people say “location, location, location,” they’re talking about the critical importance of location to a plot of real estate. When I say “location, location, location,” I’m referring to: 1) the original Beverly Hills, Calif., salon site I couldn’t get the funding for; 2) the signed lease that fell through when the landlord didn’t remodel the building as promised; and 3) my current Studio City, Calif., salon location — which, did I mention, almost completely fell through as well.
It’s been two years and countless days/months of borderline depression to get to this point in opening my first salon. I’m not going to pretend to be an expert, but I’ve learned a lot in the past two years, and even with the keys in my hand and a construction crew in the building, I’m learning new things every day. I’m going to be straight with you about my experiences opening a salon because I’m sure a lot of you have gone through similar experiences, and you’d call me on it if I tried to bluff. With this article and my blog (available January 1 at www.nailsmag.com/blueprint), maybe we can learn from each other.
I’m not going to bore you with facts about myself, but let me tell you the basics: I’m Robbie Schaeffer, 27 years old, son of George Schaeffer of OPI fame. The salon I’m opening in Studio City is going to be called Rob|b: An OPI Concept Salon. We hope to open our doors to the public on July 1, 2007.
I’m actually the first Schaeffer with a nail license. I graduated in the spring of 2004 from West Valley Occupational Center, a vocational school in Woodland Hills, Calif. Prior to that, I’d received a marketing degree from California State University, Northridge. However, even though I tried the marketing thing (I worked in OPI’s marketing department in 2003) I realized I wasn’t a cubicle person.
I consider it an asset that I was raised in the nail industry. I have really strong opinions on what makes an ideal salon and on what needs to change in our industry. But, to balance me out, I’ve got a partner in this new venture: Daniel Schilleci, a fraternity brother from college. He’s the management guy. But since he’ll be in Iraq until June or July, his wife, Athena, is currently assuming his role in this project.
Lesson #1 Don’t Give Up
OK, so about those pesky locations. I was originally (around December 2004) looking for a location in Beverly Hills. I found a 2,500-sq.-ft. site I loved, but the rent was too high ($14,000 a month!), the timing was wrong, and it was just an all-around tough sale to convince anyone to finance me at that point. Needless to say, I didn’t get the funding on that one.
Then, there was location #2, otherwise known as the False Hope of 2005. I signed a lease on June 1, for a great location between two popular cafes in Studio City and was promised delivery of the space on Nov. 1, 2005 (the landlord needed to do a lot of remodeling before I would get the space). The delivery date kept being pushed back and pushed back (it was by now the middle of 2006) until finally, after two 30-day notices we sent, we released ourselves from the lease. This was truly devastating for me. Being the enthusiastic person that I am, I’d told everyone and their brother about the location and how great it was going to be. I was crushed. It’d been almost two years, and I had nothing to show for it.
The third time was the charm, though the transaction was far from charming. We found our final location — 12246 Ventura Blvd. in Studio City — a 1,500-sq.-ft. space that formerly housed a nail salon. Due to complicated buyer/seller issues, the deal initially imploded, and it looked like I was going to have to find location #4. A few months later, my real estate broker recommended giving the site another go. There was a lot of arguing between lawyers, but in October 2006, the deal went through for real. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
My hopes are that Rob|b will be a market-leading salon. I took my inspiration from the “big hair-guys” and the fantastic designs of Las Vegas salons. The salon, which will be about 2,600 square feet when we’re done, will have a nail bar, four treatment rooms, six manicure stations, four pedicure stations, a retail area, and a reception area on the main floor. The nail bar will be reserved for walk-ins (broken nails, polish changes, etc.). The treatment rooms will be for services like waxing, facials, and massage. As for the pedicure stations, I want three feet of separation between each. I know you might not agree with me, but I’m not having any “throne-style” pedi-spas in my salon. I’m just going to have beautiful basins with spigots. I don’t think pedi-spas are very sanitary. But, that’s just me.
The second floor of the salon will house offices, treatment rooms, and a storage area. The roof is being converted into a patio for employee breaks and potentially for parties.
I’ve decided on our service menu. Manicures will range from $30 to $65, and we’ll have three levels of service: a basic manicure, a mid-level manicure that’s spa-style, and a high-level, which will include extras like a hot stone massage. Rob|b will use OPI products from top-to-bottom — every nail product the company makes, from nippers to polish. OPI will also do product testing here on Mondays.
We’ll also use autoclaves for implement disinfection. I know that’s above and beyond what’s required, but I think it’ll give clients a feeling of security.
Retail will be huge in the salon, another way I want to set an example for the industry. I think services should be covering your overhead, but your profits should come from retail.
Rob|b will hire all salary and commission-based employees (no booth renters). This way, we’ll be able to ensure a consistent service to our clients, no matter who services them. Our techs won’t be fresh out of school but probably won’t be seasoned vets either. We’ll be looking for people with a few years of experience but who we can still teach the Rob|b way of doing things.
We already have a salon M.O.M. (manager, operator, mediator), Nadine Galli. She was the first-ever employee at OPI back in 1981. I talked her out of retirement to work with us. She’s our human resources manager and will be doing hiring and training and handling all the employee issues. She’s already written the manual and employee handbook for us. If she ever has time, she can always fill in and do nails in a pinch.
There is so much still to do before our opening date, but I’m going to go ahead and warn you that there will be a lot of partying (think: three months of grand opening and celebrations) when the doors finally open. Stay tuned to the blog to read all about the continuing highs and lows of salon ownership. And, send me an e-mail sometime: firstname.lastname@example.org. I’ll be answering questions from other salon owners (and anyone else) on the blog. We’re going to make this journey together.
Bookmark Me! My blog, Blueprint of a First Year, will launch on Jan. 1. Visit it weekly to read about the latest adventures (and misadventures) of opening Rob|b. I’ll also write a few more columns for NAILS Magazine throughout the year, so watch your mailbox as the story unfolds…