When salon owner Mary Sims sees a need, she develops a new business. Blushes Salon, Soap Opera Laundromat, and Valet Car Wash keep the customers satisfied.
If Mary Sims’ only success story was that she built a profitable business and learned to find satisfaction in her own endeavors after she and her husband divorced, she would be like so many other women who have come into their own in the past 30 years — women who pick themselves up by their broken hearts, throw themselves into a new career, and find that there is life beyond marriage. But Sims’ success story only begins there: She built a full-service beauty salon in a former pet shop, and over the course of six years has added a car wash and a coin-operated laundry to become one of Granbury, Texas’, most prominent business owners.
Mary's Place has won holiday decorating awards six years running. People drive from other counties just to see displays like these Christmas lights.
She has received commendations from her city’s Chamber of Commerce and is one of very few women members in Granbury’s formerly all-male Rotary Club. When she was married, Sims managed a small pet shop she and her husband owned. Their business thrived in this rural central Texas city where the Simses sold horse gear alongside dog bones and kitty litter. However, as the pet shop grew more successful, Sims’ husband grew less interested in the marriage. So, like many women of her generation who put a higher premium on marital harmony than individual needs, Sims sold the business to try and ease the strain on her marriage.
“I think my succeeding hurt my husband’s ego, especially since I was handling animals and supplies.”
Up From the Ashes
Ultimately, the marriage was doomed and Sims was left with no husband and no business, although she did get the pet shop building in the divorce settlement. In her own private moment of truth, Sims had to decide how to survive. She says, “It was simply a question of, What do I do now? I had to live and pay my bills, so I needed to work, and that was that.”
Sims had previously trained in nail care. Like so many successful nail artists, Sims was inspired to lake up nails after frequent dissatisfaction with the way her own nails had been done by her former nail technician. Getting into nails professionally struck Sims as a way to make her living, so she partitioned out a small, sunny corner of her big, empty building with a nail table and went to work. She called her salon Blushes, although that name belies the hard-working, fearless spirit of its owner.
In very short order, the clients came, and Sims hired another technician to assist. Over time she added more nail stations.
But Sims’ growing nail clientele wanted more than just nails, so she responded by adding a hair salon. With help from her two daughters, then 10-year-old Dawn and 16-year-old Jeanie, Sims overhauled a portion of her building to make room for hairstyling services.
“I converted what had been the fish tank room into a shampoo room. It’s separated from the salon and provides privacy. Since the water supply was already there, it made sense to use the space. Of course, I wall-papered the main wall and painted the rest so you’d never know it was ever used for fish tanks.”
From there, Sims seemed to have the Midas Touch. Business grew quickly and she needed to add a waiting area. But no dentist office decor for Mary Sims — her waiting room has a television, a VCR, and a full video library for her waiting clients. A hot tub and massage room soon followed. And Sims realized that clients weren’t the only people who needed creature comforts, so she added an “employee retreat” area with a kitchen and a cozy and comfortable place for technicians to rest between clients.
As the salon’s client base grew, so did the service menu. Blushes offers a selection of services rarely found outside bigger cities: top-of-the-line hairstyling, European facials, massage therapy, reflexology, and hydrotherapy, in addition to a full line of nail services. Open seven days a week (“Open from whenever you need us to whenever you don’t,” says Sims), Blushes doesn’t set daily hours. Rather, Sims lets technicians set hours that allow them to meet their clients’ timetables. “Our first customer each day is here at about 8:30 in the morning and the last one is usually gone by 9:30 at night. If a client’s needs go beyond those hours, the staff member adjusts her hours to take care of her,” says Sims.
The ambiance at Blushes is cozy, countrified, and decidedly feminine, although not so off-putting that it scares away male clients. “We have many men who come for hairstyling. Many come because their wives recommend us, which is a compliment because most men don’t want to go to a beauty salon.”
Although she is not an interior designer, Sims has won a blue ribbon every year that she’s entered the city-sponsored storefront decorating contest. “We start in October and do our Halloween decorations. That takes about three weeks, and by the middle of November that comes down and the Christmas stuff goes up. People drive into town from all over to see Christmas lights in Granbury. It’s our way to give something back to our community for all they do for our business all year. It takes a lot of time to do it, but we think it’s worth it.”
The frontage of Mary’s Place (what Sims calls her "montage of businesses") has an Old West look, with a covered wooden walk and a weathered wood front. Window boxes are filled with flowers year-round (though Sims admits they are silk because she just doesn’t have a green thumb).
"Full Service" Redefined
Many Sims gives new meaning to the term “full service.” To most in this industry, full service means offering nail care, hairstyling, and skin services, but at Blushes, it also means offering laundry and car-washing facilities. For Sims, running three such different businesses under one roof is just her way of offering the best customer service.
The salon business expanded when Sims began to feel that Granbury needed a nicer coin-operated laundry. The only one in town at the time was, according to Sims, dirty and rundown and kept hours that were inconvenient to most working people. It was a logical step in giving the customers what they wanted, so Sims made room in the old pet shop building and hung out her next shingle: Soap Opera.
Unlike a lot of coin-operated laundries, Soap Opera staffs full-time attendants who wash and fold laundry and keep the facility immaculate. In fact, with all the live greenery the bright lights and the muted wallpaper, Soap Opera looks more like a social gathering place than a place to bring dirty clothes.
And Sims’ nail clients love the service. They drop off their laundry before their nail appointment and leave with freshly laundered clothes and freshly painted nails.
“It’s a big help to my salon customers,” she says, “because they can get their laundry done while they’re having their personal care needs taken care of at the salon. For working women, it is a great plus. And, the laundry business brings in customers who will frequently become salon customers.”
Equally dissatisfied with the town’s only car wash and wanting another convenient outlet for her time-constrained clients, Sims added Valet Car Wash to a strip of land adjacent to her building.
“I’m successful at what I do because I care about giving my customers the best all the time, even on days when I might not feel so hot or I’m tired, or whatever. That is the most important thing everyone in business needs to know. The money follows the satisfied, happy customers.”
Take It As It Comes
You have to wonder, even as I did, how Mary does it all. She explains, “Well, I was an Air Force brat, which meant we moved often. A transfer for my dad meant I had to leave my friends and schools. You learn to adjust to change. I think it makes you a better person, and it definitely helps you cope with all of life’s ups and downs. I think business is easier for me because I grew up adjusting to life as it came along.”
Although she obviously has a very level head about business matters and has made some wise business decisions, Sims sought professional counsel before jumping into these two latest, and expensive, ventures.
She received financing from the Small Business Administration. “I’m sure it was easier for me than some because I was a single woman and I already had one venture going.” It took about three months to complete the paperwork and get the loan approval.
Like any savvy businessperson, Sims is well-aware enough and ego-free enough not to do everything by herself. She trusts her manager, Ann Parker, with the daily running of the business. Says Sims of Parker, “She takes care of me, she takes care of all of us and keeps everything running smoothly. She told me this is the best job she has ever had, that she loves us all.”
Just as Sims added the laundry and car wash in response to a perceived need, she is always looking for other changes she can make to increase clients’ comfort. For example, she recently installed easy chairs so that clients can literally lean back and relax while they get their nails done. “We completely do one hand and then move to the other side to finish,” says Sims. “The greatest compliment of all comes from customers who are comfortable enough to fall asleep.”
Like many other salons, Sims offers a Day of Beauty for her female clients. But, she says, why let women have all the fun and pampering. So now she offers a Day of Rest & Relaxation for her male clients. “The wives buy gift certificates for their husbands for a day.” The day includes a manicure, haircut and style, 15 minutes in the hot tub, snacks and a drink, all topped off with a neck and back massage. Even bachelors aren’t left out — in addition to the above, they get three loads of laundry and a car wash with their day.
What’s down the road for this multitalented, multifaceted businesswoman? “Well, I just had surgery on my feet and I still can’t get my shoes on, so right now I don’t know yet. But I’m sure I’ll find another need and then find a way to provide for it. I enjoy working with people, and that is a strong drive to make a success of your efforts.”
The author, Peg Drummey (yes, mother of NAILS publisher Cyndy Drummey), is a freelance writer who travels throughout the United States fulltime with her husband, Jack.