Do you sit at your workstation and dream of brighter days when you’re on your own? Do you imagine all the things you would do if this were your salon? Five techs who accomplished their dream of salon ownership tell us if it’s all they imagined.

Case Study 1

Salon: Volpe Nails and Hair in Johnson City, N.Y.

Career Moves: employee-booth renter-salon owner with booth renters

The Results: Lauren Cawley began her nail career as an employee at Volpe Nails and Hair. After four years, Cawley moved to a salon where she could rent a booth and increase her income. Though the money was better, Cawley realized a salon with booth renters instead of employees can have drawbacks. “There was no unity,” recalls Cawley. “The atmosphere was so independent that nothing was done for the good of the salon. Nobody enforced any level of cleanliness; nobody took responsibility to answer the phone, to shovel walks, or to restock items such as toilet paper or light bulbs. It created an environment where renters hid supplies so that only their clients could use them.”

When the owners of Volpe Nails and Hair called her with a proposal to purchase the salon, Cawley jumped at the chance. She took what she had learned as a booth renter and created an atmosphere that combines the best of both worlds. “I have it set up so the technicians get the benefits of a big salon and the benefits of owning their own business,” she says. The six techs who rent from Cawley book their own appointments and have their own keys to the salon; they even have their own phone extension. But Cawley creates the feel of a unified salon through her management style. This way, issues such as unsupervised children and price increases can be explained as “salon policy” because they are decided on together.

To help keep lines of communication open, Cawley schedules a review meeting every year so everyone has a chance to review their rental agreements and voice their complaints. Cawley says she knows she’s dealing with creative people, so she tries not to micro-manage. “I want them to be able to come and go as they please and leave the burden of running a business to me,” she says.  

Volpe Nails and Hair owner Lauren Cawley resolved to have a unified feel at the salon, despite having booth renters.

Case Study 2

Salon: Susie’s Place in Binghamton, N.Y.

Career Moves: salon employee for 17 years-solo salon owner

 The Results: After almost two decades of working faithfully as an employee, Susie Gal felt it was time to make the break. “I wanted to be my own boss, and I knew if I didn’t do it now, I was never going to do it,” she says. Gal found a spot in a residential building where the suites on the entire first floor are rented to service-oriented businesses.

As an employee, Gal was required to work a set number of hours. As a salon owner, she is able to cut back to four days a week and fewer hours a day. “I have longer lunch hours, and I’m able to take time between clients to clean my work area,” she says.

Gal made a number of changes when she went solo, including changing her product to a higher quality and opting not to accept credit cards. After years of working in a small, windowless room, Gal found a spot that is full of sunlight, and she painted the walls a bright, beautiful blue. She has no regrets about her decision. “I lost some clients when I made the move, but I gained others,” says Susie. “But now I get to manage my own book, the salon is cleaned the way I want it to be, and I can provide my clients with excellent customer service. I feel free.”

Case Study 3

Salon: The Nail Bar in Denver, Colo.

Career Moves: employee-booth renter-salon owner

The Results: Michelle began her career almost 20 years ago, working in a salon for an hourly rate. She stayed there for a number of years, learning how to handle clients and run the business. She left the salon to try her hand at self-employment as a booth renter. She enjoyed the freedom and finances of a booth-rental agreement, but says she noticed a cycle: The first year the salon owner was happy to have her, the second year the salon owner disregarded her, and the third year the salon owner increased her rent.

Marchand was very happy in her last salon. But was paying $600 a month for a 10’ x 10’ spot. It was the catalyst that got her thinking about salon ownership. In July 2002, she found a 630-sq-ft. storefront and opened The Nail Bar, a nail salon for natural nails.

It was a good move; clients are happy, and Marchand’s income has increased by $20,000 a year. However, ownership has its downfalls. “I have to deal with the phones, walk-ins, cleaning-eveything-on my own,” she says. Marchand has decided she does not want employees, but would consider renting a booth to the right candidate. One thing Marchand enjoys about working alone is the quiet, professionalism of the salon. “There’s no drama-trauma,” she says, “Clients come in, they relax, and we have great conversation.”

Case study 4

Salon: Jonathan Khoi in Maumee,Ohio

Career Moves: employee-salon owner with employees

The Results: Vinh To made his own way in the beauty industry after only one year in the salon. He wanted to open a salon that was different from many he saw around town. He wanted a place where customer service was a priority and a strong commitment to sanitation was a requirement. His first year working as an employee also taught him the importance of being consistent with staff. He believed by being a fair boss and treating the people well he would be able to find good staff.

“But it’s been a difficult obstacle,” said to. The ads he placed in the newspaper drew plenty of applicants-sometimes as many as 30. However, many times he couldn’t find a good match for the salon. But to stayed committed to his vision of quality customer service and uncompromising sanitation standards, and the word spread. “Now I advertise my salon,” he says, “and the pictures of the salon, along with our reputation of quality, draws in the cream of the crop.”

Though owning a salon is more work and more stress than he had anticipated, he’s very happy in his position. “I always knew I wanted to own my own business, says To. “I knew I didn’t want to work for someone else.”

Case Study 5

Salon: at-l-ya in Endwell, N.Y.

Career Moves: employee-self-employed, working salon owner with booth renters

 The Results: Wendy Cubic worked out of her dome while her children were young, but after being self-employed foe 13 years, she wanted to work in a professional atmosphere. She began as an employee, and brought with her a full clientele. After three years, Cubic realized she had professional goals that couldn’t be achieved without taking the plunge to salon ownership. The issue wasn’t working conditions-Cubic enjoyed the other employees and respected the salon owner. The issue was philosophy. Cubic views professionals in the beauty industry as artists, and sees their work as artistry, not as a job.

“I think of the salon as an art gallery,” she says. “Everyone’s work is so individual.” Cubic says professionals can be more creative if they are given the tools and shown how to use them and are also given the freedom to create their own artwork. “The beauty industry is a difficult place to have employees because it’s difficult to regulate or mandate the work of artists,” she explains.

To that end, Cubic provides a work area where artists can have their own space and the freedom to grow. Cubic gives them their own key to the salon, renters call their own hours, can sell their own retail, and provide all of their own supplies.

Cubic chose the French term atelier because of its meaning, but wrote it phonetically so people could pronounce it. An atelier is an artist’s workshop, it was a place where artists paid a small fee to work but where they could learn from one another and develop their talent.

“When I first opened, I had one client who walked in and immediately started to cry. She said she loved the look of the salon; she felt it was a healing place.” It’s not only the clients who have found a sense of healing. Cubic has two renters who came with her from other salons. But thanked her profusely for taking the risk of creating this atmosphere.

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