Makeover contest winner Pat Shinn receives a manicure from Michelle Mason. Debbie Adams, who nominated her for the makeover, is by her side.

Makeover contest winner Pat Shinn receives a manicure from Michelle Mason. Debbie Adams, who nominated her for the makeover, is by her side. 

Faced with difficult personnel problems, salon owner Lois Burak was growing disillusioned with the beauty business. Enter Netty Mason, a waxing client who turned out to be Burak’s salvation.

In the beauty business you meet new people every day. So, when Netty Mason first came into the Beauty Worx Salon and Day Spa in Philadelphia, Pa., to get her eyebrows waxed, salon owner Lois Burak greeted her with the same friendly welcome she extends to all of her new customers. What Burak didn’t know at the time was that Mason would become much more than a steady customer. In fact, meeting Mason would soon profoundly change the course of Burak’s business and her life.

Burak met Mason at a time when she was becoming disillusioned with the beauty business. From the age of 15, when she began working as a nail technician, Burak had big dreams about where her career would lead her. She was so confident in her abilities that she quit high school to devote all of her energy to fulfilling one goal — to run a unique beauty salon of her own. As Burak perfected her craft, her dreams quickly became reality. By age 21, she had formed a partnership with her brother, hairstylist Jeff Scott, and together they opened a small hair and nail salon in Philadelphia’s May- fair district. Although the business was successful, after three years, Burak decided that it was time to break out on her own.

From her partnership, Burak learned one thing — there was money to be made in Mayfair. A working-middle-class area, Mayfair was already heavily populated with neighborhood beauty salons. But Burak envisioned a salon that would be different. “I wanted to create a shop where hard-working people could come to get away from their daily stresses and be truly pampered,” explains Burak, “a place that had the look and feel of a posh Center City or suburban spa with the affordability and accessibility of a neighbourhood beauty shop.”

Burak knew the key to creating such a salon would be to creating such a salon would be to recruit a staff of beauty professionals that had the same level of enthusiasm about their careers and the beauty industry as she had. “The salon I envisioned was a place where hairstylists, makeup artists, and nail technicians could express their creativity and talents under working conditions that most beauty professionals only dream about,” says Burak.

Confident that word-of-mouth about such a salon would not only attract local clientele but also reach customers far outside the boundaries of Mayfair, Burak chose a location accessible to all major roadways. In February of 1989, staffed with five beauty technicians, the Beauty Worx Salon opened its doors for business on Frankford Avenue — the heart of May-fair’s major commercial hub.

But Burak knew she needed more than a great staff and a good location to attract business. She decided to devise an ad campaign that would clearly set her salon apart “I didn’t want to run the standard ‘Get your perms here for $50 ad,’” explains Burak.

One of the successes of her partnership with her brother was a promotional campaign he devised that combined their beauty talents with his love of photography. Using close friends and customers as models, Burak and her brother created hair and makeup makeovers. Her brother photographed the models before and after their makeovers, often posing them in interesting and unusual settings. The finished photographs were enlarged into posters and displayed throughout the salon.

“The posters Jeff created were much more than a representation of our abilities as beauty professionals,” says Burak. “Each photograph was a work of art, exposing a whole person: not just a head with hair.”

Inspired by her brother’s photo makeovers, she enlisted his help to create a similar ad campaign that would show the true essence of Beauty Worx. She ran her ads in neighbourhood newspapers as well as in newspapers with circulation in the city and suburbs.

Quickly, Beauty Worx began building a solid book of clients. Business was doing so well that in February 1994, Burak moved the spa to a two-story property she purchased next door to the original location and expanded its services to include reflexology and other massage therapies, as well as tanning, face and body waxing, facials, and glycolic acid peels. Reaching out to another untapped segment of business, Burak also was the first salon owner in the neighbourhood to hire a technician to specialize in ethnic hairstyles.

Boss or Buddy?

“I could really see the potential in my technicians,” says Burak. “I promoted their talents in all my advertisements and I kept pushing them to be their best professionally.”

But Burak had grown to be more than a boss to her staff. She was becoming a friend as well. “Most of the girls who worked for me had complicated personal lives,” explains Burak. “Many were single moms struggling to earn a good living. I became a part of their lives. I felt that I was responsible for their happiness.”

Soon Burak began juggling the appointment book to fit her staff’s scheduling needs. She even found herself getting involved in such staffing issues as baby-sitting conflicts and boyfriend troubles. But, according to Burak, the more of a friend she became to her workers, the more they took advantage of her kindness.

To complicate matters, managing the spa was one of Burak’s long-time friends who rarely enforced the rules of the shop. Looking back on it, Burak realizes her staff had it for too easy.

“I was determined that I could turn things around,” says Burak. “But the harder I pushed my staff to rise above their problems and advance in their careers, the more resentful of me they became I felt in some odd way they blamed me for their lack of aspirations.”

One by one, Burak’s beauty technicians began leaving the shop. Some, she later found, out had been stealing from her. Others were spreading untrue rumors about her to customers. And a few, Burak suspected, had even vandalized the shop.

Competition on the Rise

In addition to her growing personnel problems, Burak was facing stiff competition from new nail salons that began opening throughout the area. “Because they were offering full nail sets for nearly half my price, I began losing a substantial amount of business, despite the fact that many of these salons were unlicensed and practiced poor sanitation,” she says.

When Burak launched complaints to Philadelphia’s Department of Health and requested that these unlicensed shops be investigated, she came up against a lot of bureaucratic red tape.

They told her they just didn’t consider an investigation of the salons a priority.

Frustrated and tired of fighting the system, Burak was beginning to lose faith in herself and in Beauty Worx. She was tired of dealing with constant retaliation from staff members. She felt that she had completely lost her ability to trust people. But then she met Netty Mason.

Burak quickly began to get to know Mason during her monthly eyebrow waxing appointments. A petite, middle-aged woman, Mason had a unique knack of making people feel comfortable. Burak learned that as a sales clerk in the Woolworth’s 5 & 10 down the street, Mason was a hard worker who had developed her work ethic as a teenager working for tips in her father’s barbershop.

So several months later, when Mason came into the Beauty Worx to apply for an available shampoo position, Burak did not hesitate to give her the job. “From the beginning, Netty proved to be one of my best employees,” says Burak. “She worked non-stop — shampooing customers and cleaning around the shop. She was so dependable and trustworthy, I began relying on her both as an employee and a confidante.”

Burak also noticed that while Mason treated customers with the utmost courtesy, she had a way of speaking her mind with coworkers that seemed to gain her respect “Netty isn’t the most articulate person,” explains Burak. “She doesn’t always use the biggest words or the best grammar, but she has true compassion for people and somehow she finds the perfect words to get her point across without bruising egos.”

“As a shop owner, I was good at delegating responsibilities. But in dealing with staff conflicts, I was a pushover. I really admired Netty’s way of telling it like it is,” says Burak.

Netty to the Rescue

Deciding to go with her instincts, Burak expanded Mason’s responsibilities to include managing the Beauty Worx staff. “I knew Netty didn’t have a strong managerial background,” says Burak. “But not even the best management course could prepare someone for overseeing a beauty business. It takes the right kind of personality and I was confident that Netty could handle the job.”

Mason wholeheartedly embraced her new role as manager, She began coming to work every day around 8 a.m. and worked tirelessly throughout her nine-hour days. She showed that she was not afraid of hard work and that she expected the same dedication from her staff.

Taking her post at the shampoo station, she was ready for action. With one watchful eye on the front desk and another on the shop, she was off to the rescue when conflict arose.

“Netty has a special knack for zeroing in on problems,” says Burak. “For instance, a universal problem in the beauty business is that many technicians are resistant when it comes to cleanup. Realizing this, Netty encouraged the staff to pull together to get the job done. Now, no one person feels as though the whole burden is being unfairly placed on her shoulders.”

Tough Love

In addition to cleaning issues, Mason has faced some difficult staffing concerns, including long-term illnesses, pregnancies, and baby-sitting conflicts. According to Burak, in these situations, Mason has been able to guide the staff with her unique “tough love” approach.

“When an employee has a legitimate problem, Netty is always compassionate,” explains Burak. “But she never lets anyone take advantage of her. She will offer her help, while at the same time reminding the staff that this is a job they must take seriously. Through Netty’s leadership, the staff now appreciates their role in making Beauty Worx a success.”

Mason’s unique way of relating to people also has made a positive impression on Beauty Worx customers. “She takes genuine care of clients, always making them feel at home here. Her personal attention can win over even the most highfalutin customer,” says Burak.

Today, business at Beauty Worx is thriving. And Burak credits Mason for helping turn things around. “Under Netty’s management, the shop has never looked or run better,” says Burak “We now have a good staff that appreciates working in a creative environment where they are given the educational support and encouragement they need to achieve professional growth.”

Through her relationship with Mason, Burak also has found a restored faith in love, friendship, and in people. “No one has affected my life in such a profound way as Netty,” says Burak. “It’s hard to describe the pressure that unfolds in one’s life when trying to run a beauty business. You deal with a lot of egos. Personalities often clash. I thank God for meeting Netty. Without her, I would have given up on my dreams. I would not have grown into the successful businesswoman I am today.”

Clients who now flock to Beauty Worx because of its top-notch technicians maybe in for an additional surprise when they also find a very homespun, good-hearted group of professionals. “I am proud of my staff and how well they work together,” says Burak “We make a great team. My role is to inspire the staff with my ideas. Netty takes care of the rest.”

Beauty Worx Makeover Contest

“You have touched my life in so many ways. You are an important part of my world. I can honestly say I am a better person because of you.”

When Beauty Worx owner Lois Burak read these touching words in a card she recently received from her salon manager Netty Mason, it brought tears to her eyes. “To know that she feels I’ve made a difference in her life is worth a million bucks to me,” says Burak.

As a tribute to her friendship with Mason, Burak recently sponsored Beauty Worx’s first makeover contest, in which contestants who submitted stories of how someone had changed their lives in a positive way were eligible to win one of two free Beauty Worx makeovers.

Held in March, the contest was announced through a newspaper advertisement that featured the quote from Mason’s card. From the more than 60 heartwarming letters that were submitted, the Beauty Worx staff chose Pat Shinn and Charis Williams as the salon’s two makeover winners.

Shinn was nominated by her close friend, Debbie Adams. “Many people take us for sisters,” says Adams. While she works, Shinn frequently cares for her daughter, Emily. “She gives me the comfort of knowing my daughter is being well cared for while I’m at work,” Adams wrote in her essay. “In today’s world, that’s hard to come by.”

Charis Williams, 12, was nominated by her mother; Valentina Williams. Chans lost her father last June. Despite her own grief the young girl is able to comfort her mother who suffers from cancer “I want her to feel beautiful and know that she’s loved and wanted,” wrote Mrs. Williams.

As winners, Shinn and Williams received complete beauty makeovers, including full-body massage, facial waxing, makeup application, manicure, and haircut and coloring. They also were presented with before and after photographs of their makeovers, and each will be featured in an upcoming Beauty Worx advertisement in the local newspaper.

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