Our salon’s job application asks nail technicians. “Where do you see your self in five years?” Often the answer is, “Owning my own salon,” which always makes me think, “Holy smoke, do you have any idea what you’d be getting yourself into?”

When I first contemplated salon ownership myself, I thought: 1. I could find a place with cheap rent. 2. I would get to pick cool wallpaper and design the dream nail station. 3. I could get a phone I’m in biz! Does that sound familiar to anyone else out there? If you’re a salon owner you probably have found that the reality of salon ownership only partially resembles the dream.

There are many different paths people have followed on their way to crossing the line from working technician to salon owner: The reasons are many. There’s the successful technician pushed by adoring customers who say, “Oh Susie. you’re so busy and so talented, why don’t you open your own place? There are those tired of tyrant bosses who just can’t get it right. And there are those invited to become a partner when the owner of the salon where they work is overwhelmed with debt and responsibility (beware of that one).

Then, there are those like Lanny Simms, first-year owner of Lanny’s Hair & Nail Care in Kelseyville, Calif., who says he just wasn’t making enough money at his own table and decided to add hair services for more profit and cash flow. Others are like Kathy Smith, co-owner of Ultra Salon in Las Vegas, Nev., a veteran owner with a background in marketing research. Her solid business foundation has helped catapult her salon into a home for 27 nail technicians since 1992.

Whatever your motivation is for taking the big plunge, make sure its well-thought-out and something you’re comfortable with, because you’ll never see things the same way once you name is on that dotted line.

Once you’re an owner, aren’t there supposed to be bright lights, lost of recognition, money, and a new Mercedes? Wrong Forget about relaxing and enjoying the fruits of your labor, forget about your dreams of being an artist, your new middle name is Responsibility. The roles have reversed: You are now a business person first and an artist second. It’s a fact that you cannot run a successful salon and do nails 40 hours a week, so forget about it. Get used to longer hours and less sleep Opening the doors at a new location is a daunting challenge (wear a name tag when you go home so your family can still call you by name.) Sundays used to be for relaxing, but now you’ll find yourself at the salon, promising yourself and your family that you’ll only be there for a little while, which turns into the better part of the day. Simms says his social life hours at the salon.

But don’t get me wrong: There’s a great deal of satisfaction when the carpet is in, the doors fly open, and the gala grand opening party is under way. But hen comes the staff! THis could be your biggest challenge yet as a salon owner. Remember, you’ve probably just gone into debt for your first-born and committed to a five-year lease. Yours is a different level of commitment than that of a staff member. As a new owner, Simms says he was surprised that his new staff was not willing to work as hard as he was. Who will see the abandoned coffee cup or the empty towel dispenser first? You will Learning how to make your vision come alive for your staff is a challenging process that has to evolve, but it can be very Rewarding to watch your staff grow together as a team.

The money factor might be a little different than you thought it would be, as well. You may notice that those big bags of money you thought your old boss was taking home as a result of your labors haven’t seemed to arrive yet. A basic education in budgeting and finance will really come in handy about this time. With taxes and the cost of doing business skyrocketing a realistic approach to making important salon decisions, based on the dollars and the real profit potential, is essential to your success. You may find that your former willingness to try shot-in-the-dark ideas or products wanes. You’ll surely find that you, like nearly every small-business owner, cannot leave the job at day’s end. If you’re like me, your head will be spinning with work thoughts 24 hours a day. You’ll have other people depending on you to keep those doors open, and the pressure can be intense. Faced with the knowledge that small business fail at a rate of 62% in their first 6 years, It’s easy to lose enthusiasm. But I’m here to say that, yes, salon ownership can be a pressure-cooker, a disappointment, an ulcer-marker, but it can also be a thrill-a-minute, a confidence-builder, and a meaningful way to direct your career.

Keeping the salon clean becomes a fixation. The glamorous position of salon owner includes executive housekeeping services. Marks on the wall will need to be touched up and those beautiful flowers that were delivered to a staff member last week will need attention. Maintaining the salon n good working order is a way of protecting your investment. Having a handy husband who can fix anything has kept Tips Nails & Image Center out of the poor house for years. Thank you, Jim Gilmore!

The retail area will not be just a dust-collector to you now, but a profit-generator. This is most certainly the largest profit margin area of your salon. It costs a lot less to sell product than it does to sell services. You will become driven to keep this area of the salon clean and well-stocked with the latest interesting new products. Your staff will need your direction in product knowledge and an incentive to move the product you’ve invested in.

Creating a solid relationship with your distributors comes to mind as another priority as an owner. Your salesperson should be a partner to you, assisting with bulk orders to reduce overhead costs and passing on dealer discounts. They ca help you set up an account and plan promotions. Remember when you just stopped by the store to pick up an item or tow for your own table? I’ll always remember the first time I wrote a check for more than $1,000 for supplies. My heart was racing! Now the credit card has the numbers worn off.

When situations arise in the salon between staff members or staff and management, a salon owner has a different “spin” on the problem. Usually your concern has to do with the staff as a whole and the fiscal health of the salon. Smith says she is determined not to be “held hostage” by a prima donna staff member. Says Smith, “I had a particular staff member who was very popular with customers and other staff members, but he was borrowing product from me and other staff members without paying for it. Once I saw this, he was out the door without hesitation.”

Here’s an area I’m sure you’ll all become more aware of as owners: product use. Half-used tubes of adhesive in the trash look like money down the drain to an owner. Staff members have the right to expect needed product to be on hand, but you’ve got to control inventory. And the salon! You’ll notice that you see the phone as the life-line between you and those few dollars that might put you in the black, while the staff sees it as the social hot line.

All these different feelings as you take that step into salon ownership are real and very common, but the challenges and problems all have solutions. That’s what makes it still so much fun to try and win the game each and every day. Seeing staff members grow and prosper and having the accountant tell you there’s a few dollars left this month make it all worth it.

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