Business Management

Home, Suite Home - Making Working at Home Work

America is going home to work, and nail technicians are no exception. Citing a higher income and lower expenses, not to mention some great tax deductions, nail technicians find they can support their families and be near them, too. But working from home has its pitfalls.

Home is no longer just where the heart is ― increasingly it’s at least one family member’s place of business. In fact, according to the Association of Home-Based Businesses, more than 60 million Americans — roughly one-third of the adult population — will work at least part time from home by the year 2000. The reasons for taking their work home are compelling; more independence, a higher income, more time with the family, no commute, a desirable work environment, and even the simple need for a change from the office environment.

Yet, even as corporate America is adapting to its changing workforce by giving employees the flexibility to telecommute, the salon industry hesitates to embrace home based salons, concerned that they lack the professionalism and range of services that heighten the industry’s image.

 “I’m afraid home salons are not leading to tomorrow’s professionalism. I think home salons leads to a deregulated industry because it becomes too big to control,” says Max Matteson, incoming president of the Cosmetology Advancement Foundation and president of Salon Enterprises.

But the new generation of home-based salons bears no resemblance to the “kitchen beauty salons” of yester-year. Not only has the kitchen table been replaced by a professional workstation, it’s sometimes joined by extras such as whirlpool pedicure spas and tanning beds. The technicians themselves are not homebodies either, attending every show and educational class they can, “I go to all the classes offered by the manufacturers of my product lines, and my distributor reps see me on a regular basis,” says Chelly Eric, owner of Total Image in Winthrop Harbor, III. “I’m also an educator for IBD, and they’re flying me to California for training, and then I’ll come back and train other educators in my region.”

Sure, many nail technicians say they moved their business home fore the express purpose of caring for their children, and most admit they sneak in the odd load of laundry between clients. But fringe benefits extend beyond the family issue; as many home-based technicians claim they make a lot more money, have lower overhead, better tax deductions, and far more flexible hours (though just as long). And while isolation is a major issue for many home-based workers, these nail technicians say being out of the bustling salon atmosphere is what they and their clients appreciate the most about their home-based salons.

Sounds great, doesn’t it? But before you start measuring the spare bedroom for your worktable, home-based salon owners caution their peers to examine all the angles before deciding if working from home would be all that sweet for you.

The Light Are On ― Is Anybody Home?

Ironically, the biggest disadvantage of a home-based salon is that, well, you work from home. In the salon, you have set work hours and when you’re not there, you’re inaccessible to clients. But home-based nail technicians, even the most self-disciplined ones, have a hard time convincing clients that they do not have an open door policy.

“I have people call on my days off and want me to ‘just fix’ a nail,” says Judy Franck, owner of California Nails in St. Charles, III. “They think it will take just two seconds to fix it, and since I’m home they have the attitude that I must not be doing anything anyway. In the shop, if you have a full book someone takes your calls and can be firm. But when you answer your phone at home, clients can talk you into things you don’t have time for.”

Avoiding these phone calls is not as easy as you might think, adds Sherry Menasco, owner of the Nail Parlor in Darlington, S.C. “I have a separate number for the salon, but they always track down my home number and call at all hours of the day and night. They think I’m a permanent fixture,” she says with a laugh. But in her case, the laugh is on her clients, because Menasco screens her personal phone with Caller I.D.

And several of the home-based nail technicians we asked confess they are even worse than their clients when it comes to mixing business with pleasure. Lianne Koziol, who operated The Little Nail Shoppe of Rehoboth in Rehoboth, Mass., for 15 years before turning over the reigns to her daughter, blames the long hours and missed family activities for her leaving the salon. “I probably spent more time with my clients than with my family,” she remembers. “My husband would call and make an appointment to see me, and I feel like I neglected my kids at times. The early mornings and the extras I squeezed in on the weekends were wearing. I just didn’t know how to say ‘no’.”

Franck currently has a similar dilemma. While se originally planned to work 5 a.m. to 9 p.m., four days a week, she found the 16-hour days too exhausting, but now says she can’t find a way to cut back. “In a salon, the hours are established, but at home, people know I’m here”, she explains. “When you’ve done it for 10 years, how do you suddenly say you won’t anymore?”

Their advice?  Set your hours and stick to them regardless of the temptation to squeeze in just one more clients. When in doubt, ask yourself what you would do if the salon were not in your home. Otherwise, you may train your clients – and yourself- to disregard the line between your works and home lives.

Location, Location, Location

According to real estate professionals, location is the primary consideration when choosing a new home, and the same holds true when looking for the ideal space in your home for a salon. Your first consideration, of course, is whether home salons are even legal in your area. While only Hawaii, Washington D.C., and New Jersey ban home-based salons, local zoning laws may not allow a commercial business to operate in a residence. Even where permitted, you may have to jump through a few bureaucratic hoops to get your business license.

For example, when Sharon Warren decided to open her home salon in Heyburn, Idaho, she first had to make sure the structure was a certain distance from the centerline of the country road on which she lives. Then she had to have a diagram of her proposed salon approved by the county planning commission. Next, she says, the county sent a letter to every residence within a mile of her home. Fortunately no one protested; if they had, the county would have called a public hearing.

Once you determine whether you legally can operate a salon from you home, the next step is to evaluate whether it’s logistically feasible. Do you have space for a home-based salon? Most state boards require home-based salons to have an entrance and bathroom that are separate from the residence. Many salon owners make room for their salons by finishing basements, converting garages, workshops, and mother-in-law suites, giving over their living rooms, or even building an addition. Most of the conversions cost anywhere from $15,000 to $40,000 and usually involved adding a bathroom, but the improvements should be tax deductible (consult your accountant) and often enhance the home’s value. While Menasco spent $40,000 converting her husband’s workshop into a salon, it can be converted easily into an apartment if they ever decide to move.

“When we designed the shop, we considered other uses for the space when placing the cable and phone hookups and the power outlets,” she explains. “We also had them put a shower in the bathroom even though we don’t use it for the salon.”

Warren, on the other hand, built her salon from the ground up, adjacent to her carport on the far side of the house, because she wanted to distance the salon from the house, and vice-versa. “ I didn’t  want anyone to be able to walk into the house or see inside of it. I went into some home salons where you could see the kid running around and the dirty dishes in the sink and hear the TV going and I though it was unprofessional,” she remembers.

 The ideal situation is when you can choose your house with a salon in mind which is what Franck and Eric did, Eric opened what she thought was a temporary salon in the recreation room of her previous home. When she decided to make the situation permanent, she and her husband started searching for a house better suited for a salon. They settled on one with a 700 –square-foot attached mother-in-law suite. With a full bath, kitchen, bedroom, and living and dining rooms, and a separate entrance, it suits Eric’s needs perfectly. “The set-up is perfect for a salon, and I have so little overhead and much fewer headaches than I would with a traditional salon,” she notes.

Of course, you may have to make some concessions on the home front, as Franck did. “There were a lot of houses I liked better, but I couldn’t see them working out with a salon,” Franck remembers. “I looked for a house that had exterior access to the basement, and it had to have a bathrooms and windows for ventilation.” Still, with a 14x16-foot salon sitting next to a large playroom where her son used to play while she worked, the concessions she made were well worth it, she says.

Welcome, Friends

Many nail technicians already have an established clientele when they open a home-based salon and prefer to acquire new clients through referrals. “I do very little advertising, and that has a lot to do with the salon being in my home,” explains Debbie Shoaff, owner of The Nail & Hair Gallery in Wampum, Pa. “Instead, we encourage our clients to give referrals by offering them discounts on services and products.” Nor are such incentives always necessary, as these salon owners say that their clients happily refer friends and family members.

Eric, too, counts on word-of-mouth referrals, but she also got involved with local organizations, such as the schools and a women’s business exchange to help promote her salon.

These salon owners prefer that their new clients come from their current ones because the salons are located in their homes. While Eric is the only one who’s ever had an incident with a client who made her uncomfortable ― walk-in client who kept pushing her let him massage her feet ― the women are conscious of their person safety, without being paranoid about. “After all, I’m rarely alone because I’ve got clients booked back to back, and neighbors know to keep an eye out Eric says. Menasco agrees: “I’ve got so many people coming and going that this is the last place someone would think about bothering.”

Eric is not alone in counting on his neighbor’s support. These salon owned say they have good relationships with their neighbors, and they count many of them as their clients. According to them the only potential problems arise when parking becomes crowded, but because most of them work alone, there are rare more than two or three cars parked in front. However, Shoaff has three people who work in her salon, and sometimes there will be as many as 10 cars parked in her driveway. In the early years, clients would park on her neighbor’s ruffled feathers by doing her hair for free, and she quickly expanded her driveway.

Don’t Forget Your Silent Partners

Last but not least, how does your family feel about you moving the salon into their home? While they may like the idea of having you around more, do they understand that the salon is not their living room? Do they understand the first few months may be tough on the family’s finances? And because a salon’s peak times tend to be evenings and weekends ― can they adjust to living in the midst of a business?

“My husband never really understood what I did at work, and when we moved the salon into our home, it was traumatic for him because he’s a very private person and there were a lot of people around,” Shoaff remembers, “For a long time he would go in through the back door of the house to avoid every one. He has adjusted over time, and now he’ll even come out to the salon on occasion to visit with clients.”

Most salon owners give their spouses high marks on support, both physical and mental. From working as laborers to build and maintain the salons to acting as soundings boards for new ideas as well as problems, helpful husbands are a resource these nail technicians couldn’t do without. “My husband makes suggestions and helps me keep up with things. At times, when my income dropped, he worked harder to make up for it. He never complains regardless of what’s going on, and if I have a major decision to deal with, he makes his suggestions but lets me do my own things,” Eric says.

Home-based salon owners struggle with many of the same issues as their traditional counterparts, from building a clientele to dealing with employee theft. At the same time, they’ve struck a balance between home and work that suits them just fine, and most of them vow they will never return to a traditional salon. Says Menasco, “It’s the best idea I’ve had in my entire life.”


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