Money Matters

Handing Over Your Business

For many nail techs, owning a salon is the next step in their careers. But for some, once they achieve this milestone they realize they’re not cut for ownership- for a variety of reasons. For other, it’s the realization that their dream wasn’t what it was cracked up to be

Owning a salon is hard work. You have to deal with the constant ins and outs and ups and downs of running a business, all while trying to keep your cool and maybe even managing a clientele of your cool and maybe even managing a clientele of your cool and maybe even managing a clientele of your own.

Most salon owners find running their own businesses a fulfilling experience. Sure, there will always be gripes about lazy employees and no-show clients, rent to pay and taxes to file, but for the most part, it’s an experience that helps many techs enrich their careers.

It’s normal to have thoughts of wanting to sell a salon and no longer wanting to be an owner,” says Carol Shanks, owner of Prospeak, a Lakewood, Colo.-based company that offers business-training programs for salons and employees. “They’ve had a bad week, but they come back to work the next day.”

But when work starts to take over your life and creep into every aspect of it, it may be a warning sign that it’s time to make a change. And while burnout is certainly the most common reason for wanting to get out of ownership, it’s certainly not the only thing that makes salon owners think twice about going back to their nail tech roots. For some, owning a salon isn’t what they thought it would be — and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. They may come to the realization that being a nail technician is what truly fulfills them.

Why Do They Decide to Sell?

Although making money is important, salon owners don’t necessarily sell their salons for lack of income. Shanks say that most salon owners will simply work on extra clients in order to break even. “It’s really a combination of things that lead owners to sell their salons: money versus risk, time, energy, and effort,” she says.

Many nail techs don’t realize how different being a salon owner is from just doing nails. In fact, it can be a completely different career for some. “You become a personnel manager, a landlord, bookkeeper, payroll specialist, and local maintenance person,” says Shanks. “Not to mention a surrogate mother.”

Then there’s the change in lifestyle that forces some salon owners to give it all up. The arrival of a baby or a move to another state are just as common reasons for selling a business (see “Making the Move” for reasons some salon owners said goodbye to their businesses).

Alethea Eatman, a Cleveland, Ohio-based educational consultant and founder of Nail Techniques University, says a lot of the blame can also be placed on cosmetology schools.

“Most schools only focus on what you need to know to pass your state board exam,” Eatman says. “If more schools offered business classes, nail techs would know more about what it really takes to own a salon.”

If more schools focused on business classes, then many salon owners wouldn’t be forced to close their salons because they can no longer afford to pay overhead costs, Eatman adds.

While doing research for her book, The Nail Tech’s Business Guide, volume 1, Eatman discovered a trend: Many salon owners who decide to close up shop turn to booth renting as their next option. “It’s too hard for many former salon owners to become employees because they still have that control factor,” she says.

 That’s because if you turn to booth renting, you can still have a say over your hours and the products you use, but you don’t have nearly the same responsibilities you once had as an owner — something that can come as a welcome relief.

Know What You’re Getting Into

Shanks says a big problem with becoming a salon owner is that many nail techs don’t do all of their research thoroughly.

“Anybody can hire a staff and can deal with the equipment,” she says. “But running a business is a different thing. It’s not just about being a nail tech and thinking you want to become a salon owner.”

And sometimes the reality is that running a salon just isn’t what some owners thought it would be. They may have a successful, great-looking salon, but the sense of fulfillment they expected to have just never materialized. In stead of feeling excited about owning a business, they feel bored. They figured that having their own salon would be an easy way to make more money, but they just haven’t gotten the satisfaction they were expecting.

Other people just aren’t cut out to be owners, no matter how long they’ve been working in the industry. It may look easy, and they’re quick to jump into it, but they are soon faced with a harsh reality: They aren’t salon owner quality. For some people, being a businessperson comes naturally. They make it look easy, and that fools others into thinking they can follow suit and enjoy the same success.

That’s why it’s important to do your homework thoroughly. Before you make a decision to start your own business, start talking. Besides talking to consultants, talk to a salon owner. Don’t talk to a former salon owner who quit because she was burned out. The same goes for your best friend or the woman you’ve known for years who owns the salon down the street. “Go to someone you don’t know and ask her about her business,” Shanks says.

Spend a week with an owner, acting as an apprentice. Visit a few different salons if you need to. Take plenty of notes, ask lots of questions, and pay close attention to the everyday ups and downs an owner goes through.

Eatman suggests that nail techs also get plenty of experience behind the table before making a move. She says building a solid clientele and working as a nail tech for at least a year is ideal. That way, when you’re ready to step up, you’ll have a clientele that will be willing to follow you.

Shanks say she’s met salon owners who have been in business for many years and love it. But they’ve learned to adjust and let go of some things. “The longer they work as owners, the more they start easing out of being nail techs and simply become owners,” she says. “They discover business management. Others will still choose to do nails and hire others to help manage the business.”

Starting a business may seem easy to some people, but as with anything, it’s important to fully understand what you’re getting into. Only then will you be able to have a satisfying career — one that you enjoy. “Don’t go in without your eyes wide open,” Shanks says. “Understand the reality of owning a salon before you make that decision”

Making the Move

Salon owner have many reasons for selling their businesses and sticking solely to doing nails. Here are a few of their stories.

“One of my very good clients and I brainstormed about all the things we would do if we owned a salon. We both happened to come into some extra money and decided to find a location and implement those ideas.

Being a salon owner was probably the most stressful thing I’ve ever done. My partner and I had different ideas on how the place should be run. About 10 month into our venture, my partner decided that she just wasn’t cut out for the beauty business and went back to her former job. About three months after that, she approached me with the idea of selling the shop. I offered to buy her out and was turned down flat. (I had no idea that she already had a buyer and a price in mind.) I finally caved, sold the shop to her a buyer, and agreed to stay on for six months while the new owner got on his feet.

I’m happy to say that the salon is still surviving with its second set of owners. I now work as an independent contractor. I feel comfortable, pay reasonable rent, and set my own hours. It’s been the greatest way to simplify my life.” -Sharon Gundlach, Blades (Vestavia Hills, Ala.)

“I owned a salon for 14 years and went from a nails-only salon to one with 10 nail techs to one desperately trying to hold on to three nail techs. The increased rent and inability to find qualified nail technicians forced me to close my doors.

Being salon owner was stressful, but the bond we shared was well worth it. I’m now working as an independent contractor at a full-services salon. I have to keep reminding myself that I don’t own the salon as I keep hearing about the different problems. I can see both sides now and I would not consider being a salon owner again, but am glad I was given the opportunity to fulfill my dream. I take my hat off to all successful salon owners.” -Noranne Parente, Head of Head (La Palma, Calif.)

“My sister-in-law was opening a salon and asked me to work for her. I didn’t want to work for family, so I ended up owning and running the nails side of the business while she took care of the hair and tanning services.

I did this for seven years and was very successful, but it was also stressful. I was busy and help was hard to find, so I’d often work 12 to 14-hour days. But the main reason I decided to sell my salon was because I moved out of state.

I’m currently a part-time nail tech at a full-service salon and feel conflicted. I miss owning my own business and the adrenaline rush of having so many clients. I want to build up the salon owner’s business to a nice level, but I also don’t want the headaches of paying rent, advertising, and hiring.”-Pati Schembari, Safari’s Salon and Gallery (Clearwater, Fla.)

“I decided to sell my salon for two reasons. One was time. I had become an educator for the state of Indian, traveling to more shows for competitions. And I had owned the salon for eight years and was tired, not to mention a little bored. The second reason was I felt I had reached all of my goals as a salon owner. I wanted to travel and teach and was already working six days a week. I had to choose between my family and the salon. I chose my family.

I didn’t realize how stressful owning a salon was until I sold it. I look back now and have no idea how I was able to work six days a week, then go home and do paperwork. I am now an independent contractor at a wonderful salon. I’m also a continuing education instructor for the state of Indiana. I love my new position because it gives me more freedom.”-Diana Bonn, Salon Eclipxe (Muncie, Ind.)


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