Business Management

Blueprint of a First Year [Installment #2]

Opening your first salon can be the most exciting time of your life — and the most challenging. Follow along as salon owner blogger Robbie Schaeffer applies for construction permits, decides of design details, and starts the hiring process.

Editor’s Note: In this occasional series, Robbie Schaeffer shares the trials and tribulations of opening his first salon. If you missed the first installment, see NAILS’ January Issue or visit his blog (updated weekly) at .

Slow and steady are good words to describe the salon’s progress over the past several months. Although it may not be “fast and furious,” I’m thankful for the improvement over “dead or alive” that characterized the first two years of opening my first salon. (Plus, I’m sure “fast and furious” will have its place after the city approves our construction plans and we approach building full-force.)

For those of you who may have missed my first article in the January issue, here’s a quick recap. I’m opening a salon called Rob|b: An OPI Concept Salon; it’ll be on Ventura Boulevard in Studio City, Calif. The salon had a very rough start (to put it mildly) just finding a viable location, but at this point construction crews have gutted the building’s interior. Our construction permit applications have been submitted to the city.

Right now, I think we’re off to an OK start, even though there are still some major hurdles for Rob|b to jump. The really exciting part is that it finally feels like I’m approaching a real salon opening (we’re scheduled to open in September), because I’m deciding on every little detail.

A Team Effort

I was briefly reunited with Daniel Schilleci, my business partner and fraternity brother from college. Dan has been deployed to Iraq since last July but should be back permanently either this month or the next. His two weeks of “R & R” coincided with the International Salon and Spa Expo (ISSE) in Long Beach, Calif., in mid-February, so he joined Nadine Galli (salon M.O.M. — manage, organize, mentor) and me on the show floor. Even a tradeshow, Dan commented, was a welcome change of pace from Iraq.

Together, we met with several of our vendors. We’re using Salon Equipment International for the furniture and layout grid, and Salon STX as our computer software for managing appointments and handling inventory. We’ll be using mostly OPI products in the salon, but for other products — like paraffin and hot stones — we met with potential suppliers.

The rest of the design team is also in place. In addition to Salon Equipment International, I’m working with The Black Door, an interior design firm, Lee Stucker, a contractor, and Richard Best, an architect. I picked all these companies through recommendations from other industry people — which just goes to show what a small world the nail industry is (and how you should never burn your bridges!).

Pesky Permitting

The permitting process has been a pain. I can’t take credit for the work that’s gone into it — that’s pretty much all Richard — but the waiting game to have the final construction plans, then get the city’s approval, has just been frustrating. It feels out of my hands. We were allowed to get a few things done before the permit. The building has been completely gutted. The flooring is being torn out so the plumbing can be installed. And, we can prepare the footings for the foundation.

But before we can start our major construction, like adding the entire second floor, we need a structural permit. Plus, for the first floor, we need a basic “tenant improvement” permit. So for now, we’re on hold for a lot of construction work. We submitted our permit application in early March, and usually they take about six to eight weeks to be approved. If all goes as planned, the salon should open in September or very close to it.

Definite Design Details

Not that I’d wish this on anyone, but it turns out the work we did on our supposed former location came in handy. (To make a depressing and long story short, I’d signed a lease for a different Studio City location in June 2005, but the lease fell through when the landlord never remodeled the building as promised. I had to sue him to get my money back in a settlement that was signed earlier this year.) Much of the design and furnishings work for our final location was essentially complete; we just salvaged and reconfigured things. We’re using L-shaped manicuring tables; behind each will be a sink built into a storage cabinet. Much of our furniture is being custom designed through a Salon Equipment International subcontractor. I want everything to have a fresh, high-end feel.

Material-wise, the salon will feature concrete (stained and painted) for the staircase and some of the flooring and teak for wall paneling. We’re also going to use both stone tile and concrete flooring and, for the countertops, stainless steel. The furniture will be made out of wood. It looks like the color palette will be silver, light blues, light greens, and light wood-inspired browns — fresh, open, and unisex.

There will be a floating wall between each manicure table and the next to give a sense of privacy without completely sealing off the space. The pedicure stations will also have some sort of partition, but the exact form hasn’t been decided yet.

We’ve also chosen a design concept for the front of the store that Richard is continuing to work on. It features wooden planks that hint at the wood-themed design inside, and the oversized polish bottle lets casual passers-by know exactly what we’re all about. Our first impression — wow!

Hiring, Firing, and All Things Human Resources

Nadine has been working on the employee handbook, which, at 20 pages, is virtually finished. She put the manual together by using OPI educational information, Internet templates, and reviewing other companies’ manuals to compare content.

Here’s the salon’s mission statement:

Rob|b salon is committed to provide every client with a positive salon experience, with impeccable service and the OPI products as the standard. OPI’s reputation is built on quality, safety, innovation and excellence — a commitment it honors every day with every product. At Rob|b we will continue the OPI commitment. Our philosophy is built on a team concept where all employees work together to provide the best service and working environment possible. We are a new standard in the nail care industry.

Nadine has also begun the hiring process. She’s taking resumes and doing interviews, and, as she says, “The important thing I’m looking for are people who will work well together. Any salon owner or manager knows what having the wrong mix of personalities can cause in a salon.” Well put.

We’ll be placing our job ads in trade publications, on and other career-based websites, and our own website. Word-of-mouth is also working well for us. If you want to talk to Nadine about opportunities, e-mail [email protected].

More About My Vision

At this stage of salon development, I’ve given more thought to my vision for Rob|b. Eventually, I want the salon to be a one-stop shop for both nails and skin (I don’t see us ever adding hair). I feel like the more types of services we offer, the longer we’ll keep clients in the salon, and the more money there is to be made.

For skin care offerings, I want to offer our clients the option of two product lines: one will be a standard skin care line and the other will be an organic line. This way we’ll diversify our service offerings. In skin care, I think there’s a real market for people who want fewer chemicals in their products.

Of course, our primary focus is still to get our nail services menu fully established. But, with the extra rooms on our second floor, the possibilities are endless — eyelash extensions, waxing, facials — who knows? Continue making this journey with me and, hopefully sooner rather than later, we’ll both find out.

My blog, Blueprint of a First Year, gives you weekly updates on the opening of Rob|b. Visit it at .

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