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I Never Wanted to be a Salon Owner

Ok so I have always thought about it; but I always came to the conclusion that it wasn’t for me.

And I think I am still right. I hate managing people, and dealing with emotions, let alone balancing the books and dealing with the government.

The reality is, I am in 50-100 salons a year teaching. And also learning. I am in giant salons, small salons, chain salons, rental salons, suites, I mean you name it I been in that kind of salon. So I always knew I “could do it.” But do i Want too?

The one thing all these salons I am in have in common? Running them is hard; and no one talks about it. It’s just instagram highlights of your team in big brimmed hats and neutral filters, and boss babe hashtags.

The most profit realistically a well planned, financed, and ethically run salon can make is about 15%-20%. It’s just the way the cookie crumbles. And if you know anyone making exponentially more, send me their number cause I am interested in learning from them.

Our overhead is unreasonable, supplies are inflated (to be expected in this economy) and the current employee pool is the stylists market. And the stylists, well… I think a lot of people pre 2020 just thought what we do looks cool, and it is, but never realized how hard being a hairdresser is. So we’re filtering through that.

And like every hairdresser ever I thought about opening a salon, “I’ll be different.”

And then reality hit me; but let's start at the beginning.

After high school I enrolled in a junior college, not knowing exactly what it is I wanted to do forever. Like any 18 year old, majority speaking, can really decide? My life interests were getting out of high school, art, and working. Yes, I said working; I love working but more importantly I love money. I knew growing up with less than, I wanted more, and I wanted to be able to afford more.

My last semester of college I had paid in full and wrapped up 2 degrees, on in Fine Arts and the other in Business Administration. And what college taught me the most was, I hated school and I hated feeling institutionalized. So I knew when I graduated I could not sit all day and I could not have a desk job.

I was 20 years old, living all on my own! With 3 jobs, no life, and my mental health in the garbage (I just didn’t know it yet) And life was vastly approaching. I got into multiple Division 1 Universities; and I can admit I only applied to prove I was smart enough to get in 😂 I had no plans on actually going to more college.

That was when a high school friend of mine asked me to go to an open house at the beauty school Nextdoor. Her parents paid for her to go to the nursing program at my college, and they said as long as she got straight A’s they would continue to pay for her education until she was finished.

She was convinced she wanted to be a hairdresser, and if she could gather enough info she could convince her parents to help her take that road instead. So of course I agreed to go with her, I never missed a chance to stick it to the man (her parents in this case) and there were free drinks and snacks.

We arrived, and it was a loud hustling tour of the building, with the promised snacks and drinks, as well as beauty students vibing and creating; as well as a tour of the other trades like culinary and automotive that were offered in the programs there. People spoke, and showed us around; they even played a video (that confirmed my suspicion that I would become a cosmetologist) and I tell that story all the time; perhaps in another blog.

Because the point of this story is, I enrolled in beauty school that day, and as long as I passed my exams I would have this summer off and start beauty school in the fall.

When I tell you the stars aligned for this, the bartending job (one of) I had on the weekends, burned down, leaving me room to apply at a hair salon as front desk. I of course, applied to the hair salon I was a client at.

I cant tell you why,, but in that time I just knew those women seemed skilled, professional, and like they made a lot of money. They were, and they are the market leader in their NJ town. It took them 3 months to hire me.

I would go once a week and bring a resume (this is what you did in the early 2000’s kids) until they did hire me. And I worked my way from front desk, to assistant, to leveled stylist.

The entire time I was on this part of my journey I thought “If I can make it big enough, I can open a salon and I will be rich! I’ll be well off.”

Boy does 2024 Laura have some things to say to 2008 Laura.

As the years went on, and I experienced each level of hairdressing, I slowly began to realize; maybe I don’t want to open a salon. I just want to be really good at this hair stuff and make a ton of money.

And I did, I am, and I do.

But here we are, owning a salon; that I am still not convinced is something I need to be doing. 🫠

Let's fast forward, 7 years into my career I move to Charleston, SC with my boyfriend (who is now my husband) and I open a suite. How cute, this whole concept was brand new to me, but no salons in the area used Redken (a stark contrast to the northern NJ salons I was used too) and none of them had career paths (also unheard of in the north east). I would go for interviews and it was just, hair. I don’t know how else to explain that to you, if you're a hairdresser reading this you know what I mean.

So I took what I knew, seven years of structure and hair, and I opened a suite.

In 6 months I was fully booked, and in one year I was double booked; and I still do some of these folks hair! But all the credit goes to social media. I bridled that early 2000’s mustang of a platform, called Facebook and I made it happen.

It only took 3 years for me to realize I hated it. Well it only took 2 but I stayed another year. There was a ceiling to what I could make as a one woman show, and I hated not working on a team. Just me, in a room.

And don’t even get me started now on the suites, and state of that part of the industry. It's become so predatory and expensive, it's cheaper and more productive to own an actual salon. And so I thought, maybe I should just own a salon.

And then still went NAHHHHHH haha and brushed that idea off again.

After that I worked in a couple of commission salons, kept building my book but also kept experiencing what the kids call “toxic salon owners”

And when I say that, I mean it. I know some folks say I’m a toxic salon owner but mostly because I hold them accountable to their goals, their schedules, and their job descriptions. The owners I’m talking about put me in unsafe and illegal situations.

One ‘family’ owned salon sexually accosted me, after (they) showed up to work inebriated, and proceeded to call my husband when i RAN out the door home to tell him, they were “just kidding around.” (my attorney said there wasn't a lot of action I could take, because all my clothes were on) but we can discuss mysogyny and safety in another post.

Another one withheld weeks of wages, committed fraud on their PPP loan, and then refused to pay employees. I had to sue (and I won) for the wages owed to me.

So I am so less than impressed with folks who quit or I fired calling me toxic, when they come to work late every day for 8 weeks only to clock in an do their makeup in the back. What a joke.

So leading into my wrongful termination (cause I asked for my owed wages) I told my husband “fuck it, let's open a salon.” And in 3 weeks I found a space, and in 30 days I opened. And here we are in year four asking myself “what the fuck am I doing”

I can blame it on all the narratives:

  • no one wants to work

  • theres only hobby hairdressers in Charleston

  • clients don’t want to spend money anymore

  • I’m too toxic 😂

  • not in this economy

  • commission salons are dying

and to be clear, I don’t honor any of those. I actually think:

  • no one knows how to work now

  • this one i think is very true actually, the hair industry here is vastly more mean girl/hobby time than anywhere else in the USA

  • clients are spending record amounts in the beauty sector year after year

  • I have standards and I communicate directly, thus people think I am a bitch. Cry about it

  • we work in the most recession proof industry than many industries (ask Forbes)

  • 10 commission salons a day close in the USA but theres been a huge upturn in the return to commission

So what do I think?

Maybe this just isn’t for me.

And babe don’t get it twisted, I have been profitable every year I been open; and I opened in 2020.

So, I’m gonna marinate on this, I have one year left in my lease; and not a lot of bandwidth left in my brain.

I just wanted to start this conversation because, anyone who has owned a salon has probably had to comfort themselves with the thought of “I can just close it.”

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This really hit home for me.

“Wanting to be different.”

”Experiencing so many toxic owners.”

… to the point of illegal activities on more than one occasion unfortunately.

My intention was to help and to uphold our industry but I am just getting lost along way. Thank you for being so authentic here. A breath of fresh air!

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