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Expand and Contract

Updated: Aug 27, 2023

My experience with landlords, besides residential, began with my first shop on Federal street in Worcester. At that time, everything was new to me and I really didn’t know how to negotiate terms. By the time I was ready to expand my shop in Gardner, getting the right deal was very clear in my mind. There were some clear issues that needed addressing. Not enough windows, heat was escaping during the winter months, which made the oil bill high. With that same token, not enough air flow in the summer, and the lack of windows left my options for air conditioning limited. The smaller space was manageable, but if I was going to make the space larger, these issues would grow as well. My employees were making decent money and I could see growth potential for everyone. I envisioned more space for a waiting area, a reception desk and more space for stations and workspace. I could incorporate spa services or whatever would work in that market area. The town of Gardner had some things, but I was going to fulfill a need that I saw. I approached the landlord about taking the vacant space next to me. And while we were talking, she offered to sell me the building. I didn’t feel as though I had the financial strength to purchase a large commercial property, so I declined her offer. I took on the space for an additional five hundred dollars a month, and I went to work on my demolition and renovations. When I started to do the demolition I was nervous being that some tension started to arise amongst the stylist. I had brought on a barber, who was a good friend of mine, and the other stylist didn’t like his attitude. He was older and wiser, but not savvy with the young women in the shop. The boundary lines were blurred often, and to my dismay, I had to let him go to keep the peace. Inside the salon, there was an entrance to the basement that had a 7-foot-long door that opened outward to a steep flight of stairs into darkness. I put up signs and always reminded the stylist to be aware of the door being open at times for access. Regardless of the signs and deterrents, one of the stylist wasn’t paying attention and fell down the stairs. Everyone was shaken up as much as the stylist was. She refused several offers to go to the hospital, and at the end of the week, she reported that she had a concussion and needed to take time off of work. I had insurance to cover accidents and destruction of the shop, so I wasn’t worried about that, I was more worried about the stylist health. She vowed to come back to work, and I honored her insurance claim, and she visited but never came back full time to work. With all of that happening, I still felt as though the expansion of the shop would be a good idea.

So I started my demolition at nights. This place was distressing, and I had to redo the entire space. I planned to do everything in the space and leave the removal of the connecting wall for last, as a big reveal. I checked the internet often to get ideas and Craigslist to get deals of furniture and materials. MySpace was a place where people socialized and while I was looking for leads I got into an exchange with a stylist who invited me to a color focus learning event hosted by Paul Mitchell. It was on a Monday and close to Worcester, so I agreed to go. The event opened my eyes to what it meant to be a colorist and have a brand associated with your business. Up to that point, I was going to Cosmoprof and picking different brands and products based on the need of the upcoming week. I was introduced to the concept of being a “focus salon” which meant I would only carry Paul Mitchell products and with that I would get support from the company with education, marketing ideas and introduction deals from the distributor.

I was excited for such a partnership and signed up.I began to have classes hosted by Paul Mitchell in my salon, and that kept my stylist engaged and intrigued. It also gave them training, which I was giving them, but from another voice, which then reinforced the information. It also gave me time to concentrate on the expansion project that I was working on, with a pace that made me feel comfortable. After all the work was done on the expansion, I removed the connecting wall for the big reveal, and it was a hit.

There was space for a large waiting area, where I placed a comfortable leather couch, coffee table and magazines. There was a space for a retail area where I stocked up my Paul Mitchell products as a focus salon. And I had 3 rooms in the back which later became my space for taking clients, a room for photography and make up and a massage therapist would come to rent out the other room. The growth was exciting and all the reactions from the staff and clients were positive. I felt like I had found my niche. My creativity was budding, and I was going to allow it to shine. My staff grew and the classes from Paul Mitchell produced camaraderie between the stylist, and it eased my burdens a bit.

I hired a receptionist and a person to clean the salon a couple of times a week so that I wouldn’t have to argue with my staff of seven to clean the salon. With the expansion of space, came the expansion of income but also the expansion of debt. Of course, the rent went up, but also cleaning supplies were used up more frequent trying to keep things nice and clean. With more staff, more materials were used for doing hair as well as more resources like paper towels and toilet paper.

At one time I was buying toilet paper so often I asked everyone “are you eating it or taking it home?” Some people laughed and some were offended.

I had to learn that was the price for admission. Out of all the expansion pain, the greatest and most impactful was the heating and electric bill. I was using more oil to heat a larger space and more electric to cool a larger space. This added a few hundred dollars on top of each bill, which was fine, but after six months I could see that in 2 years that increase would be the equivalent of purchasing a small car. I was looking for solutions on ways to fix this problem, and the answer came from a Paul Mitchell class that I hosted for business and retailing. That class taught me that if twenty percent of my income came from retail sales in my business, the retail alone would pay the rent. I also learned that every business should go up yearly by 1.25% to offset the cost of inflation. I hadn’t changed my base prices for haircuts at that time in 10 years. I had started my salon in the middle of the recession of 2008, and was doing well considering that fact, and a lot had to do with a low price point.

So I was set to embark to do what every barber and hairstylist hates to do, raise my prices and sell retail as best as I could. When you are an owner of a salon, and you get excited about a business idea, sometimes you are the only one excited. No one else seemed interested in retailing except one of my stylist, who had the skills to talk a dog off of a meat truck. I was very confident that between her and, we could create the momentum that the salon needed and lead by example. It went well for a few weeks, and it seemed like she was in it to win it, and we were rallying the other stylist, when she came to me, distraught about her personal life, and contemplating leaving to be full time with her child. I was terribly conflicted. She was a client favorite and had an energy that was great in the salon. I immediately thought only of myself and what I feared would happen if she left, and thought of encouraging her to stay, and I would help as much as I could. But I was on a different path, my perspective had been to be in service of others, and I encouraged her to do what was best for her. She made a decision to stay and try not to let it bother her work. It went well for about two weeks, and one day we had a disagreement about something I can’t even remember now, and she quit.

Her presence was missed in the shop, and people asked about her for years after. But one day I was hosting a color class and the educator asked where she was, and I said she’s no longer here. After some questioning, she said

“ You did a good job with her, helping her grow as a stylist, you should consider being an educator for Paul Mitchell". I said "I don’t know if I’ll be good at this" And she replied, "You're already doing it”

I had begun to admire the education staff from Paul Mitchell and the people at the distributor Hairlines. It felt like a family operation and very respectful. I had briefly done some education in 1997 for a company ironically name Paul Brown Hawaii. The distributor was in Connecticut, and it didn't go well because I needed up feeling like a piece of property owned by the distributor. It didn't feel that way at Hairlines, so I began to entertain the idea of being an educator again.

There was a training program and audition that was needed to begin consideration, and with the salon growing the way it was, I wasn't sure if I was able to commit.

A few weeks after that conversation with the educator, I received an email inviting me to the education program, the decision was made for me.

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