The “Hair Queen” herself, Suzanne Van Houten, has been in the beauty industry for over 30 years, and has worked as a colorist and stylist during that time. She has also owned her own salon for at least 15 years, so she is pretty knowledgeable on the subject.
Van Houten is interested in helping share her expert knowledge about the beauty field to those thinking about starting their own salons. She always applauds stylists and technicians who are interested in owning their own business, “Congratulations on having that dream!” But then, she gets down to business and asks questions that really probe the person’s suitability for business ownership.
Just because a stylist can stand behind the chair and be booked solid throughout the day doesn’t mean that they have what it takes to successfully operate the whole salon. Van Houten says that it’s an entirely different set of skills that need to be mastered.
A person also needs to have passion for the business, and the ability to stick with something until they succeed. A person who “can’t put it down, can’t get it out of their head” and is “willing to be a little humble” is bound to succeed, according to Van Houten.
Advice for Striking Out on Your Own
Van Houten usually recommends having at least 5 years of experience under your belt working in the industry, and have a full book of clients before thinking about starting in business for yourself. “You need to have enough income to cover the nut by yourself — whether you have one employee or 10”, she says.
When beginning a new salon, be prepared to have a huge increase in workload. “You go from being a creative person with 2 or 3 hats at most to being a salon owner with 5 or 6 hats,” Van Houten says.
The owner will also need to “draw a line in the sand” and set the rules about the salons environment and culture, starting from the first day. “The pace of the leader is the pace of the pack.” Employees will look to the owner, or leader in times of crisis, for solutions or answers. “It really hurts when you have to look at yourself and say, ‘I want them to be on time, but I’m not on time.’”
You must also be ready when your best employees or contractors decide to do the same thing you did, and open up their own shop when they feel it is time. “You’ve got to keep a river running of talent,” says Van Houten. She also mentions that human resources can be the hardest job for new business owners.
She also adds that this is a skill worth learning: “You’ve got to be an educator. You’ve got to train your crew and motivate them.” The reward for those who do is a business with beauty at its heart.