By Chris Olsen
This week, My Founder Story launched My Founder Community Connect Zoom meetups for women business owners navigating the current challenges in their industries. The inaugural event was created for women business owners in the salon industry and featured a panel discussion with Katie Steller of Steller Hair Company, Melissa Taylor of Beauty Lounge Minneapolis, and Sara Albert, independent stylist and member of The Hair District Collective.
Women from around the country joined the meetup and contributed to the conversation. The panel discussion focused on the reopening of salons and ensuring the safety and well-being of salon staff, clients and the community. All of the panelists are dedicated to making necessary adjustments including reconfiguring salon space, implementing new cleaning and sanitation procedures, ensuring proper personal protection equipment is available, altering scheduling and check-in processes, and being transparent about new operating protocols.
But closing salons and figuring out what to do next has been far from easy. There have been many lessons along the way. Here are key takeaways from the conversation:
Instead of waiting for answers, help find solutions.
There is no playbook for how to run a business during a global pandemic. Since salon reopen dates have been a moving target, Katie decided that rather than waiting to be told what to do next, she would get involved to help forge a path forward for the salon industry. She connected with the executive director of her state board of cosmetology and, as a result, she is now part of a task force of salon owners and health professionals making recommendations to the governor’s office and developing a tool kit for salon owners in her state. She encourages others to contact their state board of cosmetology and local government as well. She also recommends building connections with others in the industry.
Boss up and be optimistic.
Many entrepreneurs worry about whether their businesses are financially secure enough to weather the COVID-19 storm. For Melissa, the cost of moving her salon just before the pandemic hit tapped most of her cash reserves. She has applied for business grants and various funding and government programs and now offers items online that were previously only available at the salon. She asked clients what they need right now and launched virtual “Style at Home” services as a result. She reached out to her landlord, bank and creditors to request deferment of payments. She says, “We’re all going through the same thing, so people have a level of empathy they’ve never had before. … I’m bossing up and being as optimistic as I can.”
Communication and collaboration are key.
As an independent stylist, Sara says she and the other stylists at her salon initially looked to the owners for all the answers. When the salon first closed, the communication between the owners and stylists was constant, but as the date for reopening continued to move and communication fatigue set in, there was less connecting. It became clear that they needed to continue communicating regularly and that stylists and owners needed to work together to develop reopen plans. Katie echoed this sentiment, noting the importance as an owner to connect and be transparent with your team, even when you don’t have the answers. In addition to checking in with colleagues regularly, the panelists are also connecting with other owners to share insights and ideas, often via social media.
Believe in your value.
As the women plan for the future of their businesses, they’re considering the role that salons play in peoples’ lives. Melissa shared the importance of women business owners believing in their value. She says in the salon industry, the cost for services is not always commensurate with the value of what clients receive. Sara echoed this sentiment, noting that as an industry, “We may throw in extra services at no cost, or we might hesitate to raise our rates.” That means stylists work more hours to make up for it. The bottom line is that workers in the beauty industry are putting themselves at risk to provide non-essential services during the pandemic. It’s likely that pricing will need to be adjusted to help cover additional operating costs. While they’re sensitive to the fact that some of their clients might be struggling financially, the fact is that small business owners are struggling too. They will cease to exist if their profit margins don’t account for the cost of doing business.
Lead with your values.
The panelists have all built successful businesses on the foundation of their values. For Sara, that has meant making her clients feel beautiful and confident for more than two decades. While she’s unable to help clients feel their best through salon services during the pandemic, she’s using social media to stay connected and to provide support. Katie’s values have led her to create a welcoming and safe space for staff, clients and the community. She says now more than ever it’s important to consider her team’s emotional safety. In addition to individual and team check-ins, she provides access to mental health resources and support. Melissa believes salons should be inclusive spaces where all stylists are highly skilled on all hair textures. Because Black and Latino communities are being impacted by COVID-19 at a much higher rate, and she and her staff and clients are part of these communities, she believes she has a greater responsibility to ensure everyone feels safe. For clients who may not feel comfortable coming into the salon for a while, she’s considering additional ways to serve them online. And while she doesn’t currently offer health benefits to staff—something that is cost-prohibitive for many small business owners—it’s something both she and Katie are considering as they plan for the future of their businesses.
To learn more about My Founder Community and other upcoming Community Connect Zoom meetups, visit the Community page.
About the author: Chris Olsen is a radio veteran turned communications consultant, educator and author of “Whyography: Building a Brand Fueled by Purpose”. Through her work as a consultant partnering with startups, Chris realized her WHY—to support womxn-owned businesses in confidently communicating their purpose and impact, setting them up for entrepreneurial success. She created My Founder Story as a platform for doing so.