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What it’s really like to own a nail salon – Part 1

By Scratch Staff | 07 August 2019 | Business, Feature, Salon & Spas, Tech Talk

Sue Davies Salon 1

Industry veteran, salon owner and Scratch Stars Services to the Nail Industry champion 2017, Sue Davies, reveals an insight into her experience of running a nail salon business…

For many graduates in the hair, beauty and nail industry the ultimate dream is to own a salon one day.  It is an aspiration to work towards, dream about and pushes many to gain more skills and develop themselves until they can take the plunge themselves.

So, what does salon ownership mean in the real world? Why do people do it? What are the rewards? What are the downsides?

Before being a nail tech and therapist, I worked an executive PA and administration manager in a variety of roles as well as running my husband’s business with him for a long time, which gave me great experience in a variety of areas. I retrained while at home with my kids and have worked predominantly in nail and beauty salons with a bit of mobile and home salon work thrown in, but whether it’s nails, hair or beauty, the route to salon ownership will be similar.

It is not for everyone, although for those that venture down this pathway it can lead to a solid income, a successful business, an opportunity to work less/earn more and ultimately a huge amount of job satisfaction. If things don’t go to plan, then it can become a chain around your neck that will drag you to the brink and your dream can end up as something you never bargained for. So be careful what you wish for and make sure you give yourself the best chance of success.

Have you got what it takes?

If you can answer all these questions with a YES, then maybe you’re ready to take that step.

  • Do you have unending drive?
  • A determination to be the best?
  • Do you have a desire to sail your own boat?
  • Watch your salon boss and think ‘I can do that’?
  • Want to build something you can be proud of?
  • Have capital behind you or access to finance?

Some of the hidden questions that people don’t always see are…

  • Are you prepared to work 60+ hours a week?
  • Are you happy to sacrifice family/social life for the late nights and long hours in the first years?
  • Perhaps, more importantly, are your family prepared to sacrifice having you in their lives?
  • Do you have the time and energy that can equate to having a new baby in your life?
  • Are you ready to lose yourself in salon management, staffing issues, day-to-day accounting?
  • Do you have sales experience?
  • Do you have accounts experience?
  • Do you have marketing experience?
  • Do you like networking?

If you answer NO to a lot of these then maybe don’t delve to much further into salon ownership until that changes.

Managing a salon and owning it, so being fully responsible for every eventuality, can be quite different.  Most experienced team members can, with training, handle the day-to-day management of a salon, but if something goes wrong, they can always defer to the owner as a safety net when things get sticky or they don’t know. Even managing the daily salon tasks, like diary or stock management, can prove a challenge for some and these team members are probably not cut out for ownership.

You must be a competent juggler and plate spinner to own a business of any kind, but throw in staff, stock, clients and their challenges, HMRC requirements, a problematic landlord, insurance requirements, a broken pipe, technology and a day of cancellations and most people would struggle!

Behind closed doors this can be a day in the life of a salon owner. However, most owners become great at masking the behind the scenes stuff to ensure a great client journey and even staff journey.  For some reason, there is a breed of people that thrive on this and these people are called salon owners.

Learning how to be a salon owner

The role of a salon owner can be tough and even quite lonely, so forums can be a great place for support and advice, and I am a member of many salon owner forums and groups. What is very apparent on these forums is that, for most owners, their life and work experience does not prepare them for the breadth of skills required to run a business. Some questions may seem naïve, some enlightening, and sometimes you just feel sad for the owner going through a tough time. It’s not all doom and gloom, sometimes people write about positive results and great achievements, and you are refreshed by someone’s success.

One of the most prominent areas for problems is that of staff and HR management, as not all employees want the same things and the owner can often feel that they are dragging employees along with them rather than all pulling in the same direction.

Disciplinary issues are regularly discussed on forums and it is vital that you understand people management, or outsource this to someone who does, as it can be a costly mistake if you get it wrong and end up in an employment tribunal.

If you are considering it now or in the future, begin your learning curve NOW!  Start with management, accountancy and marketing courses. Begin developing this side of your skill. The happiest owners are the ones that are not on the tools for their 60+ hours a week. You will need to learn to divide your time.

Know your numbers, your market, your area, your direction, about staffing and about cashflow. These are all vital!

There are no specific courses for how to open and run a successful salon, but most salon owners will happily share their experiences and knowledge and utilising local business courses from your local Chamber of Commerce can be a great place for general business advice.  There is so much to the business of salons and not going in to it with eyes wide open and with the intention of understanding what will become a new career pathway can lead to mistakes.  There are many successful salon owners that have turned their skills to become business coaches specialising in salon start, salon growth, retail sales, client retention or various other specialisms and they are a great resource for any one wanting to know more.

Once you have your salon setup, client management and booking systems can prove vital to be able to read your business.

The reporting options on any system you use are vitally important to your decision-making in growing and potentially expanding your business. They will help you understand where you’ve been, where you are and where you can achieve bigger and better.

Sue runs award-winning Bexley salon, Gorgeous Nail & Beauty Emporium. Read more about what it’s like to run a nail salon in Part 2 of her blog, here.