The final chapter in the series Hello my name is Ian Marc and I am a Hairdresser

Blog 8 - My name is Ian Marc and I am a Hairstylist / August 2015

This is the final blog about Ian Marc & his overview of becoming a hairdresser, a salon owner and the ups and downs of business. I would like to thank you for reading and supporting my efforts in the past 7 blogs. I am aware of many grammatical and punctation mistakes. Regardless this is me and I am proud to have shared with you my journey.

The year was 2008 and the United States was in a serious recession. Companies were facing bankruptcy, mortgages being called by the banks, Stock markets globally were failing. Financial institutions were collapsing and Governments were looking for ways to stimulate the economy.  People were walking away from their homes because they could not afford their payments. At the time, Canada was still slightly insulated from the United States economic collapse. The news of the United States continually spiralling downwards began to have a dramatic effect globally and on the Canadian economy.  It wasn’t long before Nova Scotia and our salon & spa began to feel the ripple effects.

It’s December 2008 and Imagine Salon & Spa has been settling in to our new location for about a month now. Clients are loving the new larger space and the modern decor. We applied for a liquor license so we could offer alcoholic beverages to enhance our guests experience. The application was unique to the commission offering a salon a liquor license and we were thrilled to be approved.  Our spa area was much larger offering beautiful pedicure chairs, multi treatment rooms, registered massage and several aestheticians to choose from. This was a real benefit in fulfilling our dream salon. Our new salon & spa was inviting and warm, my wife and I were proud. One of the most important compliments we received from our guests is our salon & spa had retained the warmth and friendliness we are known for.  Hiring a larger team proved to be challenging for me. Managing the larger salon and maintain my client base demanded a lot from me. Being a stylist behind the chair it was apparent I was trying to do the best I could, the staff and my clients noticed this in my work and my communication with them. It was a difficult time as the salon began feeling the effects of the recession. The new cosmetologist’s we hired did not come with a clientele. We had to invest heavily into education and training to slowly build them a client base. It takes many months of investing into them before they show a return financially. Desire, determination, patience, and application of our salon’s experience is essential before a return on the investment made in our employees. Multiply this investment by several new employees and it is a fine balance when it comes to managing revenues, making sure to balance income with expenditures. Communicating just the right amount of information with your team is an ongoing struggle. Preventing them from worrying and keeping them motivated to follow the protocol we outlined in their first weeks of employment is crucial.

Imagine Salon & Spa has clear policies and procedures. Our manual is a tool for expectations, objectives and the benefits our salon offers. It may be considered by some as to extensive, I personally do not think it is. It’s a book of guidelines when employees are not sure of a policy or a procedure. We expect our staff to read it when hired and as a reference book for questions they may arise. Employees are expected to uphold the standards of the salon & spa and bring new ideas forward.  When an employee looks for clarification from another employee rather than reviewing the manual, confusion and individual interpretation can lead to a misunderstanding. It has been challenging to implement this manual and the years of work that went into it. Our policy and procedures manual took over 20 years to complete and put into place. It is reasonable to see why I was so proud of having this reference book. Finally a manual our staff could use to get clear answers, a manual for them to use as a means of growth and guidance in their Work. Unfortunately it hasn’t worked out the way. I will begin working on a smaller handbook as a ‘quick guide’ this year and update the current manual in hopes the staff will find it easier to read, understand and follow.

I am proud to say, Imagine Salon & Spa enjoys a generally positive image and a good reputation. The challenge of maintaining this positive image within the salon and our team requires attention to details. When an employee becomes emotionally detached from their job and not working on behalf of the company, they can do huge amounts of damage by how they communicate with their clients and their peers. Depending on circumstances disgruntled employees do not leave quietly. What I mean is, the ‘secretive’ conversations to the customers, the back room complaining, the lack of involvement in the salon, comes on slowly and over time the seeds they sow begin to have damaging effects. The emotional distress to the team, the salon and our customers is difficult. It could be months before the employee decides to make the final decision to leave or I make the decision. Often I should have dealt with this months earlier. It takes time to rebuild, repair the image.

2014 was one of the most difficult years we have faced in our business. Decisions I made which should have required more attention since our expansion began to accumulate, and it began to weigh heavily on my wife and I. It has been a test of our stamina and many times I asked myself if I still have what it will takes to work through it. My answer is clear, until there are no other options, then yes I have what it takes. I will always have my skills, and my ability to provide for my family, I am committed 100%!  We are always working on our weaknesses and gaining strength from our experiences. More than ever I accept the guidance and the support our team offers. When you know better you do better. I am pleased to say we are a stronger happier salon & spa in this year of 2015.

In 2009 we discovered a couple of employees did not or could not live up to the expectations of our new salon & spa. Unfortunately this meant loosing them and dealing with the loss of revenue they brought in. With so many new staff who did not have a clientele, it took its toll financially. We were doing the very best we could under the circumstances. The economic downturn and the expenses of our new location made it difficult to be profitable, we persevered and slowly gained new clients. Unfortunately developing new cosmetologists means having to accept we will have complaints and problems. This is a part of business you have to accept. I have to rely on our core clients and the overall skills our senior staff to balance the scale of great work with less than great work. We have to teach our new talent to be humble with their skill set and do not over promise to the guests. I have always said,“under promise and over deliver.” This is where communication is crucial.
I talk to our staff about, if someone visit’s a business that has an upscale image and the surroundings are first class and the reputation exemplifies a ‘standard’ if the employees of that business do not meet or exceed your expectation there is a very strong chance that business will disappoint. My point is ‘be honest’ be sincere and express with your customers your desire to make sure their visit with the business is met with respect and appreciation.
Instead of trying to impress a customer, show a little humbleness, explain to your customer “your experience with us today, will only be as good, as how well we communicate together.” 

By 2010 our salon & spa was working out our kinks, the staff were growing and we began meeting our projections. The support of our customers was amazing, new referrals, better marketing and the use of social media. Our salon & spa offered online booking for clients who wanted to book on their own schedules, as well, we also offered additional SMS (Short Message Services) as reminders for their appointments. This was very helpful in preventing last minute ‘no-shows.’ It isn’t unusual clients could forget about appointments if booked to far in advance. Receiving a reminder the day of their appointment was helpful to minimize this. All these additional benefits added operational costs however todays beauty business are a necessary expenditure.     

By 2011 we had grown to a staff of 18 (give or take) managing wages were our largest expense. Approximately 58% of the salon’s income is in wages. Taking into account the other operational costs, showing a profit was low if at all. Our employees are not chair renters, or booth renters, or independent contractors. They are paid an hourly wage plus a commission based on performance. This method allows developing employee a fair wage while building their clientele. Pay structure can vary from salon to salon and my wife and I are fair with paying our staff well. The beauty industry has a reputation for pilferage of trained staff from other salons and the promise of giving more to the cosmetologist to join them. This usually results in weaker salons, or a stronger underground business. We are known for developing talent and when they grow they want more. Our salon choses to provide our customers with a beautiful location, upscale environment a beautiful web site, and the above mentioned ways to book appointments. These features have a high cost, so when a smaller salon offers the stylist more money, it often comes at a cost to us. When you invest you have to have a return. When faced with demands on higher wages and expenses, either you raise prices or cut costs. This is where clients and salon owners can lose. My point is, the front end costs are huge, the support in education, training, developing, and nurturing are very real, and costly. The choice of products you decide to carry vary greatly and are no way standard when it comes to pricing your services. What most do not know is how small the profit margin is in a salon. The added expenditures dissolve the bottom line.

The decision to increase an employee’s wage / commission is subjective and often the employer (in this case me) wants to retain their staff, in the end knowing it is often a temporary solution to the employee who is not fully aware of the costs associated with the salon. Over the years I have built our business in providing amenities for both the staff and our customers. Often at the expense of a strong bottom line. This part of my business personality has had both its rewards and its costs. In hindsight looking back I may have done things differently. More often, this is who I am and I still want to give back often at the cost of my wife and I personally.
Doing positive things for your community and your employees is not an expectation, it is an obligation. Over the years, our salon & spa has done exceptional in this area. We have sent our staff to many advanced educational trainings away at very significant costs. We have raised thousands of dollars for charities and given hundreds upon hundreds of donations for schools, sport teams and people in need.

One fundraiser I was most proud of came during 2011. We created a Breast Cancer Calendar using Breast Cancer survivors for each month. We told their story and featured them in this calendar. The calendar raised over $17,000.00 divided upon three charities. Another was during the 1990s when Aids was needing support. We raised thousands of dollars for the cause of education and research.

Imagine Salon & Spa makes an effort to do things positive, and honestly. We take great pride in building a business whose mission is to develop talent, to always listen to our customers, meeting their needs and their expectations. Building a strong company requires many components, one of which is cash flow. The additional staff, expenses and now officially into a recession demanding a lot from my wife and I began to mount. Unfortunately as much as you try to be open and honest with your employees, they really do not understand. In many ways, I understand this but it does not diminish the frustration you feel when you share the concerns and hope they will support and understand what the owners are going through. This lack of understanding or the perception of employees not empathizing with you, can create internal problems and consequentially compromise your relations with your team. I have been guilty of this in the past, and this is one reason for this writing. I get it!  I own it, and I am correcting it.

By 2013 the economy was having a sustained negative effect on our company as well as thousands of others in Canada. There is an old saying the beauty industry is recession proof.  A fallacy!  Example, if your average clients visit is between 5 to 6 weeks apart, and each client decides to stretch their appointment another week or two, over the course of the year, this results in one less appointment. Multiple this by your client base, and the result is a negative bottom line. Because we are also a spa, and we carry high quality products the cost of these products are expensive. Often one of the first choices our customers will cut back on is ‘luxury’ services; facials, pedicures, manicures. They do not always fall into the ‘need’ for customers.

The challenge of sustaining our financial commitments were mounting and worrisome. Costs continued to rise, our rent was stepped based, the purchase of products continued to increase, as well, heat, lights, power, water. We were not in a position to raise prices, in fact we were offering more discounts, and incentives to bring customers in. This too contributed to our keeping positive among our team and our customers. I was becoming increasingly depressed. With the internal struggles I was having we were also loosing customers. Many reason’s why, nonetheless it was an additional emotional roller coaster. Thank God I was somewhat insulated from having to deal with the numbers, I am not sure I would have been able to do it. My wife has been instrumental in keeping on top of our bills. Jacquie encouraged me to do the best I could maintaining my clientele and working the business as best I could.

Up until 2015 we persevered as best we could, continuing to invest in our team and our salon & spa. Business needs to look and feel fresh, we have always maintained our company to reflect a clean, and first class appearance. Improvements to our decor, our spa and our salon we felt were important upgrades. So an investment of $10,000.00 to update the salon when we could lease afford it, we still did it. Again listening to our team and how they also thought the salon & spa needed some aesthetic improvements.

2014 was a very difficult time in our companies history, and mine personally. I had just lost my mother and emotionally I was a wreck. I needed to be present at work more than ever, and I was finding it difficult to be a stylist, a boss, a husband and a father. Cash flow was diminishing and the loss of additional staff made my wife and I take a long hard look at ourselves. The bleeding was mounting and the effort to do what we thought was the right thing was like putting a bandaid on an open wound, when we really needed stitches!  My determination to be focused on the vision of our company wasn’t working. I began to look hard at my self and realized my effort of trying to do the right thing for our salon, our team and our customers had to change. 
I realized my work ethic was changing, what was important to me as a stylist and a salon owner did not seem to matter to this generation. Changing what my values were difficult for me to understand. Our employees valued time off and wanted more money, more flexibility in their schedules. This was the new reality and I was finding it difficult to accept. This is not unusual, my sentiment was mirrored in conversations with other business owners. The result was taking toll on me mentally and physically. Survival and my needing to adapt was being tested and I was trying to be more understanding hoping to evolve as a businessman and a person. We have been in business since 1986, and I have been faced with challenges before, so why was this any different. The difference was, I am older and do not have the same drive I used to. Every morning when I wake and I go to work opening the doors of the salon I had a chance to change, to try harder. It was time to look long and hard at who I was and who I was becoming. Nothing matters in business until you look first at yourself take stock of all you know and apply that knowledge. Knowledge is power I kept telling myself and the only person to say when I cannot do it anymore will be me. I still had fight in me. All I needed to do now was acknowledge I was loosing my way. I lost my purpose and I was not going to let this defeat me. In business you have to ask questions, a lot of questions, ask the right questions and you will find the answers. 

I am grateful for those who have worked for us over the years. Each one of us has to find the path that works best, and while discovering what that path is I am fortunate to have contributed towards their journey. The journey I have lived is a result of all things great and wonderful and probably most importantly the tribulations I have experienced. These are the gifts and the lessons I have been given.

This blog began with an email I sent to our team leaders in April 2015. It is now August 2015 and my intent was to be open, honest and share with my readers about my successes and my failings. I could not have written this a year ago, not ready to share my feelings. It is ironic I felt that way as I have always believed I am an open book. My philosophy was, if I share what I know, I can help others, once I have shared I am more open to learning something new. I was afraid to share my vulnerabilities and I am now open and see this as a cleansing and growth. My hope is to continue to embrace all that is positive and face that which is negative so I can put my fears behind me.

In January of 2015 began the typical slow period after Christmas is always a challenge. The Christmas season did not provide the cash flow we needed to sustain us until the next busy period. Typically this was May & June, with a bit of a bump in March / April. The Bump in March & April was those travelling south for a break, and the period of May / June was graduation, end of school year for teachers, moms and students. But this was January our line of credit was maxed out, our credit cards were full and we had already gone to the bank for a home equity loan in which we put a large part into our company. There was no more ability to meet our financial obligations. We met with our banker to ask about a business consolidation loan, and we were not able to obtain this. What I was able to do was defer our business loans to interest only for 4 months. Jacquie & I had reduced our living expenses to the minimum and we knew this was not nearly enough. I had to find solutions.
Time was not on our side and we were working hard. Earlier in the fall we planned a vacation that was mostly paid for, we debated what we should do cancel or go? Faced with this decision, we concluded we would go, it was an important decision and weighing our options we did not want to lose the money we had already spent. Most of what I needed to do was already in the works and being away for a vacation was not going to change what I was working on.

We were discussing with our accountant our expenses and we were being proactive in finding solutions. About a year earlier, I had been talking to our landlord on some ideas I had about possibly taking more space so we could provide additional services, this conversation had now changed and I was now in conversation about what we were currently facing. Talking to our landlord at one moment about an expansion to now discussing our options about the rate of rent we were paying was difficult for both our landlord and ourselves. Much hinged on this conversation. The escalating costs and the revenues needed to sustain our business was reaching a crucial point. I had met with our banker, discussed options and with our lawyer. The final component hinged on our landlord. Once again I was faced with what seemed to be a dire situation. I was working while I was away on a deal that would make or break the salon. I knew this would be one of the most important negotiations of my life. One of the decisions I had made while away was to close the salon for a day, pay all our staff to attend a meeting to let them know what was going on. At first I was going to facilitate the meeting myself with the help of our newly appointed managers. The more I thought about it, the more I realized I needed outside support. But how was this going to happen without being another cost I was not able to afford. I thought about some of the lessons I was adopting a couple of months earlier.

Around March of 2015, we brought in a talented salon owner and stylist from Toronto. Our objective was to tighten the skills needed for the stylists as well as tap into his experience as a salon owner. What was great about the two days he spent with us, I was able to discus the challenges I had with understanding young stylists today? He provided me and our team with many ideas to ponder. That resinated with me, I needed to let go and begin to trust again. It was clearly pointed out to me I had to engage the talent in our team to help with the day to day operations. Put in place staff that were able to eliminate some of the worries I was facing everyday. I recognized the need and our team was ready to step up. This was wonderful because I knew then we had an optimistic group a great group.  I appointed a general Salon Manager, a Stylist team leader and a Spa team leader. Learning to let go and trust again was important. Letting go of the past was an important step moving forward. I could now focus on a restructuring of our salon & spa. While away, my wife and I both realized how exhausted we were. In the mornings I would sit quietly and read, contemplate and deal with emails pertaining to the final piece of the puzzle, our location and associated costs. I needed to open up to our team and explain all of what Jacquie & I were going through. I contemplated how best to execute this important meeting. I came to the conclusion, I could not facilitate because much of the conversation had to do with me. I wanted to have someone help me with facilitating.  I sought out an industry friend for guidance and as a sounding board. After many conversations, he offered his support where ever it was best utilized. Jacquie & I discussed this and said yes to his offer. The following weeks, he and I touched on many topics and we made arrangements to bring him to the salon for two days. Day 1 was spent with Jacquie & I understanding not just our concerns, but observations on what we had already began to put in place with restructuring. What we needed to do, how was it going to work what wasn’t, and why!  We discussed the outline for the staff session on Tuesday, May 26, 2015.

Our strategy was to have our team understand the importance of everyone needing to own what they do, and work on those elements they could do better. Trust came up many times, and it was clearly communicated to me, I had to let go and trust more. This was important for many reasons, I was now willing to ‘let go’ and allow the team to help me. They were on board to help make our company stronger. Many of the day to day decisions Jacquie & I faced were now being handled by the team. They wanted me to focus on more pressing matters.

In June we reached a deal with our landlord. We have always had great relations with our landlords and now more than ever we appreciate the openness and honesty Jacquie and I have built our company on. We have a long way to go before we are profitable again however with the support we are receiving from all the key people, we are optimistic our business will grow and we can focus on our clients and our team. Today I am more peaceful, focused and ready to take Imagine Salon and Spa back to being a great company, a strong company and add employees to our team that share in the values, the vision and the pride of a first class company.

It is now August 2015 and as I write these words, I can say with confidence, everybody working for Imagine Salon & Spa today is focused and committed to doing the best they can for Jacquie & I, for Imagine Salon & Spa and our customers. Change takes time and change is more effective when it happens slowly. I know more than ever times are and have changed. It is with optimism and anticipation we will forge ahead knowing we will do more and thus be more. Imagine Salon & Spa will not detract from providing our guests and our partners with the promise of being a caring salon that tries to make a difference, a salon that cares about the reputation and our legacy. I take full responsibility for all decisions I have made and respect those made by our current and previous customers. The support we receive is what drives me to rebuild the trust of our customers and our team.  I am grateful for the knowledge and the support we have been receiving from so many people. Our salon has been fortunate to have been in business 29 years. Our salon enjoys a positive reputation and offers many benefits to our guests. When a customer shares with you the atmosphere in the salon is up beat, happy  and people see the staff working together, it is a clear reminder those customers have experienced less that a great service in another establishment. With the hundreds of employees we have had over the years, I can say without doubt, many have shared with me, the following comment.  “If I only knew then what I know now, I would have been a more understanding employee”  In some small way, I continue to connect with people in a way that perhaps wasn’t  understood at the time, I can honestly say, I know I’ve tried hard to make proud, my father, my wife, my children, and my team. It is important to be transparent and the journey of my career will allow those who have followed this blog to come to their conclusion and opinions. I welcome dialog everyday I am in the salon, behind my chair and with industry professionals alike. I look forward to many wonderful years of sharing and growing and I want to thank everyone who has been apart of my career.

Thank you for sharing in my journey.

Warmest regards,

Ian Marc Smith
  There is an old saying, I got my degree from the school of hard knocks, I will say I have mine, and I am still earning credits.