Salon Owners Share the Mistakes That Taught Them the Most

Written by SalonCentric TeamSep 5, 2019

Read time 5 min

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Nichelle Neff and Amy Carter

If you’ve never messed up as a salon owner or solo artist, you’re probably one in a trillion. Everyone makes mistakes along the way. The main thing is what you do with those mistakes. Do you learn from them or continue to repeat them? "My business history is a road paved with the mistakes that turned into lessons,” says Karie Bennett, co-owner with Rob Willis of Atelier Salons in San Jose, CA. “Mistakes are our greatest teachers.” Here, nine salon owners share some of their biggest mistakes and the biggest lessons they provided.

“My partner, David Kafer, led the creative side of our business while I handled all of the business and administration. I never delegated, which caused our team to think if I wasn’t around, things were amiss. But I needed to step away from time to time to focus on future initiatives and recharge our brand. My advice to others is to enable delegation and team ownership from the start so you can take the time you need for yourself. We no longer own the salon, but I learned in entrepreneurship, self-preservation is key, and you need a work family that encourages you and has your back.” —Jason Hall, owner for 16 years of RED 7 Salon, Chicago

“We had a fire that took out the entire second floor on our salon renovation. After the fire we discovered our business manager hadn’t increased our insurance to cover the expansion. The lesson? Review and update your insurance on an annual basis.” —Coral Pleas, Cutting Loose Salons, University Park, FL

“When originally structuring the price list of services for my salon, I offered package deals and all sorts of special discounts. I thought this was the best way to attract new business. But after struggling to make ends meet, I ran a report and discovered we gave away $50,000 in one year! With the help of a business coach, we restructured our pricing, switching to an a la carte menu with a limited number of discounts. The next year, our revenue increased 30 percent.” —Chelle Neff, Urban Betty, Austin, TX


“We had an amazingly talented stylist--well rounded in cut, color, updos, makeup—but this person was a very difficult employee. They brought their personal life into the salon, they were very unreliable and had a lot of growing up to do. Although it broke our hearts, we finally made the decision to terminate the individual. At that point our team asked, ‘What took you so long?’ We learned everyone has to figure out their own lives and it’s our job as leaders to help them find the right path.”—Karie Bennett Rob Willis, Atelier Salons, San Jose, CA

“I purchased a salon in an area that was about 90 percent booth rental. Although I had previously owned two commissioned salons, I went against my better judgement and established a booth rental system in the new salon. At the time, very few people had cell phones, hence all incoming appointment requests came to one phone in the salon. Plus booth renters keep their own schedules, regardless of what clients want. I quickly found myself opening and closing and staying all day and answering the phones for the entire salon while taking care of my own clients. It was not my cup of tea and I informed my renters I would be changing to a commission format. I learned while there is nothing wrong with booth rental, it was my experience that many renters choose that option for flexibility of schedule, but while they are getting what they want, the clients are not. And it reinforced what I already knew--if you don’t take care of your clients, someone else will.” —Pat Helmandollar, Savvy Salon and Day Spa, Cornelius, NC

“In the summer of 2017, we received a letter from a lawyer stating we were being sued for missed breaks and lunches as well as some additional obscure violations by a disgruntled ex-employee. She had discovered she could sue us for labor law violations. I discovered 93% of all businesses in California are out of compliance with labor laws and sadly we were no exception. If we knew and understood California labor law, we would have been fine, but we didn’t have a clue and it ended up being our undoing. Our former employee got six more former employees to join the lawsuit. At times, staff did miss their paid breaks and lunch breaks and because of that, they had the right to sue us for damages. We dealt with the case for almost 18 months, but in the end, we decided to close our salon. If we were to open another salon, we understand it would be an absolute necessity to hire a human resources consultant and understand our state’s labor laws.” —Paul Luebbers, Integrity Lash, Pasadena, CA


“We are super focused on development, coaching, and training. We try to see and focus on the potential in everyone. And because recruiting, training and developing team members is very time consuming and costly, it’s really tempting to hang on and hope that with enough encouragement or tough love, things will improve. But I have learned when the fit isn’t right, it’s not right. It shows up early in the relationship-building process. Now I believe when that happens it’s best to help the team member find a better fit. That’s a real win/win.”—Virginia Meyer, Fourteenjay, New York, NY

“When I expanded my business to include med-spa services, I focused on creating a new business, new brand, new name and new identity. I hired an agency and spent thousands to realize my INTERLOCKS logo and identity were ideal. I now believe in loving yourself and self-acceptance. I think many business owners don’t love and embrace who they are and are too quick to rebrand or change focus, when really all they need to do is own it!” —Ginny Eramo, Interlocks, Newburyport, MA

When I bought my salon, I discovered it was debt-ridden and bound for failure. So my new business partner and I hired a salon training company to help us set the business to rights. While they showed us how we could improve, my partner emptied our cash drawer and skipped town, leaving me to face our employees with the dire news that there was no payroll. I was humiliated and devastated, but I didn’t quit. My partner’s departure was the opportunity I needed to start fresh. New name, new location, new attitude. I closed the salon and focused on building a business model that would work. From day one the new salon was geared to profit and it wasn’t long before we were in the black. Within seven years we were financially free: no debts, no creditors, only profit. Without the catastrophic failure of that first salon and without the help of my consultants, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I wouldn’t have learned what it takes to succeed, how it feels to come up from nothing. I wouldn’t be able to say I’m proud of the business I own. I want everyone to know: if I can take a bankrupt business to profitability as a non-technician owner, if I can understand the formulas that make my business hum, anyone can.” —Amy Carter, Solaris Aveda Salon and Spa, Evansville, IN