Taking a Salon from Bust to Booming
Sometimes, browsing the internet leads to a good deal and an unexpected purchase, like a new pair of jeans or a big-screen TV.
But for Deanna Van Ness, it led to buying a salon.
Three years ago, Van Ness was living in suburban Chicago with her husband and young daughter working as a part-time stylist and educator for Mario Tricoci.
But that all changed the day Van Ness found herself browsing Biz, Buy, Sell, and found a deal she just couldn’t pass up—a salon for sale. The price of the business was a fraction of what the previous owner had purchased it for two years earlier.
“My husband was laid off at the time, and I saw this salon for sale in Auburn, Alabama—an area we visited family in regularly,” Van Ness says. “I asked him if he wanted to buy it and he was on board. We just knew we were going to do it.
We had our house rented within 30 days and sold all our giant furniture we didn’t want to pay to move across the country.”
Van Ness’s new salon was called Magnolia and had been a mainstay in the community for years. Because of its iconic status, she decided to keep the name, but ditch the bright red and blue paint on the walls.
But there were other redeeming décor qualities she kept.
“It has a really cool industrial black ceiling and a nice, open layout,” she says of the space. “It has potential.”
The six-chair salon needed new equipment and furniture, some of which Van Ness has been able to replace.
But her number-one priority was becoming an Aveda salon again.
The previous owner had carried Aveda, but lost the line when business went downhill. He didn’t have a background in the salon industry and a salon wasn’t the right investment for him.
By the time Van Ness took ownership, the Aveda products and the former staff were long gone. She knew she needed to get her numbers up and prove herself before she could carry Aveda though, so she began her search for quality stylists.
“There was one stylist—Kati—the previous owner said he would hire back, out of all the people who worked there,” Van Ness says. “Kati had reached out to me with her résumé already and was willing to come help me build the salon back up.”
For about a year, Van Ness and Kati used a high-end product line on Kati’s clientele and the new clients the two brought in together. But they knew many of Magnolia’s clients left because the salon no longer carried Aveda. They also knew that they would come back.
After Van Ness and her husband painted the salon and got it ready to re-open, getting clients in the door was no problem due to Magnolia’s solid reputation.
“We just worked and worked,” Van Ness says of that first year. “We were cutting, coloring, handling the front desk, and soon, clients and other stylists began to hear we were
back in business. In fact, some people didn’t even know the salon had been closed since we had it up and running in two weeks.”
After a year, she got her numbers where they needed to be and became an Aveda Concept salon. Then the real work began.
Building a Better Business
As her numbers grew, Van Ness began focusing on building her staff. But she encountered some difficulties recruiting qualified, reliable stylists who were on board with the Aveda structure.
She and Kati endured several stylists who were the wrong fit before focusing their efforts on Aveda Institute graduates.
“Once I became Aveda and was listed on their site as an Aveda Concept salon, I started getting approached by graduates from the institutes in Birmingham and Atlanta,” she says. “I now have four stylists including myself, and they’ve all graduated from Aveda.”
Birmingham is a transient town with students and their families coming and going, which in some ways has benefited Van Ness.
“People come here from all over the country knowing they will get an Aveda-level service,” she says. “It opens up the door for people looking for a higher-quality product and those who are loyal to Aveda. And when people new to town ask what salon they should go to, they’re told ‘Magnolia.’”
In the year before she carried Aveda, Van Ness had another high-end boutique line that was comparable in price.
With that line, she sold about $230 per month in retail. With Aveda, she sells $3,000-$4,000 per month in retail.
“Some parents come to town to visit their kids and just walk in the salon and grab product because they know what they need,” she says. “Then there are clients who want to learn more about it. So our shelves are always full, the products look good, and we do makeup applications and product demonstrations.”
Van Ness has learned a lot in her three years as a business owner, and continues to gain insight with each passing week.
“I’ve been a manager of salons before and saw the owners working in the business,” she says. “But I didn’t realize all the extra stress that comes with being the owner. There are a lot of sleepless nights—you owe people money, people need paychecks, you’re dealing with government agencies.”
But Van Ness’s passion for the business and support from Aveda have helped her succeed and grow a stagnant business.
“I know a lot of creative people who can’t work the business side, but I come from a long line of business owners, and was destined to do this.”
In her first year, Van Ness says she worked 12 hours a day just trying to catch a client.
“Some people aren’t willing to do it—the desire isn’t strong enough,” she says. “They just want to say they own a business, but it’s so much more than that.”