I write this essay to tell the truth. Not spin or some half measured version of the truth that you often hear or read, but simply what is. For those of you who have already had a venture, you will understand profoundly what i am about to write. For those who are curious opening a small business, this can be seen as a hopeful or cautionary tale. For those who have never really reached for anything, who trade in gossip and the misfortune of others, here is a bit of schadenfreude to feed that place inside you where the spark of life should exist.
Most small businesses (500 or less employees) I believe should be qualified in a new category as micro business, because running a business on 10 people is vastly different than 500. Unfortunately, any new micro business is still treated exactly like a much larger company and everyone from the local business guild to the DC lobbyists (and the politicians they own) focus on the larger models. Small businesses are truly the backbone of the American economy… through constant taxation, pillage and plunder by city, state and federal government. If you are anything like me, you’ve created a business because you make a good living at a trade and want more control over your day to day life. It is vastly dissimilar to owning and running a company that a) has loads of employees and b) makes loads of money. We do what we do because we love it, and if we only make enough to cover salaries and overhead, it’s worth it. Where the salon is concerned, I used it as an opportunity to recreate something I really didn’t get right the first time. Crazy right? Yeah. But then i thought i knew enough so I signed a lease only months after my marriage ended when my heart was broken and my mind was gone. Then I had to hold the lease for two years before taking possession (why? SMH). Then I tried to open several businesses at once and struggled mightily. But how could I lose? (insert eye roll here).
The salon opened to a slow and rocky start. I didn’t hire anyone with a book, so not enough money was coming in. That’s when I rushed into giving someone a position in the inner circle. Vesting them straight away because I needed real help. Big mistake. You never really know what you’re going to get with people until about six months in. And that goes both ways. Outsiders really don’t understand who you are and how you operate until some time as passed. I was hoping lightening would strike twice. It rarely, if ever does. My Sarah is truly one in a million. Though we’ve grown together for more than a decade, and I recognize her value on a personal and public level, I really didn’t comprehend the enormity of her ability to guide me until we got into this venture. But me and Sarah are the store. 100%. The salon is something different altogether. What I found at the beginning was some immediate level of commitment by a talented and capable person, but then an internal power struggle devolved into some kind of “real stylists of philadelphia”. Salons (like many creative enterprises) can have cliques, factions, cheerleaders and monsters. The terminally unique personality. Initially, I couldn’t fathom what I had set in motion. Eventually I lost my temper and my perspective. At this point I was no longer capable of clearly seeing what the enterprise needed to thrive. I became disassociated. Tangentially, I asked my former husband to return from Europe to help me accomplish all of this. Between the seismic shifts within our personal dynamic and the fall out from the thermonuclear disfunction of our business partnership, it became clear that something had to give. And it most certainly did. But by then the full on damage was complete. I had launched an amazing space filled with talented people who (mostly but not all) drove me insane. This was the first three years running the salon.
Then came year four... in this last (fourth) year, I achieved the things of intrinsic value i set out to achieve from this experience. The last year has been filled with the most amazing, talented group of people who do amazing work and fill my days with love. Anyone who found unhappiness within our walls already left to find happiness elsewhere. A win win. In this final chapter I have been able to realize my socialist dream of a collective. A cohesive group that made the salon grow exponentially into a real team, who looked after one another’s best interest. We generated our goals, paid the highest commissions in the city, paid our bills and taxes (you’d be amazed at who does not) and added to the street life of Midtown Village aka. the Gayborhood. Today I work with people who truly share a worldview of finding the best in one another. Anyone who has any doubts as to our ability to succeed need only look at the Yelp and Google ratings in the pictures above (screenshot 2019). This team was brilliant.
I told my staff that the salon would have to close. After long discussions about moving the salon to a new location, it became clear that the next few years would still be a struggle. I was trying to manage something that I no longer fully embraced. As it turns out, my rebound relationship after divorce was with a salon and a few of it’s original inhabitants. So it was time to let it go.
My team and I will spend the time left enjoying the last bittersweet moments we get to share as workmates. I am endeavoring to have everyone tucked into a great new working life when it’s over. Great matches for both the stylists as well as the new salons. Philadelphia salon owners should sit up and take notice of my people. They are going to do great things with the right environment, and what salon owner doesn’t want a delightful stylist who generates a hundred thousand dollars in annual revenues?
My workshop will go back to the top of the stairs above the store, where it began so long ago. It will be quieter and simpler and will allow me to participate in my own life more powerfully. I will continue to teach men’s haircutting and to mentor those who request my experience. Once upon a time I thought I would conquer the world. Now I am made most happy by enjoying duross & langel while traveling the world. Paring down my allows me the ability to travel while maintaining the fullness of my life as a maker. I did this. Now it’s time for me to do that. Whatever “that” may be. I may be successful, I may not. Whichever, my prayer for the future is always the same: Lord, give me health and strength and I’ll deal with the rest. I have faith.
Sometimes things don’t turn out quite the way we plan. No matter. Nothing lasts forever, and whatever occurs from this point on has the possibility of being a delightful surprise.