2013 Enterprising Women: Eva Scrivo
Owner, Eva Scrivo Salons in New York, author and television and radio personality
Eva Scrivo has built a business, as well as a media persona, on the foundation of beauty. A highly acclaimed hair and makeup artist, she is the owner of two New York City-based Eva Scrivo Salons, the author of Eva Scrivo on Beauty: The Tools, Techniques and Insider Knowledge Every Woman Needs to Be Her Most Beautiful, Confident Self, and a television and radio personality. For several years, she was the resident beauty expert on NBC’s Martha,and is a frequent guest on The Dr. Oz show, Extra, Katie Couric Show, CBS Early Show, Good Morning America, Good Day New York and Lifetime’s Balancing Act. Having worked with thousands of women, Scrivo is especially known for the masterful makeover, which draws clients from around the country.
From where does your entrepreneurial drive originate?
From having to be self-reliant since childhood. My parents divorced when I was quite young, which made me very independent. Because I grew up in the Midwest and came from humble beginnings, I somehow inherently knew that life had the potential to be more beautiful. Professionally, I have been working on my own since moving to NYC at age 21. I’ve always had very high standards, along with a strong sense of how things should be done and how clients should be treated and made to feel. The only way I could make that work is by doing it on my own, even if it meant starting a salon out of my fourth-floor walk-up, one-bedroom apartment (my first business venture!). The bar in the industry was so low at that time (and we still have a long way to go) that I still felt my clients were getting a superior experience.
When I met my husband, we both realized that one of the attributes we shared was an entrepreneurial spirit, and that together we could really make things happen! I truly believe that it is only through great partnerships that you can achieve greatness.
As you grew your company/brand, what “ah-ha” moments of clarity helped you shape its future course?
When my husband and I first went into business together and opened a fairly large salon (previously I had been working on my own with my sister and an assistant out of a three-chair salon), we really didn’t understand how to build this type of business. We began hiring random hairdressers we thought would be a good fit, and boy were we wrong! Within about a year and a half our business was in absolute turmoil and we realized we had to fire nearly everyone and start over. So that’s what we did, taking a big financial hit in the process. This was a very difficult way to learn that the only way to build a culture and a sustainable business in this industry is to train your own people rather than hire established stylists. Today, nearly every stylist and colorist who works at our salons started out with us as an assistant.
As you shaped your company, what have been some of the biggest stumbling blocks?
In addition to having to fire everyone and start over after a year and a half into our business, here are a few of many:
In 2008 there was a fire on the roof of the townhouse that housed our first salon. Although we were on the ground floor, there was so much damage from the water used to put out the fire that we decided to close that salon completely and relocate to a larger space. The fire occurred on a busy Friday afternoon and our whole building was evacuated. We had just opened our 50 Bond Street salon across town, and all of a sudden one cab after another started to pull up in front of it, and clients began pouring in with color in their hair, followed by their harried colorists, all making a B-line for the shampoo sinks!
Other stumbling blocks included being unable to get financing from banks at different times when we really needed it, bad hires and promotional decisions, and not fully understanding upfront the expenses associated with operating a salon. We didn’t realize all the various taxes, such as payroll, real estate, and corporate, along with water, all sorts of insurance, constantly fixing and replacing equipment, and never-ending repairs and maintenance on a commercial space … the list goes on and on.
How would you describe your management style? What do you think makes you a good leader, and in what areas would you to improve?
I believe in leading by example. I’m very hard on myself, so I tend to go above and beyond what I may be expected to do as an owner. I’m often the first one in the salon and one of the last to leave, working on three to five clients simultaneously throughout the day while overseeing the salon flow, quality control, and helping my staff with color formulas and any other issues they may have. I don’t manage by e-mail or from an office. I’m in the trenches, working side-by-side with my team, which is also where I am the happiest.
I feel that an area where I can improve is that I’m much harder on myself than I am on my staff. My nature is to be nurturing, which can be a problem if people feel too lax or casual at work. Management is truly a career-long learning experience and I get better at it every day.
How do you set goals for yourself? For example, do you prefer more small, accomplishable goals or fewer large goals? How do you hold yourself accountable?
I have monthly goals for myself and for the business as a whole. I find that in order to achieve them, I need daily goals and even hourly ones, since consistency and stamina are two very important factors for success in our profession.
As for accountability—how can I not be accountable? When your name is on the door, you take the glory but also all of the blame when something goes wrong.
Throughout your professional history, what’s the best lesson you’ve learned after making a mistake?
Not to plan your business on a best-case scenario. It’s not a question of WHAT IF things go wrong, but WHEN things go wrong, because they will. You need to ask yourself, “How will I weather the storm?” and be prepared.
From whom or what do you draw your strength, courage, vision?
My husband, Arik. His creative sensitivity, dashing good looks, as well as his MBA and business experience, make me feel safe and inspired to continue building our business in good times and bad. From myself I get my drive and determination to succeed and to never compromise on my beliefs.
I also get it from books—Jim Collins, Sheryl Sandberg, Oprah. Also, reading interviews with CEOs about how they run their companies.
On TV I like A&E and CNBC biographies on those who have built a business legacy. They are a great reminder of how much perseverance it takes and that no business was ever built smoothly. Many have overcome not just setbacks, but even catastrophes.
As you grew your company, what, if anything, has held you back?
Being bogged down with salon operations and often unable to focus on growth and the bigger picture, as well as some of my own personality traits that I’ve had to work hard on to overcome. Owning a business brings to the surface all of one’s personal fears and inner challenges.
What is the number-one quality you look for when hiring employees, and how do you evaluate if they possess that trait?
The most important thing I evaluate when hiring is whether someone will be a good fit for our company. Over the past ten years, we have taken great pains to build the right team and culture. If someone’s personality or attitude goes against the grain, they stick out like a sore thumb and often become disruptive. Along those lines, the personal traits I look for are vulnerability, humility, an openness and desire to learn, as well as a strong work ethic. Overall manners and social graces are also important since we work with the public.
There are things I can teach and things I can’t, so what I focus on in prospective hires is the latter. I can teach them the technical craft and business building skills, but I can’t change their personality or their work ethic. A willingness to be a good student will eventually lead one to be a great stylist. During the interview process I can usually tell if someone possesses these qualities, and if not (since some are very skilled at interviewing), these challenges usually comes out during the initial 90-day probationary period.
What’s the best thing an employee/colleague ever said about you?
A young colorist recently said to me that she cared more what I thought of her boyfriend than what her own parents think, and that if I liked him it would be the true test whether he was a “good one.” It made me feel appreciated beyond my role as employer and mentor. The one benefit of crossing professional boundaries is that you grow to love certain people and they love you back.
If you were training another woman to take over your job, what’s the most important advice you would offer her?
Think like a man – make decisions with your head and not just with your heart. At work you’re nobody’s “mommy” and if you put yourself in that role, everyone will start to act like a baby.
If you were to look at scrapbook of your professional career, what would be your favorite page? Which page would you like to remove?
My favorite page would be the day my book, Eva Scrivo on Beauty, was published. My page to remove would be signing the lease for a Meatpacking District salon space that we completely built out and had to close six months later during the depth of the 2009 recession. Over the next five years we had to pay off a large construction loan for a space that did not exist in our world. These were some of my darkest days and I prayed that I would make it through to the other side. It made me value my health and people that I love more than ever.
If someone were to write a book about your life, what would be an appropriate title?
I wish I could say! We actually have a title for such a book but my publisher does not want us to disclose it at this time.
If you weren’t in the beauty industry, what would you be doing?
I would pursue acting. I attended theater school throughout my childhood and actually got the lead on several occasions. I feel I would have a lot of personal experience to pull from. Maybe one day.
What are you working on now? What’s your next professional step?
We have a few irons in the fire now, but unfortunately can't discuss them at this time. What I can say is I love working on clients and honing my craft. I’m thrilled with the success of my team of stylists and we recently opened a second salon location on Madison Ave and 72nd Street. I have a lot on my plate but I’m ready for the next challenge!
How would you like to spend your retirement?
I would like to spend more time at our home in Katonah, NY, and travel, as well as work on a novel about my life.