Like many children of salon owners, Lia Knudtson grew up surrounded by beauty and hard work. Licensed at age 16, Knudtson joined a staff at her parents’ salon in suburban Chicago that already felt like an extended family. For the three decades that followed, Knudtson’s life, both professionally and personally, was pretty calm, predictable, formulaic. Until one day it wasn’t.
The salon was all Knudtson’s parents had ever known. Her mother launched the business while still single, and when the couple married her new husband went to beauty school. While his wife led the team, Knudtson’s dad handled the business end.
The Day It All Changed
But as the owners reached their late 70s, a crisis was brewing. You can live that long and still be stunned at something new, as Knudtson’s dad was when the pandemic forced him to close his salon for two months. Just as he was ready to reopen in this new, strange world shaped by a frightening virus, his wife needed triple bypass surgery.
“My father already felt that he was losing control of his business, and now he couldn’t even help his wife,” Knudtson recalls. “Dad couldn’t handle the pressure. He had a nervous breakdown in the salon while we were working. Everything that could be thrown was out in the street. So was my life.”
With an entire salon team suddenly at loose ends, Knudtson felt she had to choose where to focus her time and energy—into either helping her parents or saving her work family. She just couldn’t let down the staff.
Moving Forward One Step at a Time
Knudtson knew that a nearby salon was empty due to its own misfortune: a walkout. She called the landlord.
“Would you like the salon filled?” she asked.
“When?” the landlord inquired.
“In 10 minutes,” Knudtson spit out.
She turned to her team, tears in all of their eyes. She’d never thought of herself as their leader, just as part of the team.
“I can’t be your boss,” she said to them. “What if I fail?”
One stylist who was not only work family but also Knudtson’s sister-in-law verbalized what everyone was thinking: “We will do this together, as we do everything. How can you fail if we are all together?”
Alia Rose is Born
Competence and compassion. This was the culture that Knudtson and her parents built, and now it was paying off. She’d always told the team, “I train you so you can leave me. I treat you so that you never do.”
The entire team walked together into the new salon business that Knudtson put her own stamp on by giving it her full name: Alia Rose Salon. Overnight, everything was different, but at the same time very little changed. Not only was the whole staff on hand, but so was the clientele. Just about every single client showed up, and word was already spreading.
“We saw 300 people that first week,” Knudtson, now 50, remembers. “I had only what was in my pocket and the product my dad donated from his leftover inventory. I still don’t own a credit card! We relied on Facebook and Instagram, and our clients all came. They came with their support—for us, for me, for themselves.”
Determined to continue working behind the chair as the owner, Knudtson hired a lifelong friend to fill the new post of salon director. By day 21 Knudtson had so much confidence in the salon’s future that she applied for a loan to buy the building.
And Then a Giant Leap
Clientele numbers quickly multiplied. Her husband had always told Knudtson that she had that kind of magnetism, and now she was watching her business outgrow its space. She had her eye on a 4,200-square-foot facility in Westmont, Illinois, so, with her husband’s enthusiastic support to create the salon of her dreams, she went for it, building a salon from scratch in just four weeks.
Again, she was surrounded by support. The staff shopped together, posted on social media and all helped with a vision of reestablishing the family atmosphere but in an updated, happy, shiny salon.
“My salon director and I picked out sparkly white brick, and when the sun hits the sign it shimmers,” Knudtson says. “We used all local people for things like lights and granite. Our community tells us, ‘You brought light to this town.’”
Pandemic considerations are built into the structure and routine. Stations are six feet apart, ceilings are 15 feet high, and two separate waiting areas provide additional spaciousness. Everyone on staff is Barbicide-certified, and signs throughout the salon say either “Needs sanitizing” or “Sanitized” to let staff and clients alike know the status.
Whereas in her parents’ salon Knudtson showed respect and did things their way, now she could make changes. For the first time, she had a computerized salon. She added a boutique that, like the salon, immediately took off. She hired two new stylists, bringing the total to 12 chairs.
Calm After the Storm
“We took everything to the next level,” Knudtson says. “But now that I’m the owner I also understand my parents’ point of view. My dad used to say, ‘Don’t waste color,’ and now I really get that!”
People feel safe coming into the salon, which continues to attract 20-40 new clients each week. Knudtson’s parents are both doing well with their health. Chaos is gone, and order has returned. Knudtson says it’s all because the team stayed together.
“We’re still the team we always were,” she notes. “The only difference is that I own the salon.”
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