Before opening a new salon, any potential owner needs to ensure a few essentials, such as first-hand industry experience, a killer business plan, cool premises, sympathetic suppliers, and, if you are lucky, a talented, like-minded team waiting to go. And, of course, the money. Kelley Swing had it all except the money.
“My bank gave me every assurance that the small business loan was on its way, and when I told them I had to sign the lease, they said, ‘Go ahead. It’s all sorted,” says Kelley, owner of Head Case Hair Studio in Keller, Texas, a Rolling Stone Cultural Council member for thought leaders, and author of $ustainable Salons Make Millions. “It never arrived. I had no money of my own or a rich family to help out. I grew up in a trailer park. But I was determined to open that salon.”
Tied into a lease with a team waiting to start, Kelley decided she had no choice. She did what you are not supposed to do: she applied for a load of credit cards and used them to pay for everything.
"Three things happened to me the day I decided to open my own business," explains Kelley, who had 25 years of experience managing corporate salons. "Over the years, I had serious health issues, including chronic sinusitis, autoimmune diseases, and hair loss. It had lessened when I had a short time managing a radiology clinic, so I suspected it was linked to the fumes and chemicals I was exposed to in the salon. I'd found a stylist that used clean products, but that day she announced she was pregnant and would stop working so her baby wouldn't be exposed to fumes from harmful chemicals used by her colleagues in the salon."
The second incident happened a few hours later when she dropped in at the salon she'd managed before relocating. One of the team took her outside and pleaded with her to open her own salon so they could all work for her. Later, while mulling it over in the car, her daughter called to say the salon where she worked was going up for sale.
"I said, I'm not buying that salon, but I am going to open a salon, and it will be an organic, sustainable salon," remembers Kelley. "And I did, even though the credit card bills kept me awake at night."
The salon was busy from day one. "The demand for a sustainable salon was there long before we opened," says Kelley.
The business thrived, proof that going sustainable doesn’t dent profitability. Earlier this year, Head Case Salon was named a Vish Waste Warrior, with the average cost of waste per bowl after service at $0.31.
"Vish has cut salon waste, and so brought down costs, but it also means that every additional bowl or extra service is captured on the system rather than us having to rely on the team remembering to add it to the ticket, which boosts revenue," she says. "If I'd had Vish two years earlier, I would have an extra $100k in the business. I could open a second salon without a credit card in sight."
Ecoheads are installed on the basins to minimize water and energy costs, and Kelley has dumped laundry in favor of disposable, compostable towels. The team uses paper instead of aluminum foils and Natulique, an organic color brand Swing brings in from Denmark. Even though the color line is organic, they are still careful how much they dispense so that unnecessary color isn't being rinsed into the water system.
Covid almost derailed the business, but with a little help from an unlikely source – her ex-husband's new wife – she finally got that elusive small business loan. The salon survived and is now thriving. The team has grown to 22, and all of Swing's illnesses have disappeared. Energetic, healthy, and innovative, she has become a source of knowledge for other owners determined to be more sustainable. In addition to her book, which has the sub-title 'The Right Way to Build Your Profitable, Organic Beauty Business,' she has set up a side hustle in coaching. Swing has become the U.S. distributor for the Danish color line she introduced into her salon, making it easier for others to source sustainable goods and organic color.
Her coaching centers on sustainability, but she doesn't shy away from sharing her experiences, good and bad, and from warning everyone away from using credit cards to launch a business.
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