Mary Rose Cannistraro has been a hairdresser for more than 40 years, naking countless clients happy over the decades with her technical and people skills.
So when she and her husband left their life in Massachusetts to move to Florida 12 years ago, she immediately found a new salon to work for. “I could go to work and do my thing—I loved it,” she says. But her experience and skills were quickly apparent, and the salon’s owner, who was not a hairdresser, made her a manager. Cannistraro enjoyed her new role in the salon and continued to work behind the chair with her new responsibilities.
But the salon owner wasn’t the only one who saw Cannistraro’s potential. “The builder of a strip mall in the golf community we live in came to my husband and I and told us he thought a spa would be a perfect fit in the mall, and wanted me to open it,” she says.
Cannistraro, who had never owned a salon, decided to go for it. Seven years ago, she opened On the Green Salon and Day Spa in Saint Marys, Georgia.
From Stylist to Owner
At first, Cannistraro carried a variety of products, but about six months after opening, a trade magazine wrote an article about On the Green and everything Cannistraro was doing to keep it an environmentally friendly business.
The folks at Aveda saw the article and contacted Cannistraro about becoming an Aveda Concept salon. She readily agreed, and soon after, decided to enlarge her spa.
“We had an empty space next door, so we not only enlarged the spa, we also opened a café in front,” she says.
The café, which features Sicilian recipes straight from Cannistraro’s own Italian family, also is in line with the organic philosophy the salon and spa follow.
When On the Green Salon and Spa expanded, they added an Italian cafe in front, which maintains its own booming following.
“We use all fresh, organic ingredients and even buy organic Sicilian wines,” she says. “We have imported Italian cold cuts and a local bakery follows the recipe I gave them for bread and bakes it fresh for us a few times a week.”
The salon and café are located near a military base, which keeps business booming—Cannistraro, who started her business with five employees, now has 28.
With so many team members needing her attention, she realized working six days a week as a stylist in the business was no longer feasible for her if she wanted to continue grow.
“At Aveda Business College, they would always say you can’t work in the business if you’re going to run it,” Cannistraro says. “So I started cutting back—first to five days, then four, and finally I’m down to two.”
She delegated customers to trusted stylists, and soon found herself with more freedom to work on her business instead of in it.
“My husband and I were also able to go to Sicily for a month,” she says. “My daughter works in the salon and my son runs the café, but I needed to have other trusted employees,” she added.
Now that Cannistraro is more focused on her owner role, she feels the salon is more organized and she has a better grasp on her numbers and inventory.
“I used to have multiple people placing product orders and it would be crazy,” she says. “Now I do all of that. I’m less afraid of the numbers part of the business and see a big difference now that I have more time to spend with my staff.”
Cannistraro has lunch at the café with staff members and interacts with them one-on-one regularly to coach and advise them on continuing education.
“It’s better this way. Before I was too busy with my clients to have these kind of interactions regularly.”
Last year, On the Green’s numbers were up after Cannistraro switched her software, added more services like microblading, and put Aveda’s Pure Privilege program in place.
“I’m concentrating on coaching my team on how to sell retail and am also focused on hiring more people who know our programs,” she says.
But the area Cannistraro has been able to really improve upon since cutting back on her hours as a stylist is marketing.
“I’ve been doing a lot with the Chamber of Commerce,” she says. “I speak at lunch-and-learn events and have been able to be more visible in the community.”
Cannistraro has also emceed local events and had her team participate in fashion shows at the golf course where the salon is located.
And recently, she tried a new marketing tactic that worked so well, Cannistraro is planning on making it a monthly event.
“One evening we invited some of our best customers to come in for make-up tips,” she says. “I organized the whole event with door prizes, appetizers and wine for the two hours. The customers loved learning new tricks and the salon sold more than $1,000 in make-up.”
For future events, Cannistraro is planning hair-focused themes her stylists can get involved in like quick tips for easy styles and blow dry techniques.
All of this marketing and planning is possible now that she’s not working as a stylist every day, and Cannistraro says the key to her success was cutting back gradually.
“Clients didn’t mind because it was gradual, and I like having control over all aspects of the business,” she says. “About four years ago I had a manager I really trusted and let her handle almost everything. Then my accountant found she stole $20,000. That’s when I decided I needed more control, and it has been good for business.”