The team from Hair Anatomy celebrate their win of Salon Today's Total Salon Makeover competition...
The team from Hair Anatomy celebrate their win of Salon Today's Total Salon Makeover competition with a cake.

When Salon Today Editor Stacey Soble contacted Merri Vega, owner of Hair Anatomy @ the Fountains II, Inc., in Lake Worth, Florida, to tell her she had won the Total Salon Makeover competition, Vega almost hung up the phone.

“First I thought it was a prank phone call, then I thought it was a solicitation, until she mentioned the essay that we wrote for the contest application and I remembered filling it out,” Vega says. “Then as it started to sink in that we’d actually won, I couldn’t hear anything she said because I was so shocked. Nobody real ever seems to win those kind of contests, but I had entered after I saw the contest pop up three times – once on my Facebook feed, once on my phone and then in the magazine.”

Now in its third year, the business makeover competition has amassed an exciting prize package valued at more than $30,000 with offerings by five sponsors. In 2016, the winning salon receives a full retail collection, fully stocked backbar, the Color Therapy product portfolio and a comprehensive marketing and education package from Keratin Complex. STX provides a complete salon management system, including hardware and software. Takara Belmont offers a new front desk area or another area of the salon, along with interior design consulting services. Strategies will complete an assessment of the business, and work with Vega and the team to implement changes and coach them to measurable success. And, Mia by SureTint provides a free salon system including an iPad and a color dispensing station plus five months of subscription services.

In reading the competition essays and selecting a winner, the judges looked for a salon business that was in the best position to benefit from the prize package and leverage it to grow their business to the next level. Hair Anatomy is a 30-year-old business that Vega purchased two years ago from her previous employer.

“I had worked in the salon for 18 years, and I knew it wasn't living up to its business potential. Most of the furniture and equipment was original and the some changes were required to turn the salon around and bring it up-to-date," Vega says. “But it was home for me, and the owner came to me and offered me a great opportunity of buying her out over time. So, I purchased it with hopes of turning it into my dream business.”

After the purchase, Vega decluttered the salon, throwing away decades of stuff as well as putting in new floors, a new front desk, window treatments and guest chairs. And, her husband built a storage system for color tubes in the back room. Changing the salon’s systems though has proven to be much harder.

Vega inherited a team of stylists that were being paid commissions of 60 percent or more. The salon’s color system included bits and pieces of five different lines. Hair Anatomy currently carries no retail, and stylists provide their own products they want to use with clients. And, appointments are scheduled in an appointment book. “When a stylist calls in sick, we have to search for a client’s color formula on index cards and twice a year, I literally write my own phone book of client contact information,” Vega says.

But Vega didn’t go into salon ownership with her eyes closed. She started her career by answering phones at the age of 12 in a salon owned by her aunt and uncle, and over the years she studied how they’ve run their business. As a stylist, she has worked in different salons and had always dreamed of opening her own until she was presented with the chance to purchase Hair Anatomy.

Vega realizes that winning the competition can be life-changing and says she’s ready to embrace the change. “We also know it will be a wake-up call,” she says. “But it’s also a chance to expand both emotionally and financially, and that will help us continue to change.”

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