For 26 years, Laura Boton has owned Sine Qua Non Salons, with three locations in Chicago, but her entry into beauty was somewhat accidental. As a classically trained vocalist and musician she enrolled in cosmetology school in 1985 to avoid waitressing while trying to become a rock star. To her surprise, she discovered hairdressing was her passion. Staying true to her vision, her salon's core values are freedom, flexibility and fun—and of course, adds Boton, a great advanced training program.
As part of SALON TODAY’s Profiles in Leadership series, we spent a little one-on-one time with Laura, following the rocker’s journey into beauty.
ST: From where does your entrepreneurial drive come?
Laura: “My entrepreneurial spirit was inherited from my Dad. He owned his own pharmacy and taught me a lot about being fair and generous.”
ST: What’s your strongest leadership quality and how has it helped you in business?
Laura: “Having a strong vision for my company. I have a clear understanding of what my brand is and what is isn’t. Being a visionary has helped me understand that constant change is happening all around me and things that have worked in the past, don’t always work in the future. I have the courage to risk experimentation and foster creativity.”
ST: How would you describe your management style?
Laura: “Empowering others is the foundation of my management style. This collaborative approach has allowed me to have the ability to look into the future and be optimistic while inspiring enthusiasm in my team. I would like to improve my ability to understand and meet the needs of the new younger generations that I employ.”
ST: Through your professional career, what’s the best lesson you’ve learned after making a mistake?
Laura: “My most important lesson was in transparency. I had to learn the hard way what needs to be clear and open for my team to have total trust in my leadership, and what things should remain opaque.”
ST: What ‘Ah-Ha’ moments of clarity have helped you shape the course of your business?
Laura: “In the first five years, I had a small six-chair salon location. The first Ah-Ha moment happened when I really understood that I did not have a strong culture. I began to see that in order to grow, I needed to seek out salon business education. I was an artist, not a business woman, and now I needed to become something new—a leader—if I wanted to make this my life’s work.”
ST: From whom or what do you draw your strength, courage and vision?
Laura: “For vision, I have always aligned myself with great product companies with inspiring leaders. From the early days of Bumble and Bumble to Oribe, Daniel Kaner has been a big influence. He has such integrity and understanding of leadership and he inspired me to be a better person. For strength and courage, my husband and management team provide me with so much love and support. The foundation and their belief in everything I have built gives me the strength to be courageous and fearless.”
ST: As you’ve built your career, who has been your biggest mentor and what have they taught you?
Laura: “I once approached Howard McLaren during his Bumble days and said I want to open a Bumble and Bumble school in Chicago. He immediately mentored me and helped me take the steps to do that. That was so incredible and something that I will never forget. He also taught me how to do photo shoots, and how to build a creative team. It is the highlight of my career as a hairdresser.”
ST: How do you set goals for yourself?
Laura: “I rely on intuition a lot. I prefer hairy audacious goals and I do a lot of soul searching. If I think the time is right, I jump in and don’t look back! Accountability is something I struggle with. My husband definitely holds me accountable. I tend to fly by the seat of my pants, and that is definitely a weakness.”
ST: In your opinion, what is the single biggest threat that beauty businesses like yours face?
Laura: “I see profitability as the biggest challenge for commissioned, employee-based salons. The cost of doing business and being an employer is rising at a much faster rate than our prices. We are trying to fight price suppression, and control our budgets as much as we can to stay healthy.
ST: What’s the biggest opportunity for beauty businesses like yours?
Laura: “New hairdressers want training. Offer great education and a culture they can believe in and you will always have new talent.”
ST: If you weren’t in the beauty business, what would you be doing?
Laura: “I would be a working musician—a rock star would be nice!”
ST: If you were training someone to take over your job, what is the most important advice you could offer them?
Laura: “Be kind. Seek first to understand, then be understood.”
ST: If you were to look at a scrapbook of your professional career, what would be your favorite page, and which page would you remove?
Laura: “My favorite page would be the great celebrations we have had over the years. Our 15th anniversary boat cruise stands out as one of the best. I would remove the times I overreacted of took things personally that are just part of the job. Too many to mention!”
ST: How would you like to spend your retirement?
Laura: “From December to March, I’d travel to warm climates. I’d spend the Spring and Fall in the Wasatch mountains of Salt Lake City, and it’s Chicago for summers—always!”
ST: Describe your target client and your ideal team member.
Laura: “My target client is 20-60 and looking for exceptional, easy-to-wear hair in a warm and artistic salon. My ideal team member is humble, a self-starter and who is willing to work hard and is hungry to absorb everything we have to share.”
ST: Whom do you lean on for advice?
Laura: “My husband. He is a psychologist and helps me a lot with HR. My operations director and lead educators help me shape the future of my brand.”
ST: Describe your company’s culture.
Laura: “Our culture is modern and customized to each individual’s needs. We personalize our leadership as well as our service. We are laid back AND professional. Our team is filled with integrity, positivity and love for the industry. We constantly seek our education so we are always on top of the game, and have connection with every member of the team on a regular basis.”
ST: What makes your beauty business unique?
Laura: “Outstanding modern customized service in chic and comfortable spaces.”
ST: What business project are you working on now?
Laura: “I’m making sure every member of my team is happy and doing great work. My next step is to learn how to license my brand, business model and systems.”
ST: If someone were to write a book about your life, what would be an appropriate title?
Laura: “Rebel Leadership. I somehow managed to create a successful brand for 26 years, while being a total rebel and resisting all expectations.”
ST: How do you like to spend your time away from your business?
Laura: “Singing, songwriting, performing, snowboarding, reading, hiking and relaxing. A lot of time with friends and people I love and walking my mini dachshund Louise.”
ST: Tell us something about yourself that would surprise most people you know in professional beauty?
Laura: “I studied classical music at De Paul School of Music.”
ST: What do you hope is your legacy?
Laura: “I hope our brand is known for being a great place to work in the Chicago beauty biz, and providing exceptional modern service for the everyday Chicagoan. I would love for the brand to carry on, through the spaces I have built and with the licensing the brand to the employees to carry it into the future.”
ST: Why did you want to join Intercoiffure Canada America?
Laura: “Education. Connection. I am shy and not a great networker. I saw Intercoiffure as an avenue to challenge me to work on that. I also think we need an organization that supports the independent salon owner. We need to come together and support each other and keep our business models thriving to offer a better alternative to booth rental.”
ST: What has been the biggest benefit of your Intercoiffure membership?
Laura: “Networking, the sharing of information and connection.”
For more information about Intercoiffure Canada America and becoming a member, visit Intercoiffure.com.
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