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Tonya Jones Grows Her Business Through Community Grassroots Efforts

Laurel Nelson | November 1, 2018 | 6:15 AM

When Tonya Jones recently encountered a server who was having a bad day, she struck up a conversation to find out more about her.

“I asked where she was from and what brought her to Birmingham, (Alabama),” Jones says. “I also asked who does her hair and told her I’d bring her a goody bag of products from Tonya Jones SalonSpa.”

Fast forward a few weeks. A sales rep for Tito’s vodka was at an event in Birmingham, chatting with a couple of stylists, when Jones introduced herself to him.

“You’re THE Tonya Jones,” he said. He then told Jones how inspiring he found her, and how his friend (the server) remembers the day Jones came into her restaurant and took an interest in her.

“I truly believe you can make a difference in somebody’s day just by talking to them,” Jones says.

She believes her stylists can, too, which is why Jones practices what she preaches.

A Local Phenom

For the past nine years, Jones has owned at least one (she’s now up to four) Tonya Jones SalonSpas in the Birmingham, Alabama, area. A big part of her strategy in growing her business has been her community involvement, which also is a personal passion.

Jones currently sits on three different boards: The Women’s Fund of Greater Birmingham, Smile a Mile and the Chamber of Commerce.

The Women’s Fund, a board of women CEOs, directors and owners, started 20 years ago with 20 women who each donated $20,0000 to help women move out of poverty. Jones collaborates with board members to see how they can get underprivileged women into a vocational or secondary school so they can earn a higher income.

“I came from a small town and witnessed poverty in my community, so the work I do on this board means a lot to me,” Jones says. “Women are not always treated fairly in salary, and it takes a lot of money to be single and have a child. They can’t afford to miss work,” she says.

In guiding these women, Jones also has found a way to give the beauty industry more credence.

“Being a stylist is often considered a low-income job,” she says. “I want to be a voice for the industry and let them know you can be a six-figure female through hairdressing.”

Rather than providing services, the funds the board raises go to develop programs in trade schools or organizations.  

 Her involvement in Smile a Mile, an organization that provides therapy and camp sessions for children with cancer, stems from a different place—her clients.

“I had a couple of clients whose children were affected by cancer, and seeing their frustration with not having a place to send their kids motivated me.”

In addition to getting grants and raising funds to build a $1.5 million facility in downtown Birmingham last year for children getting treatment (Jones was VP on that board), Smile a Mile also holds Camp Smile a Mile every summer.

“I take my team to camp twice a summer to provide makeup, hair and nails,” Jones says. “The girls love it—you feel better when you look better. And it recharges me every summer.”

Currently, Jones also serves as the VP of her local Chamber of Commerce and will be president next year.

“As a business owner, you have to LOVE your city and the people in it, and want to see it prosper,” she says. “As VP of the Chamber of Commerce, once a month I sit with other business owners who have the same goal and vision as I do. I’ve learned so much from being in this room of wisdom that has helped me in my own business to be a better leader and entrepreneur.”

As a result, Jones says she leads her own team differently.

“I help them understand what it means to be involved in their city and community and how we have to be at the forefront to drive our business.”

Widening her Reach

Serving on local boards is energizing and fulfilling for Jones, but it also serves another purpose.

“All of the boards I serve on have different events they host throughout the year,” she says. “I get a table at galas and bring my staff so I can introduce them to the people on the board and people who are supporting causes in our community.”

Tables at these events are often pricey, so an invitation drums up excitement among her staff.

For example, The Women’s Fund hosts a “Smart Party” every year where they raise $10,000 for 10 different smart women in the city.

“I encourage the staff to come meet these women—they are their next clients!” Jones says.

To create even more opportunity for her salons and other local businesses to interact with the community, Jones created “Jazz with Civitas.”

“Twice a year, a jazz band plays in the streets of the village,” she says. “It brings crowds of people who walk around and shop,” Jones explains. “Having the team be a part of this is great—they meet people, pass out cards and get customers in their chairs.” 

Encouraging her staff to engage with the community is a big part of how Jones runs her business. She regularly buys tickets to events like beer tastings, wine festivals and minor league baseball games to give to her staff.

“These tickets can run from $70-$120,” she says. “By attending, my stylists are able to meet the kind of clients they want if they want to become six-figure hairdressers,” Jones says. “You have to get involved for the right reasons though—it must do something for your soul. Giving back is part of my mission, and I think about the guest and the community from a place of purpose.”

Coaching the Team

Generally, Tonya Jones SalonSpa stylists are thrilled with a ticket to a local wine tasting or a seat at the table of a fancy gala. But occasionally, Jones says she has to challenge her staff to get out of their comfort zones.

“I have some stylists who have never gone to an event, and they are hesitant,” she says. “I go with them to show and teach them until it becomes second nature.”

Recently, a stylist from her protégé program confided in Jones that she was afraid she couldn’t grow her clientele because her friends and family wouldn’t want to drive an hour to come see her.

“I told her she needed to build a business in the community she was in,” Jones says. “She is beautiful, talented and mature, and she needed to start attending local events. Or even just go to a bar and introduce herself—pass her cards around.”

The next week, much to the stylist’s surprise, Jones took her to dinner to encourage her to take the next step.

“Going to events isn’t something I force them to do,” she says. “But I do bring them with me to events to encourage them, and it really helps. Just by engaging in that realm, they are motivated.”

Jones likens it to teaching stylists how to do a consultation. She role-plays handing out business cards to get them comfortable with it.

“I teach them that it’s all about the engagement with people,” she says. “The people you introduce yourself to have no idea if you can cut hair or not, but if you have a personality and a way of carrying yourself that attracts people, you can build your business.” 

The Future of Grassroots

When Jones moved to Birmingham 15 years ago, not knowing anyone, her goal was to be successful, and she knew what she had to do to achieve that success.

“You have to have some grassroots and grit,” she says.

She also believes in the power of mentors: “I always reach out for wisdom,” she says. “I have a few key mentors and coaches I rely on to ask questions and get advice from.”

Recently Jones’ mentors advised her to find key people for her leadership team—advice she took to heart.

“I need to find people who will go to bat for the salon and uphold my business standards,” she says.

Jones acknowledges that being a strong female leader can be tough but says she’s humbled by all she has achieved and motivated to keep expanding her influence and making the world a better place through her work in the community.

“You get so much out of it,” she says. “It’s fun, and it’s a talking point with guests. It’s seen and be seen, and you build more clients on your book because you were there.”

Recently, Jones has discovered another way to make her stylists more visible in the community with Aveda’s “Know What You’re Made Of” campaign.

“We have a photographer who’s going to do a short film of a few of our stylists saying why they love what they do and why they love working for Tonya Jones SalonSpa,” she says. “We’ll showcase it on social media, and they can share it on their personal pages, too. It’s so empowering.”

The videos and photos also will show potential new team members what it’s like to be a Tonya Jones stylist.

“It can be daunting,” Jones says. “I’ve been told students don’t want to work for us because they are intimidated, so I need to get my story out there.”

Jones’ goal is to surround herself with people who will make her better and ultimately better the whole community.

“I tell my people to break it down into small steps. Small steps equal small wins,” Jones says. “And then in a year or two you’ve accomplished a lot you didn’t think you could.”

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