Chemistry Hair Salon: It’s All About Chemistry
by Sara Altizer
Meet Bryan Sullivan and his team at Chemistry Hair Salon in Shreveport, Louisiana. From the humble beginnings of making $13 on his very first paycheck, to feeling like his dream of owning a salon had become his worst nightmare, Bryan is now the owner of one of the country’s top 200 salons. Here is his story.
Bryan has always been bright, but like many of us, he lacked the discipline to truly harness his knowledge. Although he received great grades in high school, when he pursued his passion of fashion merchandising in college, he struggled and eventually dropped out. Unlike a lot of successful salon owners, at first Bryan wasn’t convinced that he belonged in this industry. In fact he initially enrolled in beauty school simply to appease his dad, who required that he attend some sort of schooling. Even though his instructors recognized his talent for doing hair early on and asked him to be an educator, Bryan still viewed doing hair as a way to put himself through “real school.” This all changed when he attended his first hair show and saw the glamorous, avant-garde role that hair plays in the fashion industry.
With no car and no money, he began working at a salon within walking distance of his apartment, begging, borrowing, and bribing his way to as many educational opportunities as possible. This passion and zeal for learning more about the industry lead to a job with an educational company and then to a fourteen-year career as an educator with Matrix, where he worked backstage and on stage all over the country, even at the International Beauty Show in New York City. And, as Matrix was beginning to develop their version of The Redken Exchange, Bryan was also asked to start writing color classes.
At this point Bryan was traveling three weekends a month and working five days behind the chair. He was so afraid to let go of anything, so he did everything, becoming addicted to success at the sacrifice of his personal life. He knew that his life in its current state was not sustainable, and he had to make some changes. When he turned forty, Bryan bought a beautiful building and named it Chemistry Hair Salon, a name that had been on his mind for years and years.
He started accepting booth renters because it was the easiest thing at the moment, considering he knew nothing about managing people nor owning a salon. “It was like my dream was manifesting itself, and yet I was so miserable,” Bryan explained. He still wasn’t able to strike a sense of balance in his personal life in any way.
Despite having such a well-rounded skill base and traveling the world, helping to grow stylists for the majority of his life, nothing had prepared Bryan for the experience of owning a salon.
“Chemistry was a busy salon making no money,” says Bryan. “With nineteen years in the business at that point, I was very busy, but the staff had large gaps in their books. Speaking of the books, we did our booking on Microsoft Outlook on a laptop. Money was managed in a zippered bank bag and retail, what little we sold, was tracked in a receipt book.”
The environment at the salon wasn’t much better. “The culture varied depending on the stylist: laid-back hippie, nervous artist, moody former educator with twelve years experience, and the busy micromanaging owner/stylist who was very distracted with serving guests,” Bryan explains. “As owner/stylist I was working 66+ hours a week to keep the cash flowing. Had the washing machine or AC gone out, I feared I wouldn’t be able to replace them.”
His three main problems were cash flow, inconsistent guest service, and territorial stylists. He struggled to earn the respect of the other stylists, many of whom resented his success. As Bryan explains it, “What had been my dream had become the biggest mistake of my life.”
It was around this time that Bryan happened to have dinner with some of his close friends who were also salon owners. “I was hearing about the support two of the owners were getting from Redken,” Bryan recalls, “and I wanted what they were getting. They kept mentioning Stan from Redken, who was coming to their salons and doing goal setting with their staff. He was linking them with Redken education. One of the owners was even given an all-expenses paid trip to the Redken Exchange. I wanted that kind of support for Chemistry.”
As it happened, Stan Taylor would become a key player in Bryan’s life, encouraging him to attend a weekend Step Up! program. Bryan remembers, “Charlotte Green and Kevin Champagne challenged, frightened, and inspired me that weekend. I realized that many of my challenges were based on limitations I had placed on myself. Kevin and Charlotte kept mentioning The Summit for salon owners, and when SalonCentric and Redken offered $500 off the tuition, I knew it was an opportunity I could not miss out on.”
The Summit Experience
Considering that cash flow was one of Chemistry’s biggest problems, Bryan had his first “Aha” moment early on the first day. “I heard Randy Kunkle say that most salons are understaffed,” Bryan explained. “I had a four-chair salon with four people, so I thought we were full. Randy stated that if we had a chair that was sitting empty for any time on a workday then we were understaffed. This was a huge shift in thinking for me. … This resonated because, although five states away, Randy knew what was happening in my salon. I suddenly saw the potential for growth become a reality. It made me listen to everything else the facilitators had to say.”
Bryan felt inspired, fueled, and determined to turn his salon around and make his dream of success come to life.
That is precisely what he did.
The Summit program helped Bryan improve the overall morale of the salon by leaps and bounds. “My goal in opening Chemistry was to create a healthy, fun, and professional place to work,” says Bryan. “It wasn’t living up to that at first. I was the leader, but I was tired and scared and uncertain. The atmosphere and team were affected by that. Now the salon is a much happier and professional place to work and to receive services.”
With help and support from the Summit Salon Consulting team, Bryan’s leadership abilities and mentoring skills skyrocketed. “My employees now trust me as a leader. They are now free to focus on their careers within a stable environment,” Bryan explains. “When I look at my employees, I see them now… but I feel that I can look into their futures. I see them overcoming their fears and finding courage. I see them honing their skills and creating works they have yet to imagine. I see their lives moving from struggle to security. I know that I can help them reach their professional goals and this will help them reach their personal goals as well. I now have the confidence to lead without the fear that once stifled me. I am now less of a friend they struggle for and more of a boss they want to work with.”
The client experience has also improved. Clients trust that no matter whom they go to on the Chemistry team, they will be in good hands. “One of my biggest challenges was transitioning clients to another stylist,” Bryan admits. “I now look down the row of chairs and see ‘my’ clients in the hands of another stylist and the clients are happy. This means so much to me. It is a true sign of success for a salon. Clients enjoy the structure and they are proud to see us grow and expand and succeed. I talk about business with them as much as hair.”
With the many ways in which Chemistry grew after attending The Summit, it is no surprise that the awards and recognition started rolling in. “Winning top 200 is creating a stir for everyone,” Bryan says proudly. “There is no way to not get excited when your salon is recognized as being among the best.”
On top of all of this professional success, the personal life that Bryan has struggled for so long to carve out for himself has finally materialized. Now that he has an actual office space, he has arranged his schedule to dedicate Monday as an office day and then work behind the chair Tuesday through Friday. He now has Saturdays off! Bryan bubbles with enthusiasm as he describes the feeling of stopping by the salon (just because it’s his day off, don’t expect him to stay away!) during big events and being able to relax, knowing that his staff has everything taken care of. The ability to believe in his team means everything to him.
In 2014, Bryan and his team look forward to making the move to become a Redken Elite salon—especially to the added support that will come with the greatest brand in the industry.
Bryan is grateful to Summit Salon Business Center for Chemistry’s phenomenal growth and success. He explained, “In our first year with SSBC we doubled our service dollars and tripled our retail dollars. Summit paid for itself. Everyone at Chemistry is happier. The service providers, the front desk personnel, and the owner.”
- Total Annual Sales: 312,480.00
- Average Retail/Month: 1,500.00
- Average Services/Month: 21,000.00
One Year after Summit Launch:
- Total Annual Sales: 596,472.00
- Average Retail/Month: 8,012.00
- Average Services/Month: 41,694.00
Two Years after Summit Launch:
- Total Annual Sales: 669,553.00
- Average Retail/Month: 9,418.00
- Average Services/Month: 46,622.00
Chemistry Salon’s Summit Salon Consultant is Deb McMahan.