Redken Educator to Salon Owner: Balancing Technical Skill with Business Knowledge
Profile by Sara Altizer
Chris Galeo was inspired to open Stiletto Salon after traveling around the country. As a Redken Educator, Chris had the opportunity to visit and experience many different salons and environments. She had also worked for other salons in Albany, NY throughout her career and had seen a lot of salon practices that were not working. “I felt that most salons I worked at didn’t offer much growth, systems, or structure, nor did they care about my input,” Chris explains. “I felt stuck and wanted more. I come from a huge education background, and that is what I wanted to base my salon around. I wanted my salon to be education focused.”
Working with Redken fulfilled Chris’s beauty school dream of being a platform artist. She trained with the best of the best and in turn shared that knowledge with young stylists in hopes of improving their technical abilities behind the chair. “When I opened Stiletto Salon, I was still continuing to travel with Redken,” Chris says. “I had to make a choice to resign from Redken because I just couldn’t do both. Although I loved teaching and traveling and the people I met, I also had to start making a living for myself.”
“As a talented colorist and designer, I believed in my ability to grow a business,” Chris says. “But I quickly discovered that growing a business is challenging, especially growing my staff. People would start ‘assisting’ me and then leave for another opportunity. I became very frustrated because I could not figure out what exactly I was doing wrong. For lack of a better word, our culture and atmosphere was a ‘revolving door.’”
In addition to this, Chris did not have the cash flow to invest in any management programs. She was living literally paycheck-to-paycheck with no safety net. “I honestly thought that I knew everything and that I could do it better than my previous boss,” Chris explains. “It is a whole different story when you are in that role. I felt out of control. I was not a leader. I was very quick to react to situations that arose, very impulsive, and I was a control freak. My employees at the time felt I was unapproachable and intimidating. Like it was my way or no way… and to a certain extent they were right.”
The four biggest problems Stiletto Salon faced were:
- Recruiting staff
- Retail sales
- Not profitable nail area
Through Chris’s adventures with Redken, she had heard about Summit Salon Business Center. Despite having limited cash flow, she decided to make the investment in the one thing that she thought could save her—attending The Summit, where she would take a crash course in salon business strategy. “My defining moment at The Summit was meeting one-on-one with Michael Cole,” Chris explains. “I realized we had to do everything different and I was hopeful that by being ‘all in’ I would be able to be successful.”
Courage to Lead
During The Summit, Chris recognized that the main key to solving her problems was in developing the ability to grow her salon team. Once she mastered this, she would increase loyalty and have the best stylists in the city turning in applications to work for her. Summit Salon Business Center’s strategy for growing others is the Level System, which is a detailed career path customized to each salon’s unique demographic.
In addition to implementing the Level System, Chris also had to begin to hold her staff to higher standards, which is an extremely scary prospect to new salon owners. “I was scared to death to lose people in the beginning, because I depended on their income,” Chris says. “In the end it was so worth not having the headache of someone trying to fight the changes that you know are going to save your company. I remember how scared I was coming home from The Summit, but I truly believe now in the principle of hire slowly, fire quickly.”
When staff did leave, they left room for the stylists with the right mindset to flourish. “My employees now see me as much more professional, and I think they have a greater respect for the leadership team because they know that we care about their growth inside and outside the salon.”
Erin Delos-Conlon, a level 4A, stylist, manager, and shareholder at Stiletto Salon, was one of the employees who stayed and became an integral part of the team. “She really has been my right hand,” Chris explains. “She’s been loyal, stuck by my side, and leads all the one-on-ones with all the team members, giving guidance for their growth. Even before Erin became a shareholder, she was a valuable part of my team. I couldn’t have gotten this far without her hard work.”
For her part, Erin is happy she stayed. “I truly feel like a successful hair stylist now and not like just another stylist trying to squeeze in quantity,” she explains. “It has affected my career by allowing me to work fewer hours behind the chair and make more money. This freedom gives me greater opportunity to educate others through the Summit Salon® Associate Program and have a greater work-life balance.”
Since committing to the Summit Salon Systems in 2009, the stylists at Stiletto Salon have gone from an average annual income of $25,000 to $45,000 plus tips. “Each stylist exceeds the amount of services required by the Level System, resulting in higher service numbers and their ability to see fewer guests. We have excelled in our Associate Program and have it down to a science. For example, our Level 1s who are graduating from the program are level jumping within months. We have created an amazing atmosphere, and everyone refers to us as a family.”
As a result of this positive culture shift, clients are noticing a difference. “They see that their visit here is more of an experience now, and they seem more at ease that everyone is working together. It is not just one on one,” Chris explains. “Because of The Summit we were able to expand our location to more than double our size and are currently looking to open a second location in the near future.”
Downsizing Departments and Expanding Space
As Stiletto grows, Chris has begun to look more critically at their space and how it was being used. “When I opened Stiletto Salon, I honestly thought I had to have a nail area,” Chris explains. “I thought it was going to be so easy to find a nail tech and to build up that part of the business. The first salon I worked in had a nail area and the stylists did nails as well so I just wanted to offer what I knew how to do.” But the nail department was not profitable and ultimately Chris decided to let it go.
“It was a difficult decision for me to get rid of the nail area because a family member worked for me doing nails in addition to running my front desk,” Chris says. “However, I couldn’t deny that we were growing and our nail area was not. I realized that there is too much competition in our area and trying to keep up just wasn’t working. In the end, numbers don’t lie, and I had to make an executive decision to focus our nail area space on something that was guaranteed to grow, our hair department.”
It wasn’t long before Stiletto Salon outgrew its space altogether. A larger space in the plaza became available, and after sitting down and analyzing the budget Summit Salon Consultant Kierstin Nemer, Chris realized that based on the money Stiletto was bringing in, she could afford the new rent. When they made the transition into the new space, the nail area was left behind.
Strategy with Accountability
Summit Salon Business Center was able to provide Stiletto Salon with the salon business knowledge to grow the people and grow the business. The Level System showed stylists that there is no cap to what a hairdresser can make. The budget guidelines helped Chris by providing a system to follow for expenses each month, and the Summit Salon Associate Program took the emotion out of leadership by ensuring there is always going to be new talent in the salon.
Even more important than the systems and knowledge was Chris’s Summit Salon Consultant, Kierstin Nemer, who was there to guide, support, and encourage her every step of the way. “Having a consultant has made me a better business owner because I realized this is what I have to do and who I have to be in order to get what I want. Everything is in black and white for you to see and the numbers don’t lie. Kierstin has been amazing. When we need advice, a question answered, or a piece of information, she is always a phone call away and if she doesn’t have the information, she redirects us to someone who does. We couldn’t have done it without her.”
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Five Years after Summit Launch:
Total Annual Sales: +103%
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