Hi friends! I am very excited to share this spotlight post featuring my former hair stylist, Nikki Johnson. I started seeing Nikki at Aveda’s Kai Salon in the North Loop, Minneapolis, and it was very apparent each time I visited Nikki that she had some major ideas to pursue her dreams. We’d often talk about our work, what makes us happy, how we find balance (there’s a lot of time to talk with a full balayage, cut, brows), etc. After a couple of WONDERFUL years of seeing Nikki, she told me she would be leaving Minneapolis to move back home (a dream she was quite open about), and start her own salon. I was initially sad, because I’ve made a new friend in the city and as many women know – you get to know your hair stylist pretty damn well! Her excitement was contagious – she was grinning ear to hear and just glowing with determination. I immediately felt SO excited for her. So, now that some time has passed, I’ve asked her to put together a post on her journey to opening The Shop Salon in her hometown of Rushford, MN. Enjoy!
>>Did you always know you wanted to start your own business?<<
I always have had an entrepreneurial spirit. In my first job out of college I received a she “Grabs the Bull by the Horns” award, and throughout my career previous to hair I was told . . . “You have fire in your belly.” I have always been self-motivated and excited about doing a job well done, but it wasn’t until I was 27 years old that the idea of owning my own hair salon found my mind.
>>At what point in your life did you realize you wanted to move back home and start your own salon? What was the “ah-ha moment” that made it real for you?<<
I never really intended on leaving the bluffs, I’ve always loved this hidden gem tucked in the valley. I was never an, “uh. . . just get me out of here” kind of person, but it’s interesting how life just takes you where you need to go. My journey was different because it had to be. I had to get to where I was going in a round about way in order to shape me into who I am today, and I am forever grateful for each and every person that I’ve met and learned from along the way. We grow from those that surround us, and I know I wouldn’t be the me I am without ever having left and experiencing all that I did.
I worked in hospitality sales from the day I graduated college in 2007 to 2012. I initially loved it. It fit, and then it didn’t. I was burnt out and not passionate. I didn’t see it fitting me for the rest of my life. The day I realized I outgrew the hospitality industry was in December of 2011. It was a very clear moment for me. One that I feel very fortunate to have experienced. Here’s the story prior to my “ah-ha moment” . . .
After a long day at work my boss pulled me into his office and told me that the outfit I was wearing was not “professional enough.” It was. I’ve always been a bit more fashion conscious so maybe he didn’t like the trend . . . but I can assure you it was “professional enough.” In order to prove a point to myself I wore the exact same outfit a week later, only this time I curled my hair and wore heals (previously my hair was in a pony and I was wearing flats). Nothing was said a week later. I proved my point (to myself) but I was angry and annoyed. I was angry at the situation and annoyed at the idea of someone telling me how to dress every day of my life. Don’t get me wrong . . . I understand dress codes exist for a reason, however, to me, the way you dress is an expression of who you are, and I didn’t want people telling me how to express myself on a daily basis. I didn’t and still do not like the idea of creating expressive parameters such as this. The thought of someone or a company monitoring my attire felt trapping.
I also worked with some pretty miserable people. Miserable in the sense that they hated their jobs, not miserable in the sense of defining their character. They were good people. Good people who despised their work environment. Most of my work week was consumed with constant chatter collectively complaining about this and that . . . about our boss, about the work environment, about how there was never any time for family or friends, that they’d miss a baseball game or ballet recital because of work and the list went on and on. This talk wasn’t just on my coworkers, I 100% participated in this negative monkey noise. We were one big unhappy corporate family that fed off each other’s woes. I saw the weight. I felt the weight. My head spun. I was like “No, I can’t. I can’t be this.” I did not want to fall down the funnel as far as my coworkers had. They were all older than me and truthfully, I saw myself trudging in their muddy footsteps if I did not drastically change directions. The thought of staying in this career made me uneasy.
If any of you are reading this that were involved in this part of my journey please know that I am not trying to project negativity toward you . . . rather I am trying to be truthful to the situation, and without having faced this particular darkness I would not be where I am today.
I felt emotionally and physically drained, and I certainly wasn’t proud of the person I was becoming. Prior to these events and observations, I already knew that I had fallen out of love with hospitality. My passion and light for the industry in general was dim, and I knew I needed to change something or I would be stuck in the muddy muck.
Now back to my ah-ah moment. It was the end of the day when my boss pulled me into his office to talk about my attire . . . as he spoke to me I tried my hardest to not let him see that his critiques were affecting me. I quietly nodded my head and said, “Okay.” I walked out of his office, shut down my computer and took the elevator home (I had just moved back from Dallas, TX and was living in the hotel as I had not found a place to rent in Minneapolis yet). I decided to go work out and try to move my emotions in a more positive direction. It did not work. I was still upset. When I got back I walked into the bathroom and just stared at myself in the mirror. I said out loud . . . “What am I going to do with my life.” I really just thought I was having a moment asking myself a rhetorical question and would go on with my night but honestly, I just stood there looking at myself and thought quietly in my mind . . . “I should go to hair school. I would be good at it because of ‘XYZ’. I could move back home one day (which is something I’ve always wanted to do), and . . . and, I could open up my own salon! Be my own boss. Wear whatever I want.” Yep, my mind was set. I sat on one of the queen beds in my double room and I wrote down all the things I’d love to have in my shop someday. I still carry that piece of yellow paper in my purse and the coolest thing about it is . . . a lot of what I wrote a little over 6 yrs ago actually exists in The Shop today.
>>What was the hardest part about starting your own business?
Logistically? Aesthetically? Financially?<<
Having patience, hands down. I am not a patient person in anything, and throughout this entire experience I had to learn patience.
I knew I could not afford a vehicle payment in school so I worked at the hotel for a year after my ah-ha moment paying double payments. Ironically, I smashed up that little Scion TC near the end of my time in hair school. Oof, it was quite the trying year.
The second hardest thing was the emotional stripping I didn’t know I was going to experience. I was 28, financially independent . . . independent in general, and all that freedom was taken from me. I didn’t realize what that was going to do to me emotionally until I was deep in it. 2013 was a hard year for me . . . to be completely honest I still feel a sting in my gut from the past as I write this. I was so emotionally lost and broken, but I have learned that sometimes life breaks you in order to build a stronger you. My foundation needed to be shattered in order for me to rebuild a stronger more emotionally in tune version of myself. Boy, it was a long process.
As far as logistically and aesthetically my vision was clear (thank you Pinterest). These two things were never really “hard” for me. I had a clear aesthetic vision and an unwavering trusted gut feeling that logistically it was just going to work out when the time was right.
Financially things freaked me out from time to time, but again . . . I just knew it was going to work out. I did save every penny and dime I could during this process knowing and trusting that “one day” I’d use it to open up a salon.
So to recap . . . the hardest pieces in this journey thus far have been patience and the emotional instability. I have learned to be better with patience and believe this was God’s way of teaching me this virtue. I also believe God knew that I needed an improvement to set a solid foundation of who I am. To this day, I am still sad that this part of my life was lead with my head down . . . however, I am extremely grateful for the struggles that shaped me and that my perspective on life is light.
>>What advice do you give aspiring business owners? What are some lessons learned from your experience?<<
I am a lover of quotes and during the toughest of times there were a few that held me together. Those being . . . “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams” “Let passion devour laziness” and “Start Somewhere.” I would literally take a breath when I read those words and be like . . . “Yes, okay. I got this.” I love quotes so much that I have my color clients write me a quote during their processing time. A few of my favorites so far are . . . “Real queens fix each other’s crowns” and “You have to be odd to be number 1.” I post up the quotes in this mini porcelain pig I bought from Magnolia Market, and rotate a couple of them at a time.
- Find quotes that inspire you. Ones that give you fuel.
- Try your darndest to not let the crazy affect your personal relationships. Starting something completely unknown is uncomfortable, and uncomfortable feelings feed shadowed emotions. I was not the best version of myself during these trying times and that is still hard for me to accept.
- Do not allow the unknowing emotions hinder the relationships closest to you. Trust.
Looking back I knew where I was going, I fully believed in my vision with my whole heart . . . I just wish I would have enjoyed the moments more. I was so forward focused I forgot to live, and like I mentioned above this too is still hard for me to accept. I honestly lost years, and you can’t set back the clock on the choices you make.
- Keep your vision clear, but enjoy the ride (even the bumpy parts). It’s all temporary.
- I marked my savings account “DO NOT TOUCH.” This helped me. Save any amount you can. $1 is a $1. Even if it’s a small amount, in the end it makes a difference.
As you can see I struggled during this time, but I also believed in myself.
- Believe in yourself, even if others don’t. Bulldoze naysayers (not literally, but in your mind), and shine your light in the darkness. You only need to see one step in front of you to get where you’re going.
I wrote down my ideas in the notes section of my iPhone, and would Pinterest ideas any chance I could get. Writing down my ideas and seeing photos of the things I sought made my dream real. I searched pictures of ‘open and closed’ signs, wallpaper, décor, décor, décor, marketing tips, you name it. I am so happy I did this because there are about 842 things happening at once when it is time to start moving, and come “go time” this helped me tremendously in reminding me what it was that I actually wanted.
- Pinterest your ideas. Write down your unique ideas as soon as they pop in your mind. When it comes time to open your business you’ll be so thankful for all of this.
- Breathe. Balance. Believe. Whatever that looks like for you . . . breathe, balance, believe.
>>What is your favorite part about your new journey as a small business owner?<<
Wearing whatever I want. LOL no, there are so many “favorites” being a small business owner (challenges too) but as they say . . . the rewards outweigh the risk / trying moments.
A few favorites that come to mind are . . .
- I get to talk and learn from my wonderfully awesome clients all the while sprucing up their ‘do.
- “The look” — it is the look a person gives themselves in the mirror, like . . . “Heck yea, I like what I see.” Knowing that I helped someone gain confidence in who they already are has got to be one of the most rewarding gifts a hairstylist can have.
- As a stylist and business owner I am allowed to express myself in so many creative outlets . . . from hair, to décor, attire, products, marketing, etc. and to me . . . that is freedom.
Karen Dahl, you shining soul . . . thank you for giving me a platform to tell my story.
Owner / Hairstylist The Shop Salon
(Back to Karen, now!) — I truly loved Nikki’s expression of her journey and all of the hard obstacles and raw truth she shares with the rest of us. I leave this post with an amazing photo Nikki sent me – the Enso:
“What if I fall? Oh, but my darling . . . what if you fly?”
If I can do it, you can do it.