Like so many stories you’ve heard about strong and successful people, my journey to becoming the person, stylist and businesswoman I am today is full of seemingly insurmountable obstacles. People choose to deal with these speed bumps in so many different ways, and I believe that this can define who you are and what you will become.
I began my journey back in 1999, when I opened a small 900 square foot salon. Being the individual I am, I made the conscious decision to surround myself with people who were like-minded and understood my vision; the ‘misfits’ of the industry. Most of these people would be hard pressed to find work in other salons, but I wanted to give them the opportunity to fully realize their dream. The first few years were scattered with unfortunate events: one year after opening, a truck crashed through our front window. After struggling to recover from this incident and putting all my efforts in to keeping the business alive, I found myself homeless. Shortly afterwards, I was pursued by a stalker who was later found to be the Mount Hood Rapist. Not only did he invade and destroy my personal life; he also physically destroyed my salon and I felt that the logical thing to do was start over and move to a new, safer location.
Through this nightmare came a bit of a blessing. I was able to move to a new, larger 4000 square foot space that allowed me to expand and include a spa facility. I continued to hire people that I personally believed in; refusing to judge them on their outward appearance or past experience or lack thereof. This wasn’t the easy way route as any business owner can attest to. Unfortunately, this choice led to several other obstacles for my business. We started garnering negative feedback on online rating sites due to the unconventional staff. I had faith in my team and chose not to give up on the dream or vision I had initially realized. At the end of our five year lease, I suffered yet another devastating blow to my business. A fire broke out in our spa and the entire building had to be evacuated. I stayed behind and worked to extinguish the fire myself. God had his hand on me that day; I managed to put out the fire and get out unharmed. The business was burned in more ways than one during this time: I later discovered that a bookkeeper had embezzled over $80,000 from the business.
In 2009, we moved to a new location on the West Side. These years were a challenge for all small businesses and we were no exception. The recession forced people to be even more cautious with their spending and unfortunately our industry is one of the first to suffer as people begin tightening their purse strings. I was forced to make some very difficult decisions. It would have made sense financially to downsize the business and eliminate the spa services in our salon; but I had an employee that was strictly an esthetician and I felt a sense of loyalty and did not want to force her out of a job. This meant less hair stations and lost revenue, but as an employer, I felt that fairness during these lean financial times was crucial. After three years at this location, we were once again forced to move and vacate the space with only 15 days notice due to a change of property ownership.
The years following (from 2010-2013) were not only professionally challenging, but personally as well. I lost two beloved pets in a 2 year time period and once again found myself betrayed by a trusted employee who stole $10,000 from a business checking account. When many people may have thrown their hands in the air and surrendered to this seemingly never-ending stream of bad luck, my ambition and dedication to the business pushed me forward.
I continued to keep the spa portion of the salon open for my employees, despite the financial hardship this may have caused my business. We found a new location in 2011 and were forced to move in more hastily than I would have liked. It quickly proved to be an unsuitable environment; as we soon found out it was previously a mortuary and the landlord immediately voiced their distaste in a salon being in the building. After a conversation with an acquaintance, I quickly discovered that our landlord was a shady and litigious individual. This became even more evident when I started receiving letters from his attorneys with frivolous claims and accusations; and was taken to court for ludicrous ‘violations’ such as having the business’ front door open. Faced with mounting legal fees and the threat of having the doors closed and all of our property seized, it became overwhelmingly apparent that this situation was toxic for the business. In December of 2013, we shut the doors of Hey, Beautiful Salon. Three months later our roommate is found dead in our house. Two weeks later I go to court.
Through my years of being a salon owner and employer, I’ve always been fiercely loyal and trusting of people, perhaps sometimes to a fault. I was involved in two major lawsuits concerning a few of my employees. Their claims were entirely without merit, and I, perhaps a bit naively, thought that if I supplied all the evidence that proved as much, I would win the judgment because I had the truth on my side. I gathered all the documents that established my case and discredited theirs and submitted them to the contact information I was given when my papers were served.
When I appeared for court that day, confident with how things would turn out, I quickly found myself at a huge disadvantage. While the plaintiffs in the case were provided with free legal representation by the State of Oregon, I was left to represent myself. I felt I had come prepared with copies of all the documents in question (which I had already submitted), but was informed that none of it was admissible because it had not been entered in as evidence: I Sent the files to the investigator months before the court case, I thought they would be somehow at the court that day, but the papers where with the investigator did not mean the automatically transferred to the courts. I found myself as a defenseless defendant, with no professional legal help and no admissible evidence, while my two former employees with state appointed lawyers submitted doctored and stolen documents which were accepted as legitimate.
If I had fully understood the gravity of this case and had been provided with even the most basic legal support, I would have had the trial postponed.