I am literally SO excited to share this interview with you! At the age of 23, Miriam Lopez-Casillas opened up her own hair salon and has recently expanded her business into a salon & spa.
After coming to the U.S. as a small child, she has not only defied the odds but has totally captured the essence of the ‘American Dream’. From an interest sparked from a cosmetology class to running a 5-star salon, her success story is sure to inspire you to step out on faith and chase your dreams.
I mean, who wouldn’t want to turn their passion into a business at only 23-years-old?!
Did you always see yourself being a hairstylist?
I never knew that hair was my passion until I started high school. I would always play with my cousin’s hair and practice on my dolls, but I always thought that I would be an elementary school teacher.
In the 10th grade, I chose cosmetology as an elective course simply because I thought it would be better than cooking or sewing. I thought, How cool would it be to get an A on coloring, cutting, and getting facials and pedicures!
When we took a field trip to a new school in our city, Paul Mitchell, I was so excited and immediately envisioned myself being a student. I come from a family of four children, and I knew that traditional college would be harder to afford since I am the youngest. Beauty school was $20,000 dollars, but still not as expensive as college.
In the state of Arkansas, you need 1,500 hours to become a licensed stylist, so I just needed 1,000 more after graduating high school. I did 40 hours a week and finished beauty school in only 8 months at 18-years-old.
Having a trade and doing hair was one of the best decisions I have ever made!
Why did you decide to open your own hair salon and how did you know you were ready?
My mom always motivated me to open my own salon. My parents came to this country with four small children, and were unable to speak the language (English), so me excelling in life is definitely due to my parents’ hard work.
From selling Mary Kay to home décor, I’ve always known my mom to be self-employed. I was taught that the best way to make money is to be your own boss.
I worked for a commission based salon for five years where the owner would take a 50% cut. Looking back now that was ridiculous, but I wasn’t ready to open my own salon fresh out of school. I knew that I needed the practice, experience, and knowledge that came with working for someone else.
Finally, after five years of getting robbed of half my earnings, enough was enough. I left and rented a room for $50 a week, and after 6 months I knew I was ready to step out on faith and open my own salon. Luckily, I was able to find a spot in a great location!
What are the biggest challenges of being a salon owner?
One of my biggest challenges is trying to find good booth renters who are clean, responsible, and professional. Although I have a great group of women, it is not their salon so no one will take care of things like I will.
As an owner, you have to make sure the salon is clean, trash is taken out, water is always working, and everything is in order. If anything goes wrong, you are the one they call.
What are 3 key things you need to run a successful hair salon?
Be different! There are so many salons in my area so in order to be successful I knew that I had to differentiate myself. I truly care about my clients’ hair so I use exclusive products that can only be purchased from places that are salon certified. You don’t want your clients to be able to purchase the products you use from someplace like Ulta or Amazon.
Customer service. Customer service is everything! There are sooo many stylists and salons out there, and I know that my clients could go anywhere, but they continuously choose me.
A clean, friendly atmosphere. Do simple things like asking your client if they need water and making sure they are comfortable. Always use clean capes, towels, etc.
Make the experience “fancy” yet affordable.
How do you balance being a salon owner and a mom?
Balancing being a salon owner, mom, and a wife is definitely overwhelming, but I like being busy.
I try to work only 3 or 4 days out of the week, but I really make the most out of my time. I start my day at 8 am and typically book appointments back to back in order to get off work by 3:30 pm. This allows me time to pick up my daughter from school, cook dinner, bathe my kids, and try to squeeze in some time with my husband.
Thankfully, my mom helps to watch my son although I do take my kids to the salon sometimes.
The luxury of owning a salon is being able to do your own thing. I am able to create my schedule so I have never missed my daughter’s school events.
Do you recommend starting a salon right out of beauty school? Why or why not?
I personally don’t recommend opening a salon right away. There are many salon owners who don’t do hair, but to me, it’s my passion.
If you want your salon to be successful, you have to be a good stylist and know what you’re doing. Working in a salon will allow you to gain experience and visualize what you want for your own.
What type of expenses should I prepare for?
While you should definitely have money saved, I started my first salon with only $5,000. You can open with just one or two chairs, mirrors, and inexpensive drawers.
Starting out small allowed me to see what type of equipment I wanted to invest in.
- Stylist chairs and workstations
- Shampoo bowls
- Product advertising and signs
- Salon mats
- Hair products
What license(s) are needed to start a salon?
This may vary from state to state.
- State board license
- A business license from your city
- Cosmetology license
- (Optional) Sales tax license
What tips do you have for building a loyal and consistent clientele?
I think the best way is to have a good, thorough consultation and really listen to what each client wants. Everyone sees color differently, so I always like for them to bring in a picture of their hair goals. What’s red to one client might be brown to another.
I try to reach everyone’s hair goals without compromising their hair, but honesty is the best policy. For example, if your client is a natural level 2 (which is very dark brown) and wants to be platinum blonde, inform them that it’s a process. Let them know their new color will be high maintenance and can be expensive. Never discourage your clients, but always be transparent.
In addition to listening to your client’s wants, don’t talk about your drama. Nobody cares if you and your husband are fighting or if you had a bad day. When we’re serving clients we have to set ourselves aside and give them our full attention. They are paying for their time with us, and word travels fast when you’re always speaking negatively.
How long did it take you to start seeing success and making a profit from your business?
Honestly, it took only about 3 months for me to hire my first booth renter. The good thing with booth rent is that you will always have that money no matter what. Being self-employed can be unpredictable so it’s nice to have that consistent income.
Within a year, all of my chairs were rented. That money began paying all my overhead costs, like rent and utilities, with extra to spare.
What other advice do you have for those wanting to start their own salon?
Never let a client leave unsatisfied. Hair can be unpredictable, even when we put color on, but make sure that your client is always happy. This will determine if they come back or not.
Always be consistent with your client’s services as if it was their first time visiting, listen to their needs, and try to stay available. If possible, always pre-book your appointments. Clients will then be on a schedule and feel more obligated to show up.