Keep Calm: Get Your Hair Done
She is my cousin and I have known her all my life. When we were growing up Alaina’s dresser was always covered with all sorts of hair products and styling tools. We were her models and she would style our hair for us. There were always fashion magazines lying around and it wasn’t hard to predict what she would be when she grew up.
Once she moved from a child playing hair dresser in her bedroom to the real world she put in the time to develop her skills and to become the best she could possibly be.
When I started writing a blog I wanted to interview her about just how far she has come from those days. I wanted to let people know what great work she does and what a strong savvy businesswoman she is. She now runs a business to be proud of and has established a strong reputation in the area for the relaxation and the valuable service she provides at her salon. It was an honour to speak to her about all this and what she wants her clients to experience, from the moment they step foot in her salon until they walk out feeling like a million bucks, which I know firsthand because I am one of those satisfied customers.
I was welcomed into her cozy home one snowy Sunday, early in March. Her home always felt so warm and welcoming, which is a mark of the kind of calming atmosphere she is an expert at providing for people. We sat in her lovely living room with a nice cup of tea and I asked her about Glow Hair Studio and the business of styling hair.
Where did you train to cut hair?
It’s called The Festival School of Hair Design in Stratford.
I started working at Expressions Hair Designs right there in Stratford when I was still in school, for a few months before finishing, and then got my first job directly out of school.
Then one day a week at Springbank Hair, where I met my future boss at Penny Lane.
I worked for a year at J. C. Visions and then I went on to working at Penny Lane.
I was at my little home studio for five years, but after having my twins I realized how much I missed working around other people.
Have you received any business training?
I try to do a couple classes every season, just to try and stay on top of what’s going on. Schwarzkopf Academy in downtown Toronto offers seminars all the time.
From the first time I made a real appointment with her (in my early twenties) at the salon she was working at, at the time, I was hooked. I had never before gone to a hair salon and I didn’t quite know what to expect. I will never forget the way my hair felt when I left. It may have been the styling product she used that day or perhaps it was nostalgia of my memory of the sort of service she provided, but I left floating on air, my hair so soft and silky smooth. This image is imprinted on my brain and I have felt honoured, ever since, to have someone in the family who can make me feel so good about myself when I am most in need of a boost.
Others must agree with me and that is how she has been able to build such a successful client base over the years, people who have followed her: from others’ salons, to her one room salon in her basement, to the one she now operates out of her larger home, along with her other coworkers who also do hair, makeup, and massage therapy. She’s come so far in such a short period of time, but I knew it was a lot of work and still is and I was determined to ask her about that and more.
Did you ever want your own business? Could you ever imagine all this that you now have?
Um, no…I was scared. I thought it was going to be temporary. It was within a month or two though that I started doing it from home. I think once I started it a lot of people were calling me. I started getting a lot of really positive responses and I thought, I’m not going to be returning to Penny Lane.
It was scary at first because, regardless, you are putting your own money out…whether I was going to stay there or not. I think deep down I really wanted it to work, but I just didn’t know.
The biggest thing about going out on my own, which was scary for me, I really pushed my boundaries and I just had to figure it out and ask questions and find resources. You’re putting out all that cash and you’re just hoping it will work out.
What is the origin of Glow Hair Studio as your name?
I just kept it short and simple, like you’re glowing and happy, thus the word Glow. There were some other names tossed around (Haven and Halo), but when I Googled both
of those names a lot of other sites came up. I just liked Glow and thought it sounded nice and there really wasn’t anything else like it around here.
Do you ever feel like someone’s shrink/priest?
(She laughs before answering this one.)
Yeah, you definitely do hear other people’s problems. A lot of the time, when you do see people, it’s because there’s something major going on in their life and they want to do something with their hair to show it off, to go really bold and crazy with a new colour.
Maybe they want it all chopped off. Maybe they’re going to a wedding or event of some kind. As much as you don’t want to seem real superficial, your hair is so much of who you are. It’s an immediate way for them to express themselves, a quick, immediate, and easy way to make a statement. If they want to stand out. If they feel like they aren’t being heard.
(Here we go off on a bit of a tangent about how I could help out by letting her do the cutting and styling and I could counsel people on what’s going on in their lives. I’m working on plans to become certified as a counsellor since this interview. “There you go. We have a business plan,” laughing once more.)
Maybe they are dealing with the end of a relationship or they’re just starting a brand new relationship. I hear a lot. People come in, wanting a new look to match something that may be going on in their life, because often they are going through some pretty life-changing things. Some days it’s good and happy stuff…it’s the odd day that everyone who shares has something negative going on. It keeps my job interesting.
Sometimes the people who share the most are people you’ve never even met before and they sit down and you just think, wow, I can’t believe you just felt comfortable enough to share that with me. And I’m not qualified to be giving out any advice. All you can really do is listen. Some of them have been coming for many years and are my friends and you create a real emotional attachment to some of these people.
What is the best part of your job?
I think my job is so absolutely amazing. When I go down into the salon I am in my element. I love the girls I work with and I love the smell of it down there. I love it even when it’s crazy. There’s nowhere else I’d rather be. My day could be starting out bad and by the end of it…when the music is going and the phone is ringing non-stop, and when it’s crazy busy and all the people are coming in…the thing is, after thirteen years of doing hair, the clientele you build is a real reflection of who you are. Not only do they become your friends, but your clients are really a reflection of yourself.
What is the worst?
I would say the part I like least about my job is having to be someone’s boss. I really wanted a business partnership where it could be collective. I wanted a partner who could and would set her own hours. That’s more the vibe I wanted. I like not having to delegate jobs. I love things to just be more free creatively.
When Alaina moved to her larger studio she had more space and rooms and would be able to accommodate more stylists. It was a huge change and a big risk to make that leap, but she had a vision in her head and knew what she wanted Glow Hair Studio to reflect.
She found fellow hair stylist and makeup artist Chelsey Geerlinks and welcomed her with open arms.
How did you find the other girls? What does it take to make a good partnership?
This was my vision and I got it up and going. This all could have never been what it is now if it hadn’t been for Chelsey. It is the way it is today because of her coming on board. Of course I designed it all and had it complete when she came. The paint, the colours, the art work…she loved it. Other stylists I brought through to show the space, it just didn’t work. I had it all in my head. I wanted somebody who knew and loved doing hair. I was looking for someone with the same passion as me. The thing is finding people to work with who are going to fit. All it takes is one person with the wrong attitude and a wrong vision and it can wreck the whole thing. She’s my business partner and we work together as a team.
She had a bio and a beautiful website:
I really loved that she did makeup because that’s not something I already offered. I had constantly been referring people to others with services outside of Glow, that I didn’t have. I was super excited she did makeup, contacted her through Facebook, and told her I was opening up a studio. My sales representative, she knew of her, but wasn’t sure she would be interested.
Chelsey came and she saw it. Everyone else I’d showed it to were all hesitant it was out of my home, but she said she actually preferred it because it was more personal…not just walk-ins because she preferred to work on referrals. She sets her own hours and, if she isn’t feeling well, she is in charge of rescheduling her clients or passing them on to me if possible. We work together and are a team. Any ideas I have I always run past her first.
Next came registered massage therapist Stephanie Ewing and the list of services offered by Glow increased once more.
How did that work?
It’s taken her a bit of time to build up, but it has built slowly. Steph came to Woodstock not really knowing a soul. She had to start from scratch. Every massage therapist has their own technique and she’s done very well.
Do you do many weddings?
I wanted to find a partner to take on that side of it. I like that she can be the face of that side of things. Chelsey counted and said last year she did 28 weddings. I did probably the majority of them with her, but not all. She does the makeup and her client’s hair and I’ll do the bridal party’s hair. We do a lot of weddings, but with cutting back I am trying to do less so that’s why I want to have another stylist doing them with her. It’s a great business and I am so glad Chelsey is happy doing them. She loves weddings and that’s her expertise. Ilike the Glow name to be there, to cover all areas, even if I know I can’t always be there for everything. That’s why I wanted someone who could be there for the stuff I couldn’t. I love that she can be the face of that side of things and that she loves to do the photo shoots and the weddings.
What sorts of marketing do you do/do you find beneficial?
I’ve never advertised in the paper. We have the Facebook page, but I’ve never ever paid for advertising. Facebook’s been amazing. You can post pictures of the work you have done and you can thank your clients. You can post pictures of things you find inspiring. That’s one thing I absolutely love Facebook for.
We had a grand opening, to let people know we were here and because Chelsey was offering makeup and I don’t do that and because Steph was new at the time too…I wanted people to know what I was doing now, so we put something in the paper about that.
Once a year there is a write-up about business women in and around Oxford. We have been in that.
Business Women Around Oxford:
You have to be humble to an extent but you know what, you have to be able to promote yourself because no one else is going to do it for you.
How has it been going in this newer bigger location?
Forty clients a week, in probably a six to seven-week rotation.
Usually January through February – those are dead months for salons and we were booked straight through. We manage to stay really really busy
Do you have plans of growing your business in the future?
I have had apprentices working for me and the experience has been mostly positive. What I’d wanted is to find ones who would love the atmosphere and the culture we’ve created here, who would love to be a part of it so I could phase out even a little more. So I could really focus on marketing the salon and growing the salon. I always will want to be a part of it, coming up with new concepts and ideas.
If the kids were older, maybe. It’s a lot of work. You can always do something bigger, but I am really content. My dream has come true. It’s always going to be a work in progress. There comes a point when you have to try and maintain. You could always be growing it. It would take too much time away from my kids. I want to spend my time with friends and family. I put all that on the back burner the last few years.
It’s always going to be a work in progress. I don’t know if I have the need to keep growing it because it is already a lot of work. To me work isn’t my life.
Are you getting better at balancing home/work life now, having it all in one place? Is that good or bad, having everything all right there?
Obviously for the first few years I was putting a lot of hours into it, a lot of long hours and late nights. I was investing a lot of my time into the business, to make it into something. Now I have help, allowing me to delegate so I don’t have to do everything alone. I can finally start to take a step back now that everything’s running more smoothly. The salon kind of runs itself. I can get my kids off to school every day. I feel like I am finally getting to that point. I have more time now to do the things I enjoy: cooking and being in the kitchen which I love, organizing things. It took a lot of hours and long days, but we’re there now. I am really trying to let it go a little when I’m not working…so I try not to always be checking my screen, my iPad, my email. It’s so much better.. Now, finally, things in my life are slowly becoming much more balanced.
How would you describe your personal style and how you put that into the salon?
I would say my vision for the salon is…well, I love art and I love fashion. I have very eclectic taste. I love old vintage pieces and to support local. I love to be able to support other local artists and business people. I have a friend who went to Europe and brought back some art from England…beautiful vintage prints. Vogue prints, and I had them matted and framed.
The art is bright and punchy, such as the art I have up on the walls of the salon from local artists. The space is small so I can’t go too overboard. In the washroom, there is a small print by Andy Warholl – vintage broaches and pins.
The front desk has a shiny, white, top with chrome legs, from Ikea.
A couple clients repurpose old pieces, interesting fabrics and bright colours. I like the modern mixed with old vintage looks. Old chairs, reupholstered furniture. I just think that is so cool, to take something old and make it new again, to bring back some new life into it. It’s not like I just went to some big box store. Everything down there has a story. Others have helped my vision come together. I’m so lucky. It’s good for them and my vision for the salon. I just wanted it to be a place people come, interesting and unique – a break from reality, different from anywhere else in town.
It’s a whole experience. It’s a treat, for people for a couple hours. People say: “Can I hang out? I don’t want to have to go back to work. I don’t want to go home. It’s loud and noisy there. Who wouldn’t want to work here and I say that’s right. That’s what I say all the time.
Alaina uses Glow Hair Studio to display pieces of artwork by talented friend Julie Hawkins:
This artist’s works have become a part of the decor.
How do you hold up physically, cutting hair every day?
I have had repetitive motion injuries, but in the past. It’s just the way I hold my arm when I cut…the way I hold my upper body…my muscles will get sore.
I recall one particular family Christmas party where she was the talk of the night after a particularly bad work-related injury.
It is called winged scapula: a condition where the shoulder blade protrudes out on the back rather than laying flat against the back of the chest wall.
The muscles that hold my shoulder they got separated. It was like a chicken wing popping out of my back. It wasn’t pretty.
I had gotten a massage that day because it was sore. I was driving home and I went to check my blind spot and suddenly my neck and shoulder…everything just froze. It felt like a bone was popping out of my back and I couldn’t get comfortable in my seat.
When I got home I looked in the mirror and sure enough, it was.
I called my therapist, “Did you happen to notice anything protruding?”
“No. I may have loosened things up and it may have happened, if it was going to do that eventually anyway.”
I need to just build upper body strength just to keep it strong, always holding my arms up all the time. I know it’s really important for me with my particular job. I’m busy and I don’t like doing it…two excuses. I’d probably enjoy it once I started doing it again and seeing results.
My back gets tight and sore. I’ve got to keep on that.
What tips do you have for anyone starting/running their own business?
Um, tips…well, be prepared if you’re going to have employees, have procedures laid out. Before I started I had someone write out a procedures manual.
Also, know exactly what your expenses are, month to month. Make set budgets for yourself. If you really know your budget and how it is all broken down. I personally need to know where my money is all going. Say one day I decided to sell the business…I could actually show someone and could actually present them with the work to prove it. Policies are very important and I developed all that from my own past mistakes.
At this point in our interview her little daughter comes into the room to snuggle, confused as to why her mother is sitting here and talking with me for so long. All that she has said about balancing work and family and wanting to cut back less on the former for the latter, in this moment is illustrated clearly why.
What sorts of fundraising do you do, if any?
We’ve done a breast cancer fundraiser. Every year we like to do one or two different charitable events – fundraiser for a girl who needed a heart transplant.
We offered mini makeup applications. A Christmas open house.
We try over the holidays – Christmas store, for low income families. As a business, if you’re able to do something like that for somebody, I think that’s real important. You should try to help others. It makes it all worthwhile when you can help someone else out.
What would you say is your best hair care tip?
My biggest thing I’ve come to realize, the best tip I can say is don’t over process it with colour. If you do it’s harder to style. Use quality product…keeping it trimmed regularly. What we should want, is, we should want our hair to look natural, healthy, and beautiful. Don’t over-use chemicals. I think we want our styles to look luscious and we should use good things on it to keep it looking strong and healthy.
When your hair is damaged it’s next to impossible to bring it back to life.
When you’re over processing and over colouring it’s hard to manage, it’s hard to style. The times when you want to go out and make it look good you won’t be able to get it to do what you want it to do.
Use quality products that a hair stylist can prescribe. That might sound crazy coming from a hair stylist to say, don’t over process it, because that’s how we make money but you know what, we want, we want it too look like it’s been kept up by a professional, so it’s very important to keep good things on it to keep it looking healthy and beautiful.
What are the products you use in your salon?
I didn’t want to carry a mishmash of products. You should carry the products you love and you should believe in it. You shouldn’t just carry them to make a sale. Just focus on that. That’s why I started with such a great product.
I’ve been pretty selective. I think you should find something that performs and then just focus on that.
It’s such a well rounded line. Their education is great. Their styling products are so good.
A lot of people have a lot of sensitivities with all the stuff that’s often added. With all the sulphates that are added into these products, I felt like I needed to carry a line that was very clean. I have really seen over the years a real need for less sulphates.
Kevin Murphy is the other one.
You see it in a lot more high-end magazines. It’s featured in Vogue and Harper’s bazaar. I had seen them but they were really hard to access around here at the time.
It was not offered in any other salons around here and I wanted to carry it because it was unique and different. It was special.
It’s more of a luxury line. It’s a higher price point but that’s because the packaging is really sleek and beautiful, it’s got a lot more essential oils in it, and it’s animal cruelty free, which a lot of people like. It takes less time to break down in a landfill. Just a lot of the natural aromas – lavender. We got that line in and because I have my hands in it a lot of the time, I like something that’s a little cleaner.
Chelsey (we do have bits and pieces of things we truly love, but) she is a huge Moroccanoil fan, so she has the stuff that she likes.
Some places carry like thirty different hair care lines and you don’t know what to pick because there are so many in front of you.
You really need to carry something that you believe in and that you think is going to work for everybody.
I like having a couple different options for people at a couple different price points.
Those are my two main ones.
I decide to end the interview on a humorous note and with a lesson in failure and in not giving up, a part of business and also in life.
What was the worst mistake you’ve ever made on someone’s hair?
This is a good one.
It was my very first hair cut when I worked at Expressions Hair Design. We used to have quite a few actors from Stratford Festival come in. This guy came in and he was a younger guy, handsome, and he was my first hair cut. He was this handsome actor from the festival, so I was nervous. I was still in school, but it was my first hair cut as an apprentice. I was using their clippers and they had things a little different than what I was used to in school. I don’t know what I was thinking or what I was doing, but I forgot to put the guard on the clipper. I ended up shaving a bald strip right up the back of his head.
I was like, oh dear!
I went and buzzed the back of his head completely bald, so from the front it looked like a normal hair cut.
When I finished I said, I’ve got to tell you something. I totally messed up your hair.
So I handed him a mirror and showed him what I’d done and he just burst out laughing. I didn’t know who he was referring to:
“Oh my god! I look like the guy from the Volkswagen commercial.”
I just started bawling. I thought, my first day on the job…I’m going to be fired. I ran upstairs and I was crying.
Another stylist was also working. My boss, it was the end of the day, she had gone home and left me there. The other girl tried to fix it. I never cut his hair again.
Rumour has it that guy still goes into that same salon and has his hair cut…so they didn’t lose him as a client.
To anyone who has known her long and has seen what she has built – you don’t achieve all that she has now without the passion for styling, a genuine love of people, and that is how it’s always been. It gives hope for me to know her story and to tell it to others, that if you are meant to do something you can find a way to make it happen. We need more women like her around, in business and in the arts. Her creations can be seen and enjoyed by so many, when they walk out of her salon and show themselves off, their best selves, to the world.
“It’s not all superficial. It’s not all just about making people look like Kim Kardashian. It actually really does sooth people’s souls. People can be having the worst day of their life. I love the glitz and the glam and I think it’s cool and I love fashion, but it’s so much more than that. It’s not all just superficially making them feel better. It’s not just what I’m doing for them, it’s what these people are doing for me when I am having a bad day. At least I have a couple hours to catch up, for sure. Keep it still professional, but a place people are going to want to come to. These people all become my friends and we all help each other.”
I wanted to highlight the talents of local women and the successful businesses they run with grace and style. It can’t always be easy, but some make it look that way…like they were meant to do it and could do it in their sleep. I am happy to write about Glow and hope for continued and future success. Thank you Alaina for talking with me and for all you do to help myself and so many others feel better about ourselves and just a little more beautiful everyday.
The following article, which I’ve found and decided to include at the end of this interview, is something I was trying to get at with this interview. I find it endlessly fascinating, the relationship between a hair dresser and their client sitting in the chair. It is a relationship like no other and I had the idea to interview Alaina when I observed what was going on in the salon around me as I sat in that chair: