Carmona's...A Decade Later

I bet people must wonder if salons are really like they appear on salon reality television shows—from the extremely different cultures and environments of the salons on Split Ends, to the arrogance of a salon owner on Blowout, and the all inclusive makeovers on Tabitha’s Salon Takeover (my favorite). Well, the truth is, that although sometimes exaggerated for Hollywood, many of the episodes seem all too familiar within our industry. When I watch these shows, I am reminded of how much our industry is saturated with what I refer to as “industry epidemics.”

My mom, Tencha Carmona, has been in the salon industry for 50 years. I once asked my mom how our industry epidemics evolved. She replied that in the ’70s when the salon industry boomed, most salon owners were hair designers and were probably so involved “behind the chair” that they didn’t really have the time to analyze or plan the development of their business.

I remember spending most of my teenage life at the salon with my mom. During those years, she rented out hair stations, which is still a very common thing today. Although there was great talent within the walls of the salon, I was never able to keep track of who was working when and I could not make sense of why there was so much variation in skill and consistency from chair to chair. One of my worst memories is thinking that one of the hair station areas looked like a flea market booth! Even at that young age, I questioned why a business was operating in such a way. I remember my mom telling me that she rented a space to individuals, but that she wasn’t their boss; this was confusing to me. Later, she evolved into a salon that paid the technical staff a commission. This seemed to give her a better grip on monitoring the salon climate, but I still observed what I can now, as a business owner, put into words - whoever came up with the bright idea of paying 50% commission to technical staff prior to considering all expenses, absolutely did not own a calculator! Even legal partnerships pay all of the bills before splitting funds 50/50. In our industry, it is standard that in commission based salons, the salon owner pays all overhead costs, which amounts to about 45 line items on a cashflow sheet, and one of these line items is for technical commissions which constitutes 50-60% of the total revenue. The most unfortunate thing about this is that many technicians relate their commission to the technical service of doing a haircut or manicure or any service, but they fall short of understanding that cleaning, maintaining common areas, greeting customers other than their own, etc. should also be part of their job. These are the two most common of many business structures within our industry. Having such a wide array of compensation structures is one of our industry’s toughest internal challenges and I have witnessed firsthand how different pay structures correlate to the way salons function.

In my initial years of managing the business, I found myself challenged and frustrated with “managing people.” Two very helpful concepts changed the way that I handled this challenge. My good friend, Katherine Garza from Mark Pardo Aveda Salons in Albuquerque once told me, “You manage systems, not people. Trying to manage people will wear you out!” This was life-changing advice. It just made sense. Every successful business, large or small, has a design and someone to monitor it. The best part of having systems is that it greatly minimizes the chances of people taking things personally. Everyone is accountable to the system, and that is that. Defining a game plan for how to operate a business is a huge task and may require adjustments throughout the life of the business; but defining personality types and how to unify a team of individuals despite their differences, is the real challenge.

We are who we are. We all have personality traits that we love and hate about ourselves and others. The other concept that has been very helpful to me in the salon and in life has been one that we use in the salon and spa daily. It is known as the concept of Elemental Nature. There are similar concepts out there that describe different personality traits in people, but ours is unique because it includes an approach to finding balance through wellness. Our Elemental Nature Philosophy encompasses the natural elements of our environment—INFINITY-AIR-FIRE-WATER-EARTH. Each element has personality traits associated with it, and while most people are predominantly a particular element, they are not defined by it; they usually have secondary and tertiary elements as well. Every so often, we, as a staff, will revisit this and it brings awareness to our differences in a positive way that can be appreciated.

People often ask how we manage to operate a family-owned business and still like each other at the end of the day. Well, the truth is that it’s a weirder day for us when we don’t get to see or at least talk to each other. I think that one of the reasons why we do well in our work place is because we are all owners with very different elemental natures. My father, who I take after quite a bit, is pretty balanced between EARTH and FIRE. My mom, who is my hero, is predominantly an INFINITY followed by EARTH. I’m most definitely a FIRE with some EARTH, and Marco (my brother and business partner) is a pretty steady WATER and AIR. It’s funny, Marco likes to say, “I’m a WATER and WATER puts FIRE out!” as he wiggles his fingers at me like a magician wanting to make me disappear! It’s no wonder I always knew that the man I would marry would have many of the hard to find qualities that my brother possesses. Sure enough, my husband Chris is a WATER! So, I’m really lucky to have so much WATER in my life. Chris calms me and keeps my FIRE under control…well, that is when he isn’t on shift, as he is ironically a Firefighter for the City of Las Cruces.

When it comes to our staff at the salon, the elements can get really colorful! It’s neat to observe the relationships that are formed in our environment. As in any organization, there are seasons of change and, although sometimes painful, change is necessary. For instance, our staff climate is something I will not compromise. To enter a workplace free of tension and discomfort is priceless. We spend so many life hours with our workmates, so I believe in a happy cohesive place to work—regardless of the cost! Over the past ten years we have been blessed with a handful of really wonderful people. I’ve never liked the word “employee” or the word “boss”. I consider the people in our salon as “partners”…not from a legal standpoint, but from an operating standpoint. It is especially weird to think of people as employees when they are the very reason why your business is alive and kicking—and not just a vision. We have people on our team that are truly pillars of Carmona’s and it wouldn’t be the same without them. I love to have people on our team that can handle being empowered without crossing over to feeling entitled. That is to be honored!

Just like anything else in life that is worth working for, there are often many facets of this type of business that can be exhausting and frustrating. But despite the industry challenges, we choose to focus on all of the rewarding and fun aspects of our industry. At our salon, Aveda is truly the catalyst that keeps us stimulated and excited about what we do. In my 20 years in this industry, Aveda is the only company I’ve known to offer a complete education system—offering dedicated programs for all channels of professional and salon development. We have embraced the Aveda philosophy of using products that are environmentally conscious and sustainably produced, and we value Aveda’s global connection. When I look at our small town Aveda salon, it’s hard to believe that it is connected on a global level. We are partners with Aveda, not legally, but in spirit. We consider ourselves a hometown cozy salon with Aveda standards and a global mission.

Our goal, on a local level, is to provide our guests with outstanding service and expertise. We encourage our guests to “chair-hop” in our salon. One of our hiring requirements is that providing services remain just that. We make it about our guests’ convenience and not about superstars within our walls. Request visits are honored, but never expected. All of our technicians have graduated from an accredited cosmetology school and are licensed by the NM State Board of Cosmetologists. Once they are a part of our team, our stylists begin our Junior Stylist Training Program. In this program they are coached by our Senior Stylists using cutting systems from Vidal Sassoon, Toni & Guy, and Aveda; which we have found to complement each other very well. Once skill certified, our Junior Stylists begin their journey! A Junior Stylist at the Protégé level begins performing haircuts at $25 and incrementally increases their price as benchmarked levels of technical performance are met. The implementation of this training program has worked well for our salon and our trainees as well as the current economic climate. Carmona’s Salon & Day Spa re-laúnched to what it is today in October 2002, but the internal shift to the already established salon, then known as Tencha’s, began in February 1999. The first ten years have been an amazing journey for Marco and me. The experiences associated with the responsibility of leading a business have been demanding as expected, but it has been the experiences within the life of the business that have been so valuable. We are often asked if another location is in our plans. Providing that the demand for growth continues, we do aspire to open a second location.

By Sandra Mount

Fall 2009
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