Growing up with a dryer chair in her mom’s kitchen and a sister desperately in need of a haircut, Shalon White was destined to open a salon someday. At the tender age of 12, Shalon deftly wielded the tools of the trade and gave her sister a snazzy, short cut and color to rave about. And it didn’t take long for her to get more clients. Soon a steady stream of friends and relatives were asking young White to do their hair. She knew even back then that it was her passion.
Today, she runs Shalon Salon in her hometown of Alton, Illinois. Here, she shares some tips that helped her take that lifelong passion and, as an adult, launch a profitable and rewarding career:
White worked at Moderne Hair Concepts in Alton for 17 years, and she was its owner for seven of those years. In 2015, she decided to scale back her business to a one-chair salon named Shalon Salon. While her business is small, the experience she provides rivals any big company. “I wanted to be able to really cater to my clients individually,” White explains.
With jazz playing in the background and tea, coffee, cocoa or vino in hand, clients can relax as they get a fabulous haircut and style. What’s more, the new salon overlooks the Mississippi River, so clients are treated to a beautiful, calming view. “My clients just love it, and they keep coming back,” she says. “Some of my clients go all the way back to the sixth grade!”
Customer service is key. “I don’t want a trip to the salon to be just another chore for people,” White says. “I want them to look forward to it.” That’s why she goes above and beyond to put them at ease. When she made the decision to get into this business, she knew that she would be doing much more than cutting hair. “It’s really about people,” White says. Sometimes she is their therapist. Sometimes she is their cheerleader. But she’s always their friend. When she hears that a kid at the local Boys & Girls Club is getting picked on, for instance, she invites the child to come in for a haircut. “I’ll make that kid look good and feel good if nothing else.”
Don’t be afraid to step outside your comfort zone and try something different. “I’ve done fashion shows, weddings and proms, photo shoots, movie sets, music videos — you name it,” White says. She has even been interviewed by WBGZ, a local radio station. “Since I’ve been featured on the radio station before, I’d love to see if I could do a beauty segment about hair products, makeup and fashion … that type of thing,” she says.
Shalon is constantly promoting herself and her business. “I came out of beauty school with clients because I knew a lot of people,” White says. “It can be difficult, especially in a small town, but if your heart is in it, there are ways you can find clientele.” She suggests going to the mall, preferably to a makeup store, and handing out business cards to people there. Or take a part-time job at a clothing store, help a shopper pick out an outfit and let that person know you can help them level up their look. Or rent a table at an event and showcase your beauty supplies. White also adds, “Get a social media page — it’s free advertising.”
White admits that enrolling in beauty school was “the best thing I could’ve ever done.” Working at a salon gave her the flexibility to raise her two small children. Now that she’s her own boss, she sets her own hours, so she can spend time with her young granddaughter and do other things that make her happy — like donating to the Boys & Girls Club of Alton and offering haircuts to chemo patients, free of charge.
Customers will come in to a beauty shop asking for the latest and greatest styles. If you can’t deliver, they’ll find a salon that can. So, do what you have to do to master your craft. “I network, take classes and participate in a lot of hair shows. I need to know about the techniques, equipment and products that come out, so I can attract more clients,” White says. “You can always better yourself.”
White believes that the job you would do for free is the job you should be doing. “If I win the lottery tomorrow, I’ll still do hair because I love what I do,” she says.