A super-sized gamble is paying off for a gutsy entrepreneur who left a six-figure salary to go solo. 'I haven't given up on this economy yet,' she says.
Coral Pleas was getting along rather well for 13 years as a part owner and stylist for one of Sarasota's highest of high-end hair salons.
During the boom years, Pleas was earning more than $100,000 in annual salary at Yellow Strawberry, which has two locations in the Sarasota-Bradenton area. Her son, Travis Pleas, got into the business too, and was also doing well.
But Pleas yearned for more in terms of control, potential earnings and strategic direction of the business. That, and in 2007 she looked around at her two partners and some colleagues and decided something: “I didn't want to wake up one day and be working around a bunch of 50-year-olds,” she says, half-jokingly.
Problem was, Pleas' yearnings coincided with the recession just beginning to take shape. She considered delaying her dreams until the economy rebounded. Adds Pleas: “I was a very accomplished stylist at Yellow Strawberry and made a nice living.”
Nonetheless, in late 2007, Pleas cashed out of her Yellow Strawberry partnership. She took a now-or-never approach to going into business for herself.
In January 2008, Pleas opened Cutting Loose Salon in a strip mall off University Parkway — about two miles down the road from a Yellow Strawberry location. She spent $500,000 to get the salon ready, using a mix of savings and past earnings.
And after 18 months, Pleas certainly has to be pleased with the results: Cutting Loose had $800,000 in 2008 revenues and Pleas is projecting $1.2 million in 2009.
“I haven't given up on this economy yet,” says Pleas. “I still know there is a luxury market out there.”
Pleas' strategy remains to cater to that luxury market while also recognizing the need to provide new price points for clients who are no longer willing to spend $75 for a haircut or $200 for a cut and color. Indeed, that's the genesis of After Hours, Pleas' most significant move since opening her own salon.
After Hours started as a way Pleas could better utilize the 3,500-square-foot salon: Soon after opening, she had 15 stylists but only 8 chairs for the stylists to work at. “A second shift is something I've wanted to do for years,” says
Pleas, going back to her Yellow Strawberry days.
After Hours was just that. Pleas reopened the salon in what has traditionally been the industry's downtime, such as Monday and Sunday afternoons and Friday nights. The rates for haircuts were trimmed, to $25 to $35. The stylists for After Hours are all new hires, a group Pleas calls the Rising Stars.
After Hours has been a hit. So much so that Pleas recently leased the 1,500-square-foot space next door, a former pet store, to open a stand-alone After Hours. That store could open as soon as November. “It's a little quick,” says
Pleas, “but I think we needed to do something to separate the brands.”
Plus, Pleas is working on a plan to eventually franchise the After Hours concept. She hopes to open three more stand-alone After Hours in the Sarasota market in the next few years.
After Hours fits another need Pleas had going back to Yellow Strawberry. It allows her to mentor and train young hair stylists, something she didn't get to do much of at her old job.
Pleas says that for her, training isn't only about haircuts or the finer points of styling. Instead, it's about customer service and attitude. And she and her son, who joined her at Cutting Loose, have developed an in-house training curriculum for employees that they teach every Monday. “No one else in town does that,” says Pleas.
Pleas also recently embraced another new aspect of her business and industry: social media. She has hired someone in-house to bring Cutting Loose and After Hours to the Internet masses via Facebook, Twitter and other online outlets.
It's a long way from when Pleas got into the business in the early 1980s, working as a hair stylist in Denver.
“I don't know how to do [social media,]” says Pleas. “But I could see how important it is.”
Renee Walker and Karen Steuber, who co-own Studio RK Salon in Fort Myers, have battled the recession just like Coral Pleas has with Cutting Loose in Sarasota.
And just like Pleas, Walker and Steuber have used a combination of cost-cutting, creative use of internal space and customer discounts to make more money with less potential customers. The Review has tracked Studio RK
Salon in two stories going back to 2007. To read about the entrepreneurs, go to www.Review.net and search: Karen Steuber.