Courtney Olson is a talented stylist who has come a long way…literally. While still a young beauty professional, she has gone through something that would terrify someone early on in their career: a cross-country move. Here, Courtney tells us about her experience moving from a cushy salon in Los Angeles to an oft-named “Best Salon in Chicago,” and what came after.
The beauty industry is in my blood. Not only did seven of my distant relatives in Chicago work as barbers, my grandma owned a salon in Los Angeles. I was destined to become a stylist! It always interested me when I was a dancer in high school doing everyone’s hair and makeup for competitions. After graduation, I attended the cosmetology program at Goldenwest Community College. While there, I was a makeup artist at Victoria’s Secret Beauty and worked as an assistant with a bridal company, Hair Comes The Bride. From there I moved on to assisting and then becoming a full-time stylist at the salon I would call home for nine years, Texture Salon (now Ashtin) in Corona del Mar, California.
It was a high-end rental salon with a clientele base ranging from young twentysomethings, families, and middle-aged professionals. Laura Lee and her husband David Lee owned Texture for over 13 years. The salon housed over 20 stylists, colorists, and assistants and was home to a makeup artist and nail technician. They had a strong focus on education (specifically Vidal Sassoon for cutting and styling and Schwarzkopf and Kadus for color education). This was not only for their assistant program but also continuing education for their resident stylists. Everyone who worked there became family. I began my career there by being the assistant to the owner for about a year before getting my own chair. To this day, I can credit her for my strong foundation in cutting and finishing work. I still consider her one of the most technically skilled stylists I’ve ever met.
When I decided to move to Chicago, it was suggested that I look on Yelp to learn from a client’s perspective what the best salons were. From there I researched the salons that were spoken most highly of. I contacted them a few months before I moved to Chicago for pre-interviews and then followed up with the ones I liked best once I arrived in March. I eventually found a new “home” at Red 7 Salon in the River North neighborhood of Chicago.
My transition to Red 7 had some really smooth, better than expected points, and a few rough ones as well. I knew moving to a new city with no clients in tow was going to be challenging and my biggest concern was earning the respect of my new co-workers. Due to the fact that I arrived with 9 years in the industry under my belt, I had client relation, technical skill, and salon experience on my side. Red 7 required me to do a 6 month abbreviated assistant program to understand how their salon ran, get comfortable with staff and management, and refine my cutting and coloring skills to align with how the other stylists worked.
Even though some of my former co-workers thought I was crazy for starting over in a new program, I wanted all of my new ones to understand I didn’t expect anything special just because I came in with experience. I wanted them to see that this was my passion and I respected everything they’ve done to get their chair and I was prepared to do the same. Some days were better than others. By the end of those six months, I felt like I had done my best to prove myself and learn as much as I could from their education staff. It was a breath of fresh air to start over with new faces, new stories, and new ideas for each person who sat in my chair. The transition from Southern California beach hair to refined Chicago professional hair was luckily easier than I expected!
I was lucky that the salon that I started at has a great reputation and a large volume of new business contacting them every day. There are plenty of new opportunities to fill your chair each day, but it is how you connect with them that determines if they come back again. I always try to listen, communicate, and deliver the best I can to every person who sits in my chair. It is the best feeling to see that new client the second, third, and fourth time. And it’s even better when you see their friends and family that they’ve referred to you.
However, the salon I started at in California was a rental salon, and the one I moved to in Chicago was a commission-based salon. After a few years in Chicago, I realized I missed running my own business and having the ability to best provide for my clients needs and wants as well as my own. I enjoy the business side of the industry and missed the “hands on” aspect of being self-employed. Just before the 4-year mark of being in Chicago, I took the plunge to move to a suite rental and laid the foundation of one day owning a storefront.
Having already gone through a major career transition, I knew that this one wasn’t going to be easy. I was lucky to rebuild a strong following in a shorter amount of time than I had ever expected. My clients were loyal to me and I would always try my best to accommodate their needs. I realized at one point that I was outgrowing the confinement of working for someone else. I wanted to do more for my clients than I was able to. I knew at that point I needed and was ready to move on to the next step!
Partnering up with two friends who wanted to become self-employed as well, we moved into two salon suites; one in Schaumburg and one in Chicago. That’s where we started to build a brand for ourselves. I feel really grateful to say that things went far better than I could have imagined when I made that jump. Many of my former clients followed me and started referring their friends and family. The overwhelming support from each person was amazing. I could have never done it without them!
Of course, there are always little things that you look back on and wish you had done differently, but you have to learn from each experience to make yourself and your business that much better. I don’t think I have any regrets thus far. I am very happy we started small in suite spaces to get comfortable with running a business. This will only help us prepare for our ultimate goal of moving into a larger space with more employees. I want to be the best owner, business partner, co-worker, and stylist I can be to anyone that surrounds me in this business. I want to listen, communicate, and learn from everyone because it can only make me better!
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