How I Did It: Building a Career in Beauty as A Single Parent

Mary Ericsson has built a career in beauty for herself, all by herself. After first being bitten by the beauty bug at a young age, life took her down a series of side roads, but she found her way back to her passion: hairdressing. We sat down with Mary to learn how she managed to pursue her passion while raising her three sons as a single parent. This is her story.


I became interested in the beauty industry at 12 years old. My parents sent me to Bridgeport, Connecticut for the summer to stay with a close family friend and I became a junior assistant in her small beauty shop, Marie’s Coiffure, while I was there. The salon was in the same building as a liquor store, which was owned by the same couple. Each day, the men would go to the liquor store for a beer and a chat and their wives would go to the beauty parlor next door. I enjoyed shampooing, taking rollers out, sweeping, laughing, and all the donuts in the back room. It was my first introduction to salon life, and I fell in love with it.

In high school, my mom recommended that I take advantage of the cosmetology program. I took her advice and flourished. I even entered a state competition and won. The competition led to a job in a high-end salon called Mario Tricoci’s, where I received the best training that I could, not only as a stylist but also as Mr. Tricoci’s personal assistant. I remember helping him shop for furniture for his second salon location and he ended up buying the same furniture for his house! He used to fly in trainers from all over the world to educate his staff. It was a really great experience. I stayed with Tricoci’s for five years until Mario recommended me for  a TV stylist job in Texas.

Throwback Mary, working backstage
Throwback Mary, working backstage

I was dating my soon-to-be-husband at the time. Things were getting serious with him and my parents didn’t approve.  My mother wanted me to get as far away from him as possible, so I moved to Texas to live with my father. I worked at the TV station early in the morning, took classes at Midwestern State and also worked at a salon in town. In the meantime, the boyfriend I was sent away from would come to visit and charm my dad until he agreed that we could get married. We were married in Texas, moved back up to Illinois, and soon after, I was pregnant with twins. Twelve years  and three wonderful boys later, my marriage ended. Having been out of the workforce for so long to stay home and raise my children, I was scared. I wasn’t sure what I could do to make enough money to take care of my boys, so my passion for hairdressing was the last thing on my mind! I decided to return to school and complete a computer degree. I figured that was a safer choice.

After two years it occurred to me that I could make more money working in a salon than I did in an office, plus, I liked it A LOT better!

I moved back to a small town outside of Chicago to be closer to my mother and sisters, with my boys. My twins were eight years old and my youngest was three years old, so I needed all of the help I could get.  After completing my degree, I worked full-time in an office and I hated it. I also started to work part-time on the weekends in a salon, to make a little extra money. After two years it occurred to me that I could make more money working in a salon than I did in an office, plus, I liked it A LOT better!  I decided to transition to a salon full-time.

It was a struggle being a full-time working mom with three boys, I had to juggle parenting, my kids’ school schedule, my salon appointments and my work schedule. Parenting was especially challenging since I had to be both a mother and a father figure to my boys, as my ex-husband was not exactly a consistent presence in my children’s lives. I relied on my mother and in-home childcare, at first, to make sure that my kids were being well taken care of while I was gone working. As they grew, I trained my older sons to cook, clean and look after their little brother. Getting my boys to pitch in around the house was the easy part. What was harder was building my clientele after working for so long in an office environment.
Minimizing Risks quote
After four years of building my own clientele, I started to explore the idea of opening my own salon. The big push came after the salon I was working for at the time went out of business. I started slowly and became a booth renter with another stylist. I think what made this such a smart move (in hindsight) was that I minimized my risks by splitting the cost with someone else and she was a much more established stylist than I was, with a bigger clientele. I stayed a booth renter for seven years, building my list the entire time and establishing my name in the community. I realized the cost of renting a booth was very expensive and I explored starting up my own salon. In 2011, I opened ME Salon, with six chairs to rent.

Today, I do not regret opening my own salon, because even though I opened in a slow economy, I knew I could support running the salon financially because I had enough of a steady clientele to afford the rent and utilities. My clients were so happy for me that they all pitched in to help me put the space together. For instance, one of my older clients, who is a school superintendent, came to the salon after work one day. He rolled up the sleeves of his suit, got up on a tall ladder and helped me paint the very top of the walls that I couldn’t reach. I knew that my salon would be successful since my clients were so invested in me, both personally and professionally.

It certainly wasn’t an easy road and most of the time in order to build my career as a stylist, I had to work two jobs. I worked in doctor’s offices, got my dental hygienist certification, and even worked retail during the holidays. The way I looked at it was, one job fed my kids and the other fed my passion. My twins are now grown and on their own. One is a photographer and the other is…a hair stylist! I like to think that maybe all of my hard work and dedication inspired them to do whatever it takes to follow their passion. It was a long road, and it didn’t always follow a straight line, but after 25+ years in the business, I finally have my very own, successful salon.

You can see Mary’s work and learn more about her salon by visiting her Facebook page.

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