What started with a leisurely trip to Italy ended up inspiring the foundation of a successful salon business model in Ohio’s Cuyahoga Falls. Samantha Sharpless of VIVO Beauty Bar took the uniquely European practice of casual afternoon coffee bars into a complete beauty experience for salon clients.
Today, in a modern salon setting with a friendly and relaxing vibe Samantha and her team of beautytenders serve up whimsically named beauty libations from their wash & dry bar and color bar. Color services with monikers such as an Atomic Blonde with an Extra Shot are followed by cut and style services dubbed Classic Martini, Shooters, and a Chaser to keep guests both primped and amused. There’s also a nail bar, brow and lash bar, glow bar, and bridal bar for the complete beauty experience.
Rosy recently caught up with VIVO Beauty Bar owner Samantha Sharpless to muse about the inspiration for her business model and how her salon culture and use of technology all contribute to her success.
Rosy: First, tell us about you.
Samantha: I have been a hairstylist for 16 years. I specialize in hair extensions and have been working as an extension educator for the last 10 years—8 of which have been with AQUA Hair Extensions.
Rosy: How long has your salon been open?
Samantha: It will be four years in November since VIVO opened on Small Business Saturday in 2018. It was really cool to be able to open on Small Business Saturday, right before the holiday season. So, it worked out really well.
Rosy: So, how did it all start for you?
Samantha: My boyfriend was studying abroad in Italy, and I went to visit. That’s where I fell in love with the concept of coffee bars. I enjoyed the leisurely afternoon culture of taking a break to have a coffee, snack, or glass of wine. This inspired me to create a similar atmosphere in my salon back home.
Rosy: Cool garage door! Tell us about it.
Samantha: When we selected the space, the only thing that existed was the outer shell and the large roll-up garage door. My boyfriend and business partner is an architect; he used the garage door and new modern construction to create an open concept industrial space.
Rosy: How’s the parking?
Samantha: VIVO is located on the main street in a newly redeveloped downtown community. There is parking located on the street and a new lot across the street. The downtown is developed to have a live/work, walkable environment with many new small businesses throughout. We have a really awesome patio space, and we leave the garage door open as much as possible for outside seating. When the garage door is open, it creates a nice chemistry between clients and community members passing by. Sometimes people even walk their dogs into the salon to greet us.
Rosy: How have your clients received everything: your marketing, your space, how you run everything, your branding, etc.?
Samantha: Thankfully, we have been received very well by the community.
My partner and I are both from Pittsburgh, so we were relatively new to the area. After working at a few other salons in the area, I decided to take the leap and open my own salon.
I do believe the timing was everything. We got into the space right when the town was going through a major redevelopment. Many young business owners were investing locally, and I was also able to connect with many entrepreneurial women as well. There was a brewery, some boutiques, and a coffee shop that opened around the same time that we did. So much growth was happening, and I feel our new take on a beauty salon was a great fit for the downtown. Cuyahoga Falls is becoming a young, vibrant area, and our concept has thrived within it.
Our guests really love the space and are drawn in while driving or walking by.
Rosy: How did the pandemic affect your business?
Samantha: There has been a lot of work and challenges caused by the pandemic, but we’re grateful for the support we’ve received within the community. We took our downtime to strategize and plan, and we were very fortunate to have tremendous growth when we reopened. People were excited to get out and try new things, and we were very prepared to serve them. Early on, after the reopenings, most people felt more comfortable outside, and we were able to create that open-air feel with our garage door and open concept space.
Rosy: Do you have help managing the salon day to day?
Samantha: My sister Amanda is the salon manager and bridal coordinator, and she is my right hand – she has been there since day one and provides tremendous support for myself and the salon.
Rosy: Tell us about your salon culture and your team of beautytenders.
Samantha: Salon culture was a major priority to me when opening VIVO. I’ve worked in many salons, and I travel the country educating and connecting with other salon owners and stylists. I saw the potential to create a tight-knit team and amazing work environment and culture where every stylist would love to come to work every single day.
We are an employee-based salon, and education is one of our core values, along with teamwork. Our team thrives on continuing education to further their technical and business skills.
We are also a training-based salon that hires stylists directly from beauty school to experienced levels. Newer stylists go through a paid training program and become our beautytenders in Training. They’re able to learn, grow and develop within the salon. We offer lower-priced training services to guests for our beautytenders in training to gain experience and become comfortable in all service offerings.
Our salon offers an environment where you truly can feel excited to come to work every day, grow and learn, and feel that your guests enjoy being there every day as well. Because of this, I am definitely proud of the culture we’ve created.
Rosy: Would you consider yourself an environmentally conscious salon? Samantha: Absolutely! We are a Green Circle Salon, and we partner with eco-friendly brands such as Kevin Murphy, Dermalogica, and other brands that are environmentally friendly. Within our salon, we strive to make as many eco-conscious decisions each day as possible. For example, in our restrooms, we have re-useable hand towels that we wash throughout the day instead of single-use paper towels. We also use only glassware instead of single-use cups and ground coffee instead of single-use cups. We offer a refill program for our guests as well, where they can bring back any empty product to receive $5 off the retail price when we refill it or $5 off of a new one to recycle it if refilling isn’t an option.
Rosy: How does that work out for you in terms of space? Do you have room for the bins? Was that a challenge at all?
Samantha: When we were designing the space, we knew we wanted to be a Green Circle Salon. Since I had traveled all over the country educating, I was able to experience many other Green Circle Salon layouts. We made sure to have enough space to lay out the bins needed at each bar throughout the salon.
Rosy: How has technology played a part in your salon’s success? Samantha: Technology plays a huge role in our salon. Some of our first hired stylists had only ever used a paper book and never a software system. We’ve incorporated Rosy Salon Software from the beginning to allow our employees to easily book and manage appointments from their phones. Roughly six months in, we also incorporated online booking where guests could schedule their own appointments without the need to call. This allowed for a huge new guest influx without our salon. We have three stations in the salon where stylists can always view their schedule, adjust appointments, and track valuable data such as color formulas and the retail history of guests. This has helped day-to-day operations tremendously.
Rosy: Does your salon do any team-building exercises in any way?
Samantha: We provide education gatherings multiple times each month and try to do something fun outside of the salon once per month. Every other month we do a team photo shoot, in which typically a meal and drinks follow. This last shoot was National Wine Day themed, so, of course, we went to a local winery. Our whole team also went to Austin, Texas for a long weekend for the Kevin Murphy Fast.Forward show recently. We shut the salon down for three days and spent a few extra days having fun with each other. We have a monthly team meeting on the first Saturday of each month, and we always have mimosas and breakfast at each one. Everything we do, I try and make it a fun team event.
Rosy: Do you do anything on the client side for client retention or client building?
Samantha: Rosy’s platform has helped us tremendously within this department. We utilize the rewards program automation and email marketing to gain new clients and incentivize current clients for retention. We try to do bimonthly events in the salon as well – one that has worked really well for us we call BYOB, as in “bring in your own brushes,” where clients bring in their hair and makeup brushes, tools, products, makeup, etc., and we have a ‘how to’ session with them on styling their hair, how to do their makeup, and create any at home looks they’re wanting. We’ve even partnered with other local small businesses on these events. The last one, we partnered with a create-your-own candle company, where clients could come in, create and pour their own candles while they had a makeup or hair tutorial. Fun events like this help to bring the community together. Our favorite event is our summer Beauty Bar-BQ – which was the first event we ever did. We have a DJ, games, tons of beauty deals and promos, and essentially have a block party. Originally we offered various services during the Beauty Bar-BQ but have since transitioned to both an employee and customer appreciation event.
Rosy: Does your salon have a cancellation policy?
Samantha: We do have a cancellation policy and require each guest places a card on file to book any appointment with us. In some salons, cancelations and no-shows aren’t taken as seriously, and we’ve found this is a great way to gain our stylists’ trust—knowing we have their back. We are honest and upfront about our policy during every booking request, reminder, and appointment scheduling.
I saw Rosy’s recent webinar about how much money salons are losing with cancellations and no-shows – which is crazy. With technology and Rosy Software, the card-on-file feature is something that I’m glad is implemented into our business.
Rosy: Are you using the deposits feature?
Samantha: We take a bridal deposit and an extension deposit and have a SKU for each.
Rosy: Do you use any marketing features in your salon software?
Samantha: Yes, we opt into automated email marketing for birthdays, thank yous, appointment reminders, and monthly newsletters. We also love the push emails: On-Behalf Marketing for eCommerce.
Rosy: So you have an online store?
Samantha: We use SalonInteractive for our online eCommerce business. We are a pretty big retail-based salon, so having that option is a big perk. If a guest is going to go online and shop, we want them to shop with us. I truly don’t think this feature has taken away from our in-salon sales. It’s a different clientele doing each – for us, many clients are in college nearby, and when they go back home, they like to purchase their favorite products still. So, I find that most of our eCommerce business is about 5% local and 95% afar.
We have our On-Behalf Marketing turned on for many brands we don’t carry in the salon. There are clients that maybe want to try something else that we don’t stock.
Rosy: What would you consider to be your favorite Rosy feature?
Samantha: On the business and owner side of things, being able to create custom commission scales has been amazing. We are a level-based and sliding-scale commission salon, so when I do my own payroll weekly, just being able to easily run a commission and a time clock report and import it into my payroll has made my life so much easier.
Rosy is constantly adding to custom reports, making tracking data much easier. I meet monthly with each of my staff, going over their numbers and goals for growth. Being able to just run a report and give the numbers makes my life very easy each month.
Rosy: If you have to narrow down the secret to your success with your salon, what would that be?
Samantha: I’ve found success in investing in and empowering people and always being open-minded. Knowing and understanding that everyone is their own person, with their own goals, needs, and wants, and being open to empowering that. This is something I really had to learn and accept early on; I sometimes wanted more for some than what they did for themselves, but I had to really listen and meet them where they were at and what they were looking for. Some stylists are here for the camaraderie of the salon and our culture, and not necessarily to grow and make the most money. Others want to chase the money and be the best they can be. My job as their leader is to listen to their wants and help them develop into the best version of themselves. If making more money is what they want, buying a house or car, or even just how to create a budget, then let’s do it. I think just always be open to listening to what they’re looking for and how to help them reach their personal and professional goals.
Learn more about VIVO Beauty Bar owner Samantha Sharpless in her Salon Today cover feature for the 2022 technology issue FLIPBOOK VERSION.
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