Located in the Mid-Market neighborhood of San Francisco, Steel + Lacquer is a busy salon company co-owned by hair artists Lena Garcia and Jarrod Aldama. This eco-conscious salon offers a variety of hair and beauty services in a safe and caring space with a genuinely inclusive atmosphere. But what’s most impressive about the business is the strong partnership between the two co-owners. What started as a friendship just out of beauty school turned into a 15-year partnership that became the foundation of the business.
In a recent chat with this dynamic duo, Rosy asked some pointed questions about their partnership and success and what advice they might offer other salon owners that don’t have a partner.
Rosy: What is the current sentiment at Steel + Lacquer?
Jarrod: After the pandemic, when we were shut down and then reopened, we were happy we made it to the other side! Today, we’re still open, and I feel very blessed and honored. We have been looking at things very differently and paying it forward. Right now, we want to take the opportunity to say, “Keep the faith and keep the hope, industry!”
Rosy: How did your partnership begin?
Jarrod: Lena and I have known each other for 15 years. We started at a company here in San Francisco right out of school. We went through their training program and then became educators together at that salon. About seven years in, we decided to start our own venture. Our salon company, Steel + Lacquer, has been open for seven years. There have been different evolutions of the company, but we’re here today with 19 employees, and we do nails, waxing, makeup, and all hair services.
Since coming back from the pandemic, we’ve really tried to focus on diversifying our education and our overall team and culture. We’ve always focused on education – we come from an education-based company, and we have been a Summit Salon since before we opened. We have followed their systems and processes, and we’ve done a lot of their education. I am now working for Summit Salon Business Center as a salon business consultant; this is my first year, so I am flipping to their side of things.
Lena: It has been really wonderful how our own evolutions in life have intertwined with each other in and out of the salon. The last 15 years have been filled with challenges and triumphs of every shape and size. As a result, it has created one of the strongest relationships I’ve ever experienced. I think that a lot of business partners would probably envy the partnership that we have.
Rosy: That’s good, strong relationships in partners, co-partners that go into business together, when they stay strong like you guys are staying, it’s kind of rare to find. Sometimes it doesn’t stay that way, but that’s great that you guys have that.
Lena: It has not only made my relationship with Jarrod stronger but also with my fiance! The way that we work this out with each other is to ensure we have the same goal in mind and we’re both willing to do the work to get there. That can translate through any relationship: friendships, business, dating, all of that!
I remember hearing that relationship advice at some point, and that’s when I realized, “Oh – I think we’re doing that, or we can do a little more to clarify that it’s what we both want.”
Discovering the WHYs
Jarrod: We’ve been open for a little over seven years. After surviving the pandemic and coming back, a rebirth happened for the company. I think it was time that we got really clear about our WHYs and laid out that foundation.
We helped take the team beyond the, “I like making people feel and look good,” but truly, why is it you do what you do, and why do you show up every day, why are you passionate, why do you have that willingness to be a part of our company.
The first time I got to the root of my WHY, I was sitting next to Lena, and I turned to her and was crying because I felt tapped. I grew up in a hair salon my entire life, but I wasn’t out as a kid. My aunt was a hairdresser, and it was the only place that I felt like I could go where it was safe, and I could be my authentic self in this social, fun, and creative environment.
I’ve been chasing the safe container my entire life, and I think through being a hairdresser, I help other people feel their authentic selves. And now, as a salon owner, that’s really where the magic is. It’s about growing young professionals and helping them see the potential that they can’t see yet, and helping them to get there and live their best authentic life as well.
Rosy: Describe your salon culture.
Jarrod: Lena and I have known each other for so long that there’s been a natural evolution in us as individuals but also us as partners and business owners. We were young to own a business, only 29 when we decided to do this, and I think that we’ve done a lot of work on ourselves.
We have really tried to be vulnerable and show up and be honest and transparent. We have monthly meetings with all of our employees to really allow them to discuss their happiness and where they want to be with their goals. I think there are a lot of touchpoints regarding spending time with our staff and ensuring that everyone is acknowledged and heard.
We have a 24-hour policy where if something’s not right, it needs to be addressed within 24 hours. We empower our team to handle everything at the level with that person and not have to go to management or the owners. Therefore I think there is a sense of ownership and everybody inside of the company really treats it like their own. And I think that has a lot to do with Lena and me. We still see ourselves as young hairdressers, not just “we’re the owners” vibe. Our culture is just a bunch of nice, passionate, vulnerable, willing people to be a part of something bigger.
Balancing Ownership & Clientele
Rosy: Do you have any secrets to balancing your clientele and ownership duties?
Lena: Sometimes, it does feel like you’re using your best judgment at the moment because you can’t always predict everything that happens at every point in the day. I will confess that I would never be able to do what we’re doing right now without Jarrod. Without a business partner, especially Jarrod being that person, there’s just no way!
For salon owners that don’t have a business partner, I think being able to delegate responsibilities to a manager or someone that’s in a leadership role is very, very huge. That way, it’s not all on your shoulders. One challenge is knowing what or when to delegate, but it is sometimes just trial and error. Understanding the beauty of letting go and not feeling like you have to be the person that takes care of every single thing. It allows you space to show up more for the business. The feeling of being handcuffed to being behind the chair is not fun – there are other options.
Jarrod: I think asking for help is part of delegating. Also, hiring a Summit coach. What I believe and subscribe to is that you should have three people in your life: people that you look up to, people that are your peers, and people that are looking up to you. As a salon owner and being the person who is naturally a servant leader and giving to their guests, team, and community, you need to have boundaries and then have someone hold you accountable for those boundaries. I also believe that there are a lot of owners who are not charging their proper value or worth. Ensure that you are priced correctly to your demand so that the time you spend behind the chair is equivalent to taking a day away from behind the chair, so you’re able to work on the business and not in it.
Rosy: Do you two find in your situation where Jarrod, you take more of the HR role, and Lena, you take more of the operational role? Does one of you do the coaching, and the other does the payroll or something like that?
Lena: There are some details that we’re still figuring out because there are some shifts that are happening within our lives., but if we were to do more of a generalization, I would say Jarrod is much more in operations, and I am much more HR. However, we know how to step into those roles when needed. We wear all of those hats for our number one guests – our associates. Learning how to do that didn’t happen overnight. Being able to have the skills and the tools to call upon when you need them. It’s like, “hold on a second, let me dust that part off in my brain and pull that file out, but I know how to do this!”
Rosy: Are you teaching these classes, or are others?
Lena: We have all of the above. Jarrod teaches hair cutting, and I teach color. Both of us also work with associates. We have a leadership team that also teaches class on a rotation. The main focus is haircutting and hair color.
Jarrod: And then behind the chair, real-life theory around what it means to be a successful service provider. Within the leadership team, everyone teaches, minus our manager, so that way, this is just not on one person. So we have a total of five educators that rotate through hair cutting, color, and theory.
The Story Behind Steel + Lacquer
Rosy: Tell us how you started your brand?
Jarrod: Our brand identity was designed by a collaboration of Mackey Saturday & Scott Allen Hill, incredibly talented designers, and it was a cool opportunity to go through the idea of Steel + Lacquer and bring it to life without actually having the physical space.
Rosy: What about the salon itself?
Jarrod: Our close friend Tiffany Kramer is an interior designer here in the city. Just asking for some pointers on where we should go with the design turned into her designing our space – it was a very collaborative moment between the three of us.
We wanted the space not to be masculine or feminine. We wanted it to feel very androgynous and speak to just everyone. People kept asking us as we built the salon, “what is it? Is it modern or contemporary?” We were like, “it has texture!” There are a lot of different textures, and I think that speaks to the beauty in hair. Hair doesn’t have a skin color, race, or ethnic background – hair is a fabric. I think that goes for our colors for Steel + Lacquer – it’s black and white and a little grayscale. We didn’t want our brand identity to be like Tiffany’s is, where everything is about the blue box, and you’re married to this one color palette. We wanted to have a brand that is very timeless and almost avant-garde where it could be in London or San Francisco or New York or L.A., you know.
Rosy: I see on your website that you are a Green Circle salon. How has that relationship been, and how does it fit into your goals and your mission as an eco-friendly salon?
Lena: For me, it was such a wonderful relief. I hate waste. I was first introduced to the company at an event in New York. One of the speakers was going on and on about how great it was working for their salon. I was inspired and thought it was something we should look into.
There are so many wonderful things about it; not only are we helping our mother earth, but it is another source of pride for what we built. We know how much waste the salon industry can produce, and we are doing our best in trying to reduce that. Is it a slight challenge to figure out what goes where at times? Absolutely. And having to go through that with every new hire is like, “Okay, we’ve got to talk about this, and I need you to be right here with me. But also trying to convey not only my excitement but how important it is for us to get this right is part of the journey.
Rosy: It’s like sorting laundry but with consequences!
Lena: Yes. It’s me trying to instill the value of what we’re doing without being a crazy person about it. In the salon where Jarrod and I met, I was that person, and that was before San Francisco had compost bins. Green Circle has been awesome; our clients are really stoked about it. I’m just really happy that we’re continuing to make a difference and work with them.
Jarrod: We just try and stay innovative as well. We just recently joined the Vish family, and we love that Rosy is integrated. That was a bonus for us. But I’m stoked about seeing the amount of waste that doesn’t make it to Green Circle. That’s going to be some really cool data points working those two angles together. We also have Ecoheads on our shampoo bowl heads.
Rosy: Just wait until you see all of the money you are saving and the waste that you are preventing with Vish by measuring and reweighing and everything. It brings so much more awareness to your team about overmixing and not realizing it.
Favorite Rosy Features
Rosy: So, what would be your favorite Rosy features?
Lena: We definitely would not be able to survive without online scheduling. But for me, it’s how easy it is to bring up the data points: service, sales, and all of the other reports needed for payroll and one-on-one meetings. We work so closely to make sure that our team meets their goals and the salon altogether, so access to those numbers is important. We would not be able to do that efficiently if we didn’t have that resource from Rosy.
Jarrod: The pronoun movement that Rosy just did! That’s right up our alley, especially in San Francisco. The fact that Rosy is in salons across America speaks volumes about the company and the inclusion factor. I think it’s huge.
Photography by Anthony Hudson