A local entrepreneur is thriving rather than surviving, thanks to a unique business model that allowed her to launch a business, along with a commitment to creativity and the determination to succeed.
Associated Hair Professionals (AHP) recently named Courtney “Beauty” Smith its Indie Stylist of the Year. The national organization dedicated to supporting independent stylists and barbers detailed her journey from barely making ends meet to earning six figures in AHP Indie Stylist magazine.
“It’s very overwhelming,” Smith said. “It’s still so surreal and very amazing.”
Smith said she excelled in a Paul Mitchell school and graduated with honors in 2009. Her husband’s grandmother fell ill with cancer just as she began making a name for herself in Virginia.
The couple moved to St. Pete from Virginia Beach in 2015 to care for the grandmother. Smith said she thought starting over in Florida would be an easy task.
She was wrong.
An essay to AHP highlighted Smith’s struggle to reestablish herself in an industry fueled by word-of-mouth advertising. That led to the award and a spread in the organization’s magazine.
Smith worked two jobs, did early-morning freelance work and reserved her weekend gigs for friends and family when she landed in St. Pete. She noted that social media sites became a popular marketing tool, and Smith went to work creating a local brand.
A mentor challenged her to open a business to gain professional independence and increase her earnings. However, Smith could not afford to lease or buy a brick-and-mortar location.
Everything changed when Smith discovered My Salon Suite in 2016 and launched Beauty Smith Hair Studio. Coworking spaces are an increasingly popular concept in the industry, and My Salon Suite features 280 locations across the U.S. and Canada, including downtown St. Petersburg.
“When I first started here, I could not afford it,” Smith said. “They were able to work with me, and I shared a suite at first. My property managers are phenomenal. I always like to say, ‘It’s not a money problem – it’s a creative problem.'”
She said splitting the weekly rent allowed her to determine what services she needed to perform before turning a profit. About 28 people work at the local location, and Smith said her monthly costs – not including utilities – are around $1,500.
Smith made around $10,000 through her first six months, a significant increase. She earned $40,000 through her first year and topped $100,000 in 2019.
“I think it just boils down to knowing your numbers, which is something that was really hard for me to learn,” Smith added.
She preferred to focus on the creative side of the business but realized increasing operational efficiency was imperative to achieving her goals. Smith created a detailed list of overhead costs and raised her prices accordingly.
She also utilized My Salon’s Point of Sale (POS) system to discern her most requested and profitable services. Rather than providing what Smith called a “smorgasbord” of options, she now specializes in luxury extension and coloring packages.
That has allowed her to take care of her home, salon and save for rainy days or vacations. While Smith wouldn’t trade her experience “for the world,” she encourages up-and-coming stylists to create a growth plan and not to be afraid of taking the independent route after some time assisting in a salon.
“I wish I would have done something like My Salon Suites a lot sooner,” Smith said. “Because I was in the industry for almost seven years before I ever went out on my own.”
She is now looking for someone to mentor at the salon. Smith said she must turn away potential clients and understands why people need assistants and employees to manage growth.
The plan is to help someone follow her recent career trajectory. Smith noted she is taking business classes to sharpen her marketing and branding skills.
That required shutting down her business to attend out-of-state classes, and Smith said she would “literally spoon-feed” her mentee clients and give them the knowledge to thrive.
While she noted it is “extremely expensive” to open a store downtown, the ultimate goal is building a successful, culturally focused salon around a common focus.
“So that everyone can eat when they go home and vacation when they want,” Smith said with a laugh. “I wish that I had somebody to do that for me.”