Industry News

Running a Rental Business like a Co-op

Lauren Salapatek | November 15, 2015 | 2:01 PM
Amy Sawyer has a nice problem to have—she can’t even accept new clients. She’ll re-evaluate after vacation, she says, and a price increase.
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At Amy Sawyer [email protected], clients love the intimacy, and Sawyer thrives among high-caliber pros.
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Sanctuary’s common areas are always clean and inviting, thanks to the co-op approach.
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Sawyer loves 4.5-inch Hikari Shears, for her signature precision cuts with carved hairlines.
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In hair painting, the hair tells you what it needs, says Sawyer.
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When Amy Sawyer and two others took over the space at Sanctuary in Narragansett, RI, they decided to run it like a co-op with independent businesses. Here’s how it works:

When you run your own business, you can choose any business allies you want. So when a sub-lessee of Sanctuary Salon left, Amy Sawyer, another renter and the primary lease holder decided to run it as a co-op. Each has her own suite, but responsibilities are distributed equally.

For instance, they share all common areas, including reception and the restroom. Each week, they rotate who cleans those areas and buys essentials. (The suites have their own dispensaries and back bar.) Monthly, they meet with receipts, as well as gas, electric and Internet bills, and divide them three ways, with those who bought supplies being reimbursed by the other two.

The trio was equally united when they re-negotiated the primary lease. All three had different must-haves, which were included, and all are on the lease, meaning no one person can push-out another. “We’re all very professional, and it has worked out brilliantly,” says Sawyer. “Not once has anyone had to be reminded about her responsibilities.”

Success Prep

It’s no accident that Sawyer ended up in such a great situation. She left the hotel industry at the age of 31 for a creative career change. Because she “got in business late,” she says, she hit the ground running. “I felt there was no time to fool around.”

To play catch-up, Sawyer aligned herself with crème de la crème of the industry. She became part of the TIGI Art Team, where she educated for 10 years while working in a salon. She studied at Sassoon in London, took advanced courses at every opportunity, attended Cosmoprof in Italy and took classes in France. She also attended Roundtables with Beth Minardi.

Once she’d been working for eight years, she realized she was booked solid and that her over-flow was being given to other stylists. Time to go rental! All that education was the reason 90% of clients followed her, and continued to do so as moved to different operations. In 2012, she found the aptly named Sanctuary.

Lessons to Learn

Sawyer has always used education to build business. For instance, she can’t go beyond a certain price in her small resort town, but by relentlessly promoting her continuing education, she is able to charge at the highest end. How else does she use training to ensure success?

  • “I learned from TIGI the importance of a brand.” Since her name is her brand, anywhere she moved became Amy Sawyer [email protected] (rental salon)
  • Every two years Sawyer, increases her prices, planning them around educational excursions. She sends out emails and places a tastefully worded sign at her station that due to the extensive training she invested in, the price of a cut would be increasing by $5.
  • Extensive education lead her to add important Brazilian smoothing services. “It is very humid here, and we also have snowbirds to go to Florida,” says Sawyer. “It is a small but important part of my business; some clients come in every 12 weeks, others bi-yearly. It’s important to use a mask and gloves. I have a source exhaust system, as well as a Dyson air multiplier near the back door. Clients and the other renters appreciate it.”
  • Currently at full capacity, Sawyer leaned in her early days to hand out cards everywhere, from the grocery store to the post office. “When I was building business, I offered clients 10% off to come in,” she says.
  • Once she had a strong business, she employed another seminar lesson: “to add, not take away” by offering free foils or a conditioning service, not a discount.
  • Sawyer made that philosophy part of her referral program—clients who sent her 3 referrals get a free add-on.

With more clients than she can handle, Sawyer most recently mastered time management. She added cancellation and no-show policies, and focused on life-work balance. After 20 years in the business, she now takes Saturdays off—and three weeks from before Christmas to past New Year’s, so she can vacation in Florida with her husband. Clients know it and by August, they’ve rushed to book those coveted slots, all the way through January. 


More about Amy Sawyer:

Schedule: Tuesday-Friday, for a total of 35 hours/wk.

Working Smarter Not Harder: Retail! I learned early on that there are only so many appointment hours, but retail is infinite, there is no cap on what you can make.

Haircolor Brands: Beth Minardi and Keune

Best Color Technique Now: Hair painting. Balayage uses cotton between layers. Hair painting lets you use brushes and sponges, and drop sections on one another. Specialty: Precision cropped cuts, based on Sassoon training, and cut-customized color.

Fav Add-on: Demineralizing with Malibu C Crystals. We have a lot of hard water, and it gives me amazing color results. Add 20 minutes and charge $25.

Pricing: Cuts, $75, Root touch-up, $75 with $20 glaze; cut and color together, $130. Brazilian Blowout, $300.

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