Solo Artist

Career Interrupted

Victoria Wurdinger | December 15, 2015 | 8:43 AM
Tyra Wahl and her husband Armin. Every time the military relocated him, she rebuilt her business as a renter.
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Wahl’s chair at May River Beauty in Bluffton, SC, where one “price-bundled” cut/color/blowout and a single cut cover the weekly rent. She works about 28 hours per-week.
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BEFORE: A makeover from Tyra Wahl, which showcases her love of dry finishing, texturizing and balayage color.
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AFTER: A makeover from Tyra Wahl, which showcases her love of dry finishing, texturizing and balayage color.
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When Tyra Lynn Wahl married a military man, she had to build and re-build her business from California to South Carolina. Business cards, referral programs and a strong educational foundation served her every time.

Back in the ‘80s,Tyra Wahl did shampoo and sets, and spiral and piggyback perms, which she says she can still roll in her sleep. Her mother was a hairdresser, later her sister became one, and while Wahl was in school, she was a “defacto apprentice” for her mother’s best friend—another hairdresser. She moved from the LA area to San Diego to be closer to her mother, but when she became a military spouse, her support base transformed into a station-by-station career, from Mississippi to Virginia, Florida then back to California, with the last stop in Bluffton, SC. Somewhere along the way, she got a BA in English literature and anthropology, and later an MA in Cosmetology and an international hairdressing certification, so she could still work in the event she ended up “in purgatory” (overseas).

Throughout her entire career, she worked as a commissioned stylist for just 8 months; being self-employed better allowed her to plan for a future, she says. “I have a college degree and know how to run numbers,” notes Wahl. “I have extensive retirement planning structures and savings in place, and will be able to retire when I want to. In the military, it’s called doing the Ps: Prior Proper Planning Prevents __ Poor Performance.”

(There was another P in there, but you get the idea.)

With each move, Wahl looked for a rental salon with like-minded stylists with minimal egos; only once did she err, ending up with a group that “gutter-sniped each other.” But with an attitude her husband would love, she reconned the area, mobilized her reserves and re-deployed her proven survival tactics.

In Command and Control

According to Wahl, each time she re-located, she focused on marketing directly to potential clients. “I’d buy business cards by boxes of 1000,” she says. “You can not be self-employed in any business, let alone the hair business, and be shy about talking about yourself. My husband always jokes that I have never met a stranger, and yes, I always ask about the person’s hair.”

Strategy #2 was to never compete with discounters. Instead, Wahl handed out her cards to potential clients and created a healthy referral program for established ones. Those who referred new clients received free hair products or free add-on services, but never a discount on a chemical service. Also, she says, she is lucky enough to have a sister who owns a farm and makes handmade goat’s milk soaps, so every year as soon as November 1st rolls around, she starts gifting clients with a soap in their scent of choice.

Despite the fact she bluntly calls herself an education “ho” (she’s invested $3,000 alone this year), she does not think there’s anything unique about her work. “A 90-degree elevation will always have the same result, regardless of the head, a level 6N is just that,” she notes. “What I do differently is that I listen and ask a ton of questions, then based on the response, I get clients’ hair to where they want it to be—within reason. I’m also liberal in my use of the word ‘no.’”

Wahl is also relentless about pre-booking (80%) and says about 5% of her appointments are on Vagaro’s “auto book,” with some clients locking-in appointments a full year in advance. In fact, she exudes so much authority about pre-booking that she can even “make it very clear that I charge extra if someone goes 6 weeks or more. I educate clients on how they are actually saving money by coming more often, rather than waiting longer between appointments—especially when it comes to color.” (If clients need more color for an extended retouch, she charges $10 to $15 extra.)

While you might think Wahl would have natural allies in other military wives, she says they won’t usually take a chance on disliking the work of another military wife, which would make social events awkward. Now her husband has retired from the military, military spouses do come to her.

As for wealth planning as a renter, Wash says she just can’t keep the grin off her face. “I have always understood that you pay yourself before you pay anyone else,” she says. “I have had a Roth IRA and a standard IRA since I started working. When I reached the point that I was maxing out those investment vehicles, I started a Simple 401k, as well as a standard brokerage account. I always invested where I saw a potential for growth and return—large, diversified companies—and my husband, who has a BA in math and a minor in finance, has always been the same way. As a result, our financial advisor recruited my husband out of the military and into his second career as a financial advisor with Edward Jones. So, now I sleep with my financial advisor, and I don’t have to pay brokerage fees anymore!”

Inside Scoop:

On Education:
Premiere Orlando and the ISSE show in Las Vegas are the best. Yearly, I attend advanced academies like Vidal Sassoon’s and Paul Mitchell’s, as well as any technique-based independent classes that I can find that are well reviewed, such as Candy Shaw’s balayage class.

Best and Worst States for Renters:
Mississippi was the worst and South Carolina wasn’t far behind. California makes it easiest to be self-employed. I maintain licenses in SC and CA; CA has the longest and hardest practical, so it’s worth keeping that investment intact.

Working Smarter, Not Harder:
I am strategic with my time and my client’s. I calculate my prices based on time, as well as product investment. I do not double book clients; I charge more for basic services. I don’t like a la carte pricing—I bundle services together and price them according to the time involved.

Best Money-Savers: Square and Vagaro. Square has POS metrics that I use to evaluate my business by setting specific report parameters…daily, monthly, yearly or by service. You can’t chart where you’re going without some sort of metric. Vagaro cuts down on flipping through a book when calls come in, and its appointment confirmation and reminder systems cut down on no-shows. Both are worth every penny and I can write them off.

Best Add-on Service: No question, Olaplex.

Tool Trick: I am in love with my Tara XL dry shears. There are a lot of shears out there, but cost doesn’t always mean quality. Find a trained shear sharpener in your area, be friendly and pick his or her brain about shears. For 10 years now, mine has let me test-drive anything I want and often brings me shears to test-drive for him. It’s the best relationship a stylist can have.

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