laura b. featured in crain’s chicago!
Sine’s owner Laura B. was featured in Crain’s Chicago Business to speak about her 30 years as a salon owner. Check out the article below!
In Chicago and its suburbs, is there any storefront more ubiquitous than the beauty salon? If you thought there was a pizza parlor on every street corner, consider this: There are 78,000 pie destinations in the entire U.S. according to retail statistics. Banks? Some 72,000 of those. The current count for gas stations is 145,000. But for beauty salons offering hair and nail services and even facials – there are a remarkable 1.4 million locations in the nation.
Laura Boton operates three of them on the city’s North Side under the name Sine Qua Non (which means an essential thing in Latin). Her journey and success open a window into this small-business niche.
“This is one of the biggest-grossing industries in America” says Boton, 58. “Most people don’t realize that.” It’s also lucrative for stylists, she adds. Of her 48 employees, one-third earn $100,000 and more each year working on hair. Sales volumes are fattened beyond the typical $100 haircut by a rising demand for coloring, which can run as much as $500 per customer for the more flamboyant hues. “It’s a great time to be a hairdresser” Boton says. “A lot of people
entering this business are doing very well right now.”
Boton grew up in Des Plaines, the daughter of a pharmacist and housewife, and from an early age loved clothes and fashion and music. She was singing in rock bands at 15, but singing didn’t pay the rent, and waiting tables wasn’t much better. While she was earning $80 a shift in 1988, Boton noticed that friends cutting hair were making closer to $800 a week. She quit her music classes at DePaul Universitv – “I could tell that I would never be a classical vocalist” – and enrolled in beauty school for a vear of training. After graduation, she found she could make $35.000 a year working at salons in places like Saks Fifth Avenue in the Old Orchard Mall.
The money was fine, but Boton was unhappy, a condition she shared with many other stylists working long hours. It was all the fault of management, she says. “They worked me like a dog.” she recalls. “I worked a full 40 hours behind the chair each week with no break, no days off. If I wanted a day off, I had to come in and work on a weekend to make it up. There was no flexibility, no consideration for the employees. Each place I worked had a lot of turnover as a result.”
Bv 1993, Boton was ready to go into business for herself, with a business model that would give her employees flexible hours and generous benefits. With $15,000 in loans from two friends and another $15,000 loan from her parents, she set up shop in a 1.100-square-foot leased space at 2944 N. Lincoln Ave., with room for a half-dozen chairs. Some 75% of her old clientele came along to the new place, and the unusual name and Boton’s range of friends in the music business provided a good base of business. From the outset. Boton trained her new hires in techniques beyond what ordinary beauty schools could provide, and once they were ready to go to work, she gave them a long leash.
In the years since, Sine Qua Non has had virtually no turnover in personnel – unusual in the beauty business. “I give people their own control over how thev work ” Boton savs. “There is no rigid structure. I listen to my stylists and I care about them. You don’t get that at many salons.”
Karen Gordon, a stylist for 44 years who is the former president of Cosmetologists Chicago, a trade group that stages the
America’s Beauty Show each year in Rosemont, says Boton’s success in retaining workers ought to be a lesson for her rivals. “Many salons have too many strict rules and have become too corporate,” Gordon says. “Laura is compassionate. She’s more of a free spirit like me. And this is important today, because many of the young people coming into the business insist on flexibility and the right to set their own hours.”
Boton’s system is working. She grossed $350,000 during her first year in business three decades ago, and will do $3 million this vear in sales at her salons in West Town. Lakeview and Andersonville. She eschews further expansion out of fear of the corporate image that Gordon notes. And time off is important for her employees and herself. Boton, who still cuts hair four hours a week for a small clientele, took off for 10 days recentlv in her part-time role as vocalist for
the Chicago progressive rock band Cheer-Accident, which toured clubs along the East Coast – proving there is life beyond the styling salon, after all.