Starting out in a tough environment - East Valley Tribune: Business

Starting out in a tough environment

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Posted: Thursday, November 27, 2008 6:10 pm | Updated: 11:55 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

Starting a small business for the first time - especially during an economic downturn - is a major challenge.

Kendall Emerson, 37, who opened Reveal Salon six months ago at the Superstition Springs Center at Baseline and Power roads in Mesa, knows firsthand.

"One of my first major hurdles was finding financial assistance," Emerson said. "I didn't have any history for making business loans, only personal loans. So it took a lot of searching to find a company that would support me."

Once the financial issues were settled, Emerson said the next major step was establishing her new salon. "I searched the Internet for just about everything I needed," Emerson said. "Including a salon."

Emerson, who learned her skills at a cosmetology school in Georgia 10 years ago, found an established shop whose owners wanted to get out of the business.

"I looked for an existing salon that I knew would be easier to take over rather than start one from scratch," Emerson said.

A brand-new salon would also cost more, a major issue in the poor economy, she said.

But Emerson, who worked as an accountant for a Valley corporation before deciding to open her own business, found that the location of her new salon was a challenge. Her business is in a shopping center near the Mesa-Gilbert border that is steadily losing shops.

"Many stores left after Albertsons moved out about three years ago," Emerson said. "But those of us who are here seem to be doing OK, so far."

She remodeled the shop, adding new equipment and chairs and hired four stylists and two nail technicians. She rents some of her space to a massage therapist.

"Another big challenge was gaining the trust of the existing staff, then getting the word out to the community that we're in business," she said.

Gerry Keim, associate dean at the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University, confirmed the challenges facing Emerson and other new owners of small businesses.

"This is a very difficult time to start a new business," Keim said. "The market is not growing. And it's going to continue to be difficult until people get confidence about not losing their jobs and the economy bounces back."

He said buyers in today's economy tend to spend their money at established companies that have strong reputations and avoid those that have not yet become well-known, including new businesses.

"It's very tough for new businesses, especially small new businesses."

Despite the challenges, Emerson said her business has grown by more than 20 percent since opening.

To deal with the slow economy, Emerson is offering moderate prices as well as new services, including hair and eyelash extensions.

"Everybody who comes here talks about the economy and how it's making them feel depressed," she said. "But when they leave the salon, they look better and feel better. That's a positive."

She added: "I'm going to keep on keeping on, despite the economic uncertainty."

She said one effect of the downturn is that her customers are getting haircuts every six weeks on average instead of four. Another trend is that women customers are tending to keep their natural hair colors rather than getting the more expensive hairhighlighting.

"We, and our customers, are adjusting day by day," Emerson said.

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