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Stylist’s layoff leads to her own business
Knoxville News Sentinel
Hugh G. Willett
Aug 31, 2009
Elaine Stapleton, third from right, talks to her employees in her store in Farragut. Stapleton and her friends opened the salon after doing most of the manual labor, including renovating the floors, painting the walls and installing the fixtures, to get it ready for business
“One of the things I discovered when I left my previous job is that people will follow you. Your relationships really are an asset.”
After 31 years working at the same hair salon, Elaine Stapleton found herself out of a job in April.
At 50, with two children still living at home, the situation was as devastating personally as it was financially.
“I had that job since I was 19; my whole identity was there,” she said.
Within a few months, however, for reasons she can only attribute to her faith in friends and family, Stapleton was able to reinvent herself as an entrepreneur and business owner.
The first few days were the roughest, she recalls.
“I didn’t know whether to lie in bed or get up and fight,” she said.
She was out of work but, fortunately, not out of friends. A friend and now business partner, Leslie Bryant, encouraged her to start her own business.
“One of the things I discovered when I left my previous job is that people will follow you,” Bryant said. “Your relationships really are an asset.”
With encouragement from Bryant, Stapleton considered her options carefully. Her severance package wasn’t enough to live on, let alone bankroll a business.
A bank loan was out of the question. “Nobody is going to give you a loan when you don’t have a job,” she said.
After former customers and coworkers offered their support, she began to realize that her friend was right – her relationships were almost as good as money in the bank.
“We had to have a place to work first,” she said.
With a network of friends and family looking for suitable space, the next step was to figure out what it takes to start a business.
“Hair stylists are artsy people,” she said. “We’re not business people.”
One of the most important decisions she made was to contact the Small Business Center at Pellissippi State Community College. Sponsored by the Knox Area Chamber of Commerce, the SBC offers free classes and advice for people who want to start their own business.
“One of the things they taught us was that name and location were among the most important decisions,” she said.
At the same time, a friend told her about some available space on Kingston Pike in Farragut next to The Rush Fitness Center. Negotiating a three-year lease with the help of money borrowed from her parents and friends was the next step.
“It turned out to be a great location,” she said.
The name of the business seemed to be a natural choice. “Salon Amie was perfect,” she said. “Salon is what we do, and amie is French for friends. It’s all been about friends.”
Friends and family again came through when it came to decorating and equipping the space.
“We had friends with their children from 2 years to 14 years old in there painting and tearing up the old floors. Some materials were donated by friends, others were put on the credit card,” she said.
“We did not have to spend one penny on labor,” she said.
On July 14, Salon Amie opened. A month later the business had nine employees, most of them independent contractors.
Stapleton said she feels as if the whole challenge, from losing her job to learning how to start a business, was pre-ordained to take her to the next stage of her life and career.
“The day they handed me that envelope could have been the worst day in my life, but it turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to me,” she said.
Hugh G. Willett is a freelance contributor to the News Sentinel.