Check Her Out: Suzanne Davis of Urbane Society!

What exactly is your business? 
Urbane Society is a new, sophisticated, membership-based salon concept for men and women that offers unlimited services at a reasonable monthly cost. We offer the same cost for services as a typical salon per year, spread out through fully customized subscription packages designed to fit our guests’ needs and desires. We also have a full a la carte menu for those that feel the membership model is not for them.

How did you come up with your business idea? 
I love the salon industry! In no other industry can you use your creativity, physical skills, and entrepreneurial spirit to directly enhance someone’s life and how they present themselves to the world.  We get to physically touch and alter the way someone looks and feels in a world where it is becoming easier to drift away from a person to person experience. I worked at one of the top 20 salons in America for many years, heavily involved in management and education. I was approached by a few investors to open salons over  the course of my career, however I never wanted to. I always thought that this career was leading me to something else, I just wasn’t sure what that was.

The last time I was approached, my immediate response once again was, “No thank you. I am not interested.” That night I thought to myself: “Why do I immediately reject the idea of owning a salon?” I decided to make a list reflecting my hesitations, and the reasons became obvious. There are significant challenges I intimately experienced working within the structure of the traditional salon model; unsteady revenue, significant loss of revenue in cancellations, and high turnover, to name a few.

Never being one to back down from a challenge, I chose to come up with a plan to solve those challenges. At this time the subscription model in business was popping up everywhere. Exploring the idea of a membership model for the salon industry almost immediately solved the major problems that turned me off from owning a salon. Then the question became “Why don’t salons do this already?” Well, some do. In my research I was able to find many spas and barbershops that adapted to a membership model, but no “salons.” I knew that the model would work for a salon I also realized the hesitation and challenges it would produce. I would simply have to combine my creative skills and knowledge as a stylist as well as a manager in order to create a model that worked.

About two months into my planning I was beaming with excitement. On paper, not only did the membership model make sense for the salon professional and salon owner, but the consumer as well, almost too good to be true. It was then my job as a stylist to prove it could be done within the salon. I then began to develop a technical system and map out how the whole operation would work.

As I was becoming more knowledgeable in businesses within a subscription service, I started to see articles about a salon in LA that had just opened and was a “members only salon.” They were offering a membership as one monthly service per member. That was all I needed to reaffirm that my idea wasn’t crazy and that I knew I could do it better with “unlimited” services.

How did you find out about Aviatra? 
As I was exploring funding options with SBA they suggested I go through the Aviatra program.

What is your inspiration? 
My inspiration are the challenges in life. To feel passion about the people and beauty that surrounds us, the drive, the ups and downs, it all intertwines to create inspiration. I definitely prefer a roller coaster to a merry go round. Challenges in every aspect of my life have inspired greatness. I hate to going through them at the time, but I have learned they are absolutely there to make you better and create strength.  It was important for me to show my young daughter that I can do this even through the many hardships. My family, my late boss, my peers, my clients, they all inspire my drive in my profession and in my person to create this life. Passion for me is everything.

What has been your biggest accomplishment in with your business so far? 
My biggest accomplishment was putting aside my stubbornness to realize I needed to open this small location to prove concept before I can create my full vision.  It took me way too long to realize that because I knew the model will work and just assumed everyone could see what I know to be true. What I needed to understand was that no one would risk their money on me with my “idea” that wasn’t proven and I couldn’t prove the concept in someone else’s salon.  I needed to take the smaller step first, risk my own money to prove that it works on a small scale.

I would say accompanied with that realization, my ability to open this location in October while pregnant, raising my daughter, and going through a very draining and significant personal hardship added to the accomplished feeling. I went back to work 4 weeks after my little guy joined our family in Feb. Looking back I really don’t know how I did it. It is all a blur. You need to have the right people in your life at the right time. I am very grateful.

What is the most valuable thing you gained from your experience with Aviatra? 
I joined Aviatra at the idea phase of my business, so in my head I had to prove to the world this will work without any revenue or other businesses to point to prove it can be successful. Having other like-minded entrepreneurs ask the tough questions and challenge your concept really helped foster a solid game plan moving forward with the business. The most valuable thing I gained was a solid base of organization from idea phase to fruition. The reoccurring experience of pitching the concept to varied audiences helped tremendously when it came time to articulate and pitch to investors as well as my clients.

What is the biggest challenge you faced when starting your business? 
When you are looking to disrupt an industry that has used the same methodology for decades, you are faced with much negativity and have to have some pretty tough skin. There are a lot of people who will tell you it will never work. As a woman “stylist” looking to create major change, you face even more discrimination towards your abilities. Not to mention you end up pitching to a lot of men who go to Great Clips for their $10 cuts, and have NO idea how much their wives spend at the salon. Part of me felt bad for their wives as I opened their eyes to that realization and they started checking the credit card statements! Nonetheless I consistently felt the needed to prove myself over and over again. That was the biggest challenge. Yes, it was challenging to find funding, to create a business plan, and financial projection, but those are things you expect to be a challenge. To share your ideas as an entrepreneur is like exposing a deep dark secret to strangers. Having to constantly prove yourself to others, and even yourself I found to be more challenging than anything.

Where do you hope to be in 5 years? 
 In five years I would love to have a larger location for the real “Urbane Society” secured. I also am learning that the software I am using, although great, isn’t intuitive for the needs of a salon. Knowing nothing about tech, my five-year ambitious goal would be to have started development of software focused on the salon industry that specifically utilizes the membership model.

Any advice for future Aviatras? 
Just do it! Don’t wait for “the right time.” There never is one. Know your weaknesses and don’t waste time trying to improve in those areas to prove you can do it all. You can’t. Find the right people to help you in those areas. Be knowledgeable about everything but an expert at a few things. Don’t ask others input on every detail. As an entrepreneur you know in your gut what you need to do, now DO IT!!!