Nelson Chan monetized his skill for hair care and, through self-education of all things business card, now runs a successful and highly sought-after salon.
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In 2007, Nelson Chan opened his eponymous Nelson j salon in Beverly Hills, California. For this Hong Kong native, the venture was perfect for him. “I was an immigrant to America and my father said I needed to learn a skill, so I started to do hair,” says Chan. “It was natural. I love what I do, I have a passion for hair and it’s so easy for me. The most important thing is for me to get to know a person. Does the look she wants fit who she is inside? That’s what makes the difference.”
However, helping his clients become beautiful is the easy part, says Chan. The business end of running a popular salon in a hot location is far more complex. “It is never easy, even after doing it for so long,” he says. “I take baby steps — success doesn’t happen overnight. Life is interesting. Most of the time, things don’t go smoothly and you have to accept that.”
For example, the industry is rapidly changing with social media activity. Hairdressers are more independent than they had been in the past. They book their own appointments and express themselves on Instagram and other platforms, thus attracting their unique type of clients. It can be difficult to hold onto a team because the stylists can go anywhere, so Chan makes it attractive to stay. He provides education and support so they can grow as individuals and professionals.
But Chan always has his eye on the future. He launched his own line of hair products in 2012 and hopes to restructure the traditional beauty salon. Chan hopes to create a new type of salon, which is more of a beauty center rather than just your humdrum beauty parlor. “You have to change with the changes,” says Chan. “Be prepared!”
How did your credit history affect the way you initially financed your venture? Any challenges with credit?
Credit history is extremely important in financing my Nelson j Salon along with my hair care products, Natural Beauty Source Inc. But the beginning was hard because my credit score was damaged due to late payments on my mortgage and credit card bills in 2008. When I began the business, there was no way I could get any loan. Luckily, I got by with cash to pay bills, run payroll and buy inventory, plus pay for limited marketing and advertising.
There was no way I could expand my business at that time, so after starting up, I did get credit cards. But the biggest mistake I made was not paying attention to all the fees and interest rates — I wasted a lot of money. This was difficult and time-consuming for me to understand; I had to consistently check fees and statements to make sure I was charged correctly. But I had to understand it all, so I wouldn’t continue to get charged extra.
In which way are credit cards helping you and your business become successful?
I charge almost everything: dining, salon inventory, utility bills, office supplies, marketing and advertising fees. These are cash back cards, and I usually reinvest the money back into my company or use it to pay off my balance. It’s nice to have some extra money, I look forward to it every year.
And, of course, we also accept payment by credit card from customers.
How are you managing the accounts and do your employees have access to them?
I usually pay the balance off each month. I use Quickbooks to organize the spending but I am still trying to learn more so I can do a better job organizing expenses. I gave a couple of employees credit cards with low limits — it makes life easier for me. They don’t have to ask me every time for expenses and sometimes they use the cards to take clients out for lunch.
What have you learned about money along the way and can you offer any advice?
The most important lesson I have learned about borrowing is to make sure you have a plan A — and a plan B. Don’t just focus on the projected outcome since most of the time, the projection can be off. I strongly suggest to test the water as much as possible before going all in and always have a backup plan in case plan A goes south.
My advice is to keep an eye on your credit score as much as you can to make sure everything is OK, and you are aware of what can adversely affect it.