I’ve heard some people say, that when you own a business, it’s like having a child that never grows up and moves out. And although it comes with financial awards, it isn’t easy and comes at a cost and I am not just talking about money.
In January 2019 Industry Canada published a report that stated after 10 years, the survival rate for small businesses in the service-producing sector is 42.9 percent.
In October 2020, Texture Hair Salon will be celebrating its 20th anniversary and Texture Hair Boutique its 10th anniversary. They have beaten the odds in a tough and increasingly competitive industry.
Everyone has a story.
Here is how Ramsey Sayah, a rebel with scissors, created a brand and successful business that has withstood the test of time.
Artist and Entrepreneur
Growing up in an ethnic family, I often felt out of place when I wasn’t around people from similar backgrounds – it was like I didn’t quite fit in. That all changed when I realized that standing out — not blending in was a good thing.
You’ve describe yourself as a rebel with scissors. What do you mean by that?
After high school was over, I realized that I had a problem with authority. I tried to become a fireman. I passed the test but never continued. You have to work at a station, there is a chief and a system – you have to follow a lot of rules and I didn’t like all that. So that didn’t work out. I went to work as a waiter for a while after that.
Then I went into hair. I realized with my scissors – I was kind of a super star. People liked me and I had a bit of freedom to express myself and I liked that. I was able to be this rebellious guy – but still make a living.
I was a rebel – I literally hated like rules, anything that had a system. I thought I knew everything when I was young and I was pretty hard headed. I was always getting into trouble. So hair was the perfect thing for me to do and to get away with all that stuff. I would be this guy at the salon—then go out in the world and get into trouble all I wanted. No one cared, as long as I did their hair nice.
I was a rebel with scissors.
Your father was a musician and barber – he had an artist lifestyle. Do you think this impacted your career path in some way?
Art is what I am all about – whether its hair, whether its food – I look for the art in everything.
I collect art now – I have so many paintings myself. I love fashion – the way I dress is how I express myself. I’m really known believe it or not for my fashion. A lot of guys will tell me – Ramsey, you could pull that off but I can’t.
I definitely feel that I am an artist first and everything else second.
My father had a huge impact on me – with his music and his hair styling abilities. I could have maybe also gotten if from my grandmother, she was a singer and artist. I have uncles who are also hairdressers, artists and musicians. It’s really just in our blood. It goes back generations – so it’s no surprise really – and that my son too is even doing music now.
When my mother started out in the industry, it was common for owners to name their salons after themselves or to use a family name. You opened Texture Hair Salon almost 20 years ago. Why did you choose to break away from a traditional name for your salon?
I have an ego – we all have an ego. Mine was bigger when I was younger. I’ll always have an ego but it is changing now. It’s becoming an ego of importance in what I have accomplished, rather than it’s all about me kind of thing.
I chose Texture because I didn’t want to open a business that had my name on it. I didn’t want it to be about me – I wanted it to be about the culture I was creating and not so much about Ramsey himself. Plus in the end I knew I was going to get the credit anyways because I owned it – so I called it Texture.
It’s a word that is commonly used, it’s in all hair types and across all industries so I wanted that to be the name.
It’s not about Ramsey. It’s about the texture lifestyle – the texture fashion – the texture salon.
I think people underestimate how much behind the scenes stuff you have to deal with as a salon owner. When you opened your business, was it a big adjustment going from a stylist to an owner?
Definitely. Owning a salon and working in a salon are totally different. I mean owning a business in general, is totally different than working in an industry. It’s like if you’re a chef working at a restaurant – then owning a restaurant.
When you are a stylist, you don’t have to deal with landlords, laws, regulations. You don’t have to deal with it if something breaks, lawyers, leases, it never ends – accountants, payroll – all that stuff. It’s not just about the art anymore.
But that’s just what happens when you own a business – I have to deal with that stuff.
Although now a day a lot of these stylists are their own brand within a brand. I like that – because they get to feel what we feel. But to a milder version.
So yes, it was a total adjustment for me but I was lucky – because I was able to do both well – I didn’t lose one or the other. I bridged the gap. And I feel that’s what is missing in our industry. There is a gap between the big corporate beauty brands and the artists. They don’t truly understand us.
I was able to find that link though and work within the two. And, I feel like I did well.
When you have a business, you want to create something unique that fills a void in an industry. When you first opened Texture all those years ago, what did you want to bring to the Ottawa salon scene.
I actually did fill a void.
So I traveled a bit and I saw that the scene in Ottawa was a little bit dry – very conservative – as you know we are a government town. What I saw around the world was not what was happening here. I felt that Ottawa needed an injection of that.
I said to someone one day that I’m so sick of it here – I want to move to L.A. And they said no – Why would you move to L.A. Ottawa needs you. I was like for what? They pointed out that there are 100 hairdressers like me in L.A. here they only have me and a few others. So Ottawa needs you.
I thought that was a nice compliment and it kind of made sense to me. And I feel that we brought a bit of L.A. to Ottawa in our salon.
You’ve always appreciated the arts – fashion, hair, music, paintings, street art. How important was it to you to build a brand and develop a salon culture that included all these influences.
I love this question.
Well that’s the thing, if you go to a city that motivates you and inspires you, what do you look for – art, fashion, hair, music, food. You hit all the senses.
I feel that is what we definitely do at Texture – we have a bar now with beer on draft, wine we serve donuts – sometimes we have sushi night, pastries, candy – we try to hit every occasion with the right food and drink.
But we are a hair salon – we don’t want to be a restaurant. We are a hair salon that offers you the little extras.
We have a huge mural – paintings everywhere. Our music is so important. We really take pride in what music we play at what times. We really pay attention to that.
But it is always very clear that we are a hair salon – we do hair better than everyone and we take pride in that.
It is more difficult to stay on top than to get there.Mia Hamm
The beauty industry by nature is constantly evolving – new techniques, products – trends coming in and out of fashion. So you add that to the fact that you have all these salons competing for stylists and customers – it makes for a very competitive industry.
I read in an article that said when you own your own business you must embrace the feeling that you will never be 100% comfortable. Do you agree with that?
I totally agree with that comment. And you really shouldn’t be.
I find that is a problem with some salons, after they open they never make any updates to the physical space. Fashion/technology is always changing, trends come and go – so it only make sense that you would update you look – even if it is little minor tweaks.
It’s because they are actually looking to get comfortable. And getting comfortable is when you just start blending in with everyone else – it’s just going through the motions. You’re not being challenged. And when you are being challenged, is when the best is pulled out of you. That’s why it’s good not to get comfortable.
You need to be challenged so that you can perform at your best.
Sometimes it may be hard to get stylists to go to a course so that they can get out of their comfort zone. A new technique comes out and they don’t want to go and learn it. But this is what being a stylist is all about – continuous learning.
We’re in a fashion based industry.
What is the one constant thing about fashion? It’s always changing. You aren’t wearing the same pair of pants that you wore five years ago. Things go out of style. Hair is that same thing.
The ones that get that – excel.
Especially with Instagram – everyone wants that latest look and they don’t want to wait – they expect you to know how to get that look for them.
Even within Instagram things change. What you are posting today – in six months – it’s not going to work. You have to post differently. Change the way you take your photos – change the hairstyles you feature. The one constant thing through all of it is change.
When you first started in the industry, websites and social media were non-existent. Has it been challenging translating your salon brand and experience over to your website and social media platforms?
It was annoying at first because I didn’t know much about it – but then I understood the value in it. Once I knew the value of it – I didn’t care. I knew – we need to be on this.
Now our website is the most searched website in Ottawa for hair salons. I constantly look for ways to improve – because I understand the value in it. It’s really your business card now. No one just goes somewhere now – they check the Instagram page, the reviews, the website.
The truth is that building a business is a lot like raising a family — although it can be immensely rewarding, it’s rarely ever sexy.Stop Building a Business, Start Building a Culture – Alba M. Aleman
There are different salon models – each have benefits and downsides – some have dress codes, others let their stylist wear what they want – allowing them to show their personal style.
I think that in order for an artist to shine, you have to let them be themselves. On the other hand, when you have a stylist that doesn’t fit in with the culture, they tend to stick out.
One of the hardest things a business owner has to do is decided who to hire, who to coach and who to let go. How do you decide who is right and wrong for your business?
We have a culture that we have been working on for years, of course you always have to work on it – to improve it but now we have our culture set.
So when we get someone new coming in – it’s easy for us to get them to incorporate in our culture and if they don’t we let them go. It is very clear what our expectations are and how we want them to be. That’s what sets us apart from other salons. It’s our culture – our brand and how we do things. We really take a lot of pride in that.
Our style is really to let them express themselves within the parameters of running a top notch business. So they can be rebels with scissors but they have to follow salon etiquette. They have to dress a certain way that is acceptable. It doesn’t have to be all black – they can wear any color they want as long as it’s acceptable and professional. You can wear ripped jeans, but you can’t show your butt. Or it can be ripped with a patch under it – that’s okay too. There is still ways to express yourself within a professional world.
Think about it – people never used to wear sneakers to go out. Now they do. Little do they know that some of those sneakers are like $1,200.00. We used to think dress shoes were expensive. Now they are like $100.00. A guy can spend $2,000.00 on a pair of Nike. But he’s still wearing a pair sneakers at the end of the day. But it has become acceptable.
It’s how you pull it off too. You have men on the red carpet and they are wearing sneakers with a suit. It looks really good and put together. For women you can look sexy and professional at the same time – it doesn’t have to be one or the other.
Exactly – there are ways to do it. And that’s what we do. We live within that thinking. We made a rule as a group – if it’s unacceptable we’re allowed to tell you — look you have to change.
I’ve told our staff – don’t push the limits too far or a dress code will be implemented – and they’ll have to wear all black.
Then there are other aspects of it as well – there is verbiage.
How you talk in the salon is really important. We allow our stylist to talk freely but they have to remember about the customers.
How you speak in the salon is very important. We don’t speak any other languages but English, and French of course – out of respect. It’s not nice to speak languages in front of customers that they might not understand and we want them to feel comfortable.
Stay tuned for part two of our interview with Ramsey Sayah, coming in September.