Alex Comer | Sinistra Hair Lounge
Alex and I met through friends and instantly connected with each other. I was immediately attracted to her down-to-earth, easy going personality and go-with the-flow attitude. Little by little, we began to get to know each other on a personal level but, while I was learning more about her personal life, I never got to know the story behind her brand. While sitting at a local tea shop with her adorable grey Chihuahua, Benito, running freely around the patio, I got to know Alex on a new level.
As told through our conversation, this is Alex’s Story.
[Lindy]: How did you decide that you wanted to get into doing hair?
[Alex]: As I neared the end of high school, my parents offered to give me money to do what I wanted with. I didn’t think college was for me but I don’t know why I was so drawn to being a hair stylist. I guess I knew that by the time that I went to hair school, I could graduate without student loans, and still be at the same age as all my friends once they began graduating college.
In my exit letter in my senior class yearbook, I put that I wanted to go to Brown Aveda Institute and own my own salon. I recently found that letter and thought about how awesome it is that I actually did it; I actually lived out that dream!
[L]: That’s amazing! So many people never do that or live out the dream that they had when they were young. What attracted you to being a business owner?
I always knew that I wanted to own my own business because a lot of people in my family are business owners. Growing up, I always thought it was cool that as a business owner, you would always have more responsibilities, but you would be in control of how much money you make. As a business owner, life is in your hands. You don’t have to report to anyone else. It’s not like owning a business happened right away, though. I went to hair school right out of high school and that is where I met my partner [Hannah, co-owner of Sinistra Hair Lounge]. But, at that point, we were never talking about opening a salon together.
Alex admits that while in hair school, she was young and naïve; she spent too much time partying and did not think too much about her future. That is, until she got an unexpected offer to apprentice at a high-end salon.
[A]: They picked a few people from each graduating class at Brown Aveda to work at Ladies and Gentleman, a top-notch salon in Mentor, Ohio. I was chosen to interview there when I was 19 years old. So, I interviewed with their master stylist and, for some reason, he picked me to be his apprentice!
[L]: Oh my gosh! That is huge! What do you mean for some reason he picked you? You are fabulous!
[A]: *Laughs* Thanks! Things were hectic as an apprentice, but everything worked out well. I got along really well with the owner of that salon. He actually ended up opening his own salon and I went and worked there for a little bit. But, long story short, I stopped doing hair for a little while. I had put myself in a terrible situation and, eventually, my dad confronted me and said "You have to start doing hair again. We gave you money to go and do this." That was enough to push me back into the hair world.
[L]: So, your dad confronting you to get back into a salon was all you needed to get back on your feet?
[A]: Yeah. I am really happy he confronted me. Once I decided to do hair again, I started out by working at this unkept and outdated salon in Chardon, Ohio. The woman basically had to beg me to help her because one of her main stylists quit unexpectedly. It wasn’t exactly where I wanted to be working but I had taken some time off and I thought, "Okay, I will go work there for a few months." While I was working for her, she decided to switch to independent contracting; instead of working for her, I paid for my work space and kept the profit [after paying rent] for myself. As her employee, I was terrified to make the switch, but after a while I was making more money in this tiny salon in rural Ohio than I ever had at more high-end salons closer to the city.
While Alex was working in different salons, people kept telling her that she should start a business and open her own salon. She said that she would laugh off the advice and remark that opening a business was not that easy.
[A]: While I was hopping from salon to salon, my [current] partner was working at John Roberts, another Aveda salon, and she felt like she was making no money for how much she was working—which is why we decided to finally started talking about opening up our own salon. We thought that we would just find a really small space and put two chairs in it and split the rent. And then we thought, "Well, why not add three chairs and then the third stylist’s rent would cover our expenses." Suddenly, talks of three chairs turned into four and then we thought, "Hell, why not just open a full salon?" We finally decided to take everyone’s advice and go for it.
[L]: How long from the time that you began talking about opening a salon did it actually happen?
[A]: We talked about opening a business for probably about 3 months before it actually started turning into a plan. We would just drive around looking at places, dreaming. Once we solidified our plan, found an affordable space, and met with the building owners, it took 10 months for our salon to open. The place we found was build-to-suit so we had to build it into a salon from concrete and cinder block.
[L]: What about finances? How did you come up with the money to open your business?
[A]: At first, we weren’t sure how to go about the finances for opening a salon. We talked to a few people about taking out a business loan but the interest rates were so high it just would not have been worth it. It was our first risk, you know? What if it didn’t work out? Then, we started talking about finding a private investor to ask; Someone who would be willing to loan us the money to start this venture. But, we were lost as to who to ask. Finally, we grew the courage to ask our families for support, and, to our surprise, both of our families were very happy to help out!
Of course, we should have had planned a budget before asking for the money. At first, we told only asked for $3,500 a piece to get started. It’s funny looking back that we truly thought that $7,000 would be enough to open the salon. It actually ended up being super stressful to have to go back and ask them for more money on multiple occasions. We had no idea what we were getting ourselves into.
While Alex and Hannah built their business plan and made progress on their salon, they kept their families up-to-date on all of their purchases so that they knew exactly where their money was going. Alex admits that it helped that it was family lending her the money because she wanted to try her best to make her business successful; she did not want to let them down.
[L]: I was just talking with someone else about how awesome it feels when you show up and ask someone for that big of a favor and they are happy to help. It takes a lot of courage to do something like that. How do you feel that your business mentality has changed since you were hustling as an apprentice right out of school to where you are now with your business?
[A]: *Laughs* How has it changed? I didn’t know anything back then! I had no money. I feel like I jumped through so many hoops. I had worked at like 5 different salons before I even considered owning my own.
I don’t know if I believe that everything happens for a specific reason but the timeline of your life is interesting. You know, at one point, I quit doing hair and even though I was living rent free, I had no money at all. I got a job at Nordstrom, but I eventually quit that too. My car was breaking down, I had no money for gas. It was terrible. This was not the best time in my life.
When the woman at the Chardon salon asked me to help her out, I had a mental break down. I felt like it was downgrading myself to go from working at high-end salons to hustling in a rural environment. But, it ended up bringing me down the path to opening my own business. If I never had all of the shitty stuff happen to me, I would have never opened my own business. I would have eventually found myself back at some high-end salon, content, and not pushing myself.
Alex’s husband, George, stuck by her through all of these changes, but, at first, he didn’t think that starting her own business was a good idea.
[L]: What was the dynamic with your husband through all of this?
[A]: He actually thought that opening the salon was a really bad move! I had switched jobs so many times and he was worried. But I knew that it was something that I desperately needed to do for myself. We’ve now been open for 4 years and it has 100% just completely changed me as a person.
[L]: What are the biggest things that you have taken away from owning a business?
[A]: When we first opened, I was 24 and my credit was so bad. I was not making that much money so I just wouldn’t pay my bills. I didn’t know how to pay them or understand credit. So, owning the salon definitely helped me to understand finances. And my partner is so organized! She really got on me about remaining organized in all aspects of the business so that was very helpful.
Since the start of her salon, Alex’s goal was never to be rich; her only goal was to be able to live comfortably enough to travel the world. And, boy, has she achieved her goal. Just this year alone, Alex has traveled to Iceland, Hawaii, France, and Canada.
[L]: Now that you’ve hit the point that you aspired to be at, you know, comfortable financially and in your business, where do you want to take it from here?
[A]: I am kind of at a turning point in my life right now. I am not even sure what direction I want to go in but I know that I am ready for a change. Of course, I am going to keep the salon, but I am always considering opening another type of business or side hustle.
Alex is a go-getter. Since opening her salon, she has taken the steps to become certified in microblading, a semi-permanent makeup procedure where hair-like tattoo strokes are created along the eyebrow to enhance their natural shape and appearance. Now, she is one of the few microblade artists on Cleveland’s East side.
[L]: How do you plan on keeping track of your goals moving forward?
[A]: It is important for me to have goals because I’m the type of person where if I don’t have a goal in mind, I just kind of flatline. I get comfortable and am just like "Okay, it is what it is." I know that about myself so I am trying to get back into the mindset of creating a larger goal and working towards it. I write a lot of things down. Every night, I try to write things down and then I go back and look at them and look at the bigger picture. But, you know, you’re catching me at a time when I don’t really know what the bigger picture is, yet. The older that I get, the more I want to explore. So many people are figuring out how to do that through a computer and traveling--there is no reason that I shouldn’t be able to figure that out, too.
[L]: That’s so true! And you have a skill that you can take with you as you explore. The need for a hair stylist will be anywhere that you would want to go.
[A]: Exactly. And I have been looking into becoming a certified yoga teacher because yoga is something that I practice daily, and also something that I can take with me anywhere I go. I do kind of feel like I need to be in a more naturally beautiful place for a little while. Ohio is awesome in the summer but so hard in the winter. Every summer I think about how great it is but, in the back of my mind, I know that in a few months winter will hit again and I will be a complete psycho!
We both started laughing because it’s true. Seasonal depression is so real, especially in states like Ohio with horrible winters.
[L]: People get so comfortable and stagnant where there are that they lose themselves and it’s not worth it! It’s just not! Would you ever consider expanding your business in Cleveland?
[A]: I think it would be cool and I have definitely talked about it. But, I mean, I go back and forth because. I don’t have it completely thought out yet. I have always been passionate about hair but now I want to be passionate about expanding myself.
[L]: That’s amazing and so important! You have to be passionate about growing yourself in order to grow your brand. It may seem long term to you but it is totally achievable. What advice do you have for people looking to build their own business from the ground up?
[A]: Oh gosh, so much. First, I would say don’t stop too early. Keep going with it. You know, it was just me and my partner in our business for 6 months before we found someone to fill another chair and we were sort of freaking out. Like, we have this beautiful salon, why does nobody want to work here? But, when we finally hired someone, the business grew rapidly. If we had given up our business would have never expanded. Even if you feel like starting your business is moving super slow, just be patient. It will take time. It has to in order to be successful.
And, do your research! Don’t spend all of your money on something that you aren’t sure will work out. Like I said earlier, we found investors. If we were paying double for rent and a loan payment due to having to take out a business loan I am not sure we would have been able to afford to stay in business. We wouldn’t have had the financial flexibility to grow.
It’s so rewarding when I stop and think about it. It’s amazing that we have such a tight knit group of stylists and that they all chose to be working in a business that I own. I really have more than I could have ever dreamed of.
Alex’s Salon, Sinistra Hair Lounge, was just awarded the 2018 News-Herald Best of the Best Award for Best Hair Salon in Lake County, Ohio.
To book an appointment with Alex, call Sinistra Hair Lounge at: 440-669-5174
Follow Alex on Instagram @ 00_alexandra_00