Weekly Briefing/10"/dt1st/mark2nd

In an age of Supercuts, the owners of small salons and barber shops have found it tough to compete with chains that have far bigger marketing budgets and can usually offer lower prices. Ellen Sikorski, owner of Studio E Hair Salon in Santa Monica, spoke with Karen Teitelman about her efforts to beat the big boys.

I opened up my salon about five and a half years ago. I came from a very large hair salon, they had 38 stores all over the country. I would watch the owners of the company take away commissions from stylists. These were loyal workers who had been there for years. They were bringing in very good money, and I thought, why not do this myself?

Because I was moving from an established client base, I knew my biggest problem was going to be finding customers. My previous location was 30 miles away, and I took only about 30 percent of my clientele with me. I spent the first few years trying to get business from the large business park across the street from my salon. But I really found that I got most of my business from the locals and the neighborhood.

I found that people here really like to stay in their own area and support their community, which was really nice. This is where I basically make my money. I have tried to gear myself toward people in the neighborhood. I do not have a high-end type of place. We really are very down to earth here.

Of course, in the beginning, I tried the usual advertising roads yellow pages, ads on the backs of grocery receipts. Over a six-month period I think I got two people. What really panned out for me were flyers. Ordinary flyers. That's how I really was able to reach out to the locals. We just printed up a bunch and dropped them on doorsteps.

Unfortunately, a problem that I cannot control comes from the city itself. The city of Santa Monica really doesn't help small businesses like myself. I'm talking about the parking situation. My shop is located on a street surrounded by small businesses. The city has put in parking meters that last for only 36 minutes. No one can do business in that short a time, whether it's getting a haircut or having a meal. If you don't have your store in a mall, or next to some huge city parking lot, you are out of luck.

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