Assembling the right staff to fit her vision was the biggest challenge Baker faced when she started her business in 1992. But once she hired someone-after a lengthy interview process requiring several visits-she made sure that employee continued his or her education and knew her salon standards.
While clients can wear anything from business to jogging suits, the staff has a dress code: no jeans, and an emphasis on "trendy and fashionable clothing, hair and makeup." This code reinforces the culture of the business, Baker said. "If the staff is comfortable, they'll make the clients feel comfortable."
Staffing problems are universal, she said. "Substitute the word 'car' for 'hair'-car dealers have the same problems." Baker is not referring to technique, but rather communication skills.
"Hair people get excellent training, but they don't know how to talk to customers, and how to perceive their likes and dislikes," she said. "This is such a personal business-80 percent is communication and 20 percent technical."
Baker values her staff so much that she hosts an annual appreciation dinner. This year's event featured a catered dinner with comedians, and last year's was a Monte Carlo night. She also gives cash awards and prizes, and rewards longevity.
Her current challenge is keeping up with growth and "making sure our systems and policies are appropriate for the size of our staff." The salon now serves more than 100 clients a day, in contrast with 100 clients a week in 1992.
When she opened, Baker rented a space with just 1,200 square feet. She built her own 2,300-square-foot building in 1997, and remodeled in 2003 to make it 5,300 square feet. She plans to remodel again, to increase the size of the product/boutique area. Selling products she endorses is crucial, she believes.
"Why should someone spend big money on a facial and then go home and wash their face with Dove soap?" she said.
Competition doesn't come from other salons, Baker said, although she started her business on the west side because "most high-end salons are on the north side. I felt this area needed one." However, she said there are "plenty of clients to go around." Her competition is "any business where people spend discretionary income-restaurants, movie theaters, etc."
Because her product isn't absolutely essential, Baker relies on client satisfaction for marketing.
"If someone has a 'wow' experience here, then they will tell their friends and family," she said. To encourage word-ofmouth advertising, she discourages tipping. "We charge a fair price for our services. Our staff is compensated very well, so tipping is unnecessary," she said. "We ask for referrals in lieu of gratitude."
She has tried other types of marketing, but found most of them overpriced and ineffective. The best way to keep her name before the public is community involvement, she said. "We are always willing to donate a gift certificate to a silent auction for charitable causes."
This public awareness, plus customer satisfaction, is the secret to the salon's success.
"They take good care of their clients," said customer Wendy Erwin, who has been a client since the spa opened.
Baker's business methods have also attracted praise from Jeff Petro, a sales manager here for Illinois-based Professional Salon Concepts, a beauty products distributor. Petro said he talks about Tyler Mason as a model for his other customers.
"With so many salons in the marketplace, she definitely shines," he said. "The mere volume that she does is just incredible."
Baker's goal when she started was "to provide exceptional customer service-to make people feel welcome and warm when they come in." Her advice to future entrepreneurs: Find a mentor, do your research and take advantage of opportunities.
"Owning a business is a gamble," Baker said, "but I'd rather invest in me. I'll make it work come hell or high water."
Tammie Baker's business has grown from 1,200 square feet in 1992 to 5,300 square feet.