In the fall of 2011, Melissa Withey was working at a local salon when she learned she would soon be unemployed.
“One day we came in to find a note saying that the owner was closing the salon in two weeks,” said Withey, who had previously taken business classes at Mott Community College and the University of Michigan-Flint. “The closure was going to put 35 people out of work. Flint couldn’t take the hit.”
Withey’s quick thinking and business know-how – plus a nudge from her husband – made her do what might be unthinkable to many. She rented a vacant building and started a new salon the day after her employer closed its doors, taking 26 of her co-workers with her.
Because the new space was available for only a few months, Withey and her husband immediately began looking for a permanent location. They found a nearby building, gutted the interior in order to install the proper plumbing and completed renovations by their grand opening on Jan. 9, 2012.
Four years later, Pure Bliss Salon & Spa now employs nearly 60 employees and offers a full range of hair, nail, waxing, massage, facial, makeup and spa services.
You opened Pure Bliss within a matter of two weeks and moved the business to its current location just three months later. Why the rush?
We didn’t want people to lose their jobs. If you take three months off as a stylist, you lose your livelihood because your clients go elsewhere. Genesee County couldn’t handle that kind of unemployment.
Tell us about your business background.
I used to be a stylist with a hair color company that worked with salons around the country. I went to Denver to help a growing salon with their color service, and I also assisted them with their business. I did everything from removing clutter so displays would look more appealing, to reviewing their books and suggesting how to reduce expenses.
What is the biggest difference between being a self-employed stylist and a salon owner?
Before, I was responsible for a five foot area. Now I have almost 6,200 square feet to manage, and just under 60 employees. I went from worrying about myself to worrying about a community. My husband and I want our employees to thrive and be able to support their families. We also want this salon to be a permanent part of the community.
In what ways do you support the community?
We have a very caring staff. Employees can donate $5 to wear jeans to work, which we collect and donate to a different charity every year. This year we’re giving to the Weiss Child Advocacy Center to buy hospital gowns and snacks for the kids. We also support 100 Women Who Care and the Food Bank of Eastern Michigan. We do other things like provide free massages to help bring people to community events.
How has the water crisis impacted your business?
We are on a well system so we’re not directly impacted. However, it impacts our clients and employees who live in the affected areas. We're going to be offering free lead-related hair treatments to Flint residents on select dates in the near future.
What’s been your proudest moment as a business owner?
Just recently, we’ve had a few employees tell us they’ve gotten approved for loans on a vacation home or were able to buy a brand new car. And that’s a good feeling – to know we’re able to provide a good work environment where our stylists can grow.
How do you help facilitate that growth?
What resources do you recommend to other entrepreneurs?
The Flint & Genesee Chamber of Commerce and the Michigan Small Business Development Center (MI-SBDC). We would have had no idea where to start without them. The Chamber connected us with the MI-SBDC, which helped with everything from writing a business plan, to getting our license and tracking business statistics. The MI-SBDC is a hidden gem, and it’s free to entrepreneurs.
To learn more about Pure Bliss Salon & Spa, visit www.pureblisssalonspa.com/.