In this installment of Meet the Merchant, we speak to Crystal Marie Render of Crystal Marie’s Divine Designs in Cincinnati. Crystal shares with us how she found the sweet spot in her career, and how she’s learned to work more strategically during the pandemic.
Clover: Hi, Crystal! Can you tell us how you came to work in beauty?
Crystal Marie Render: Sure! Beauty was always a passion for me. I believe that if you love what you do, it’s no longer work. Here I am, 20 years later, still doing the same thing and loving every minute of it.
My business developed a lot over the years. I got my start working in a high-end salon for almost seven years. I decided that entrepreneurship was the next step for me after realizing the amount of money that I was making, and how much of a cut the salon was taking. With that in mind, I decided to walk away and have been on my own ever since. For the last 13 years, I have been completely independent.
Clover: What was your experience transitioning from working for others to working for yourself?
Render: It was a huge jump. I went from being a commission-based stylist in a very large salon, which housed 50 to 60 stylists at a time, to renting a booth inside someone else’s salon. I rented for another seven years, almost. While the transition was very intimidating, it was a necessary step. It led me to own my salon suite inside of Salon Concepts, a conglomerate of different stylists and beauticians under one roof, but each in our own spaces. Now, I get to run my business however I want. I am a fully standalone business.
Clover: How do you distinguish your space from all the others in the complex?
Render: My area is what I like to call “bougie yet functional.” When you come in, you see that it’s very clean, comfortable, and upscale but not uptight with fluffy pillows and crystals everywhere. You won’t find metal or plastic chairs. I’ve invested in leather seating and full decor.
My suite is set up to easily accommodate two or three people to be serviced at the same time. There’s still enough space and privacy between them that they can enjoy their service. If they don’t want to be bothered, they can have quiet time. If they are feeling social, they’re within reach of each other to carry on a conversation with potential new friends.
Clover: I know you work with textured hair, but you do everything else, too! What made you decide to keep your offerings broad?
Render: I just had a conversation with a coworker about how we never know who we’ll see in our suite. It’s like the United Nations of salons. I was once told if you limit your skill, you limit your money. I decided to never put myself in a box. If you can do everything, it leaves you with more options to earn.
Beauty comes in all shapes and sizes. In order to have diverse clientele, you have to develop diverse skills. You have to know what beauty means to each client and give them what they want. Diversity is my specialty.
Clover: How much of your job deals with education, as in teaching people how to care for their hair?
Render: Ninety-eight percent. It’s not enough for my clients to look good when they leave if they don’t know how to replicate their look the next morning when they wake up. My clients are my walking advertisements. If I don’t teach them how to maintain their hair properly, they can’t bring me more business.
Clover: You describe your salon as having a party vibe when you are able to service more than one person. What do you do to create that atmosphere and set the tone?
Render: The clients just get Crystal Marie. Silly, crazy, fun-loving Crystal Marie with great conversation. The vibe is always casual and relaxing, yet very professional. It’s not a party all the time because I have some very high-end clientele. What I like is that my clients normally wouldn’t know each other outside of the salon. Some have met each other enough times that they know they are going to see their friends when they come at a particular time. When some clients schedule appointments, they book together in groups. I think of my 200+ clients as a little chosen family.
Clover: How long are clients in your suite, usually?
Render: The other thing I’m known for is my extremely quick turnaround. The average service is about one hour. More expensive services are no more than an hour and forty-five minutes in my chair. Even if we’re talking extensions, Brazilian blowouts, or Dream Catchers extensions. Those services take the average stylist three or more hours to do, so my clients are spoiled by my speed. That’s another reason I have their loyalty: because they can get a wash out and blow dry and be out of the door within 45 minutes flat—regardless of hair type.
This is what makes my clients so loyal. I’ve had one client for literally 20 years because of this. I’ve hit that sweet spot where you get the best of both worlds: quick service and great quality. They can’t find that anywhere else.
Clover: Can you share with us your relationship with Clover?
Render: I started with Clover a number of years ago. Technology is not my strong suit (even more true when I started out on my own 14 years ago), and my research showed me that Clover would be a user-friendly option. I needed it to be as simple as possible so I could focus on clients instead of office work. I came across my first Clover Station at a warehouse store and I just never felt the need to change. I love the convenience and the service. I had no reason to consider alternatives. My bank has tried to switch me a million and five times, but I don’t want to go through the process. As the saying goes, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
Clover: That’s great to hear. How do you use Clover in your day-to-day business?
Render: I use the Clover Dashboard app to track my transactions and see my close-out for the day. My clients actually sign through the app on my phone. It’s completely contactless. I’m very appreciative of that convenience because not many people use cash anymore, so it’s essential for my business.
With Covid 19, we have new restrictions. I can only have one person in my studio at a time, so it has changed my business dramatically. Typically, I have three paying customers at the same time, so it’s limiting my income and the way I have to handle things.
Clover: What have you done to balance out the income loss? Are you working more hours? Are you charging more?
Render: I am working longer days. But with those longer days, I’m being more strategic. I stopped taking as many simple services and I’ve prioritized things like extensions, color, and hair weaves. I shouldn’t fill my day up with 42 haircuts if I can do two or three hair weaves or extensions and make three times the amount.
Clover: What do you think is next for you and Crystal Marie’s Divine Designs?
Render: I’ve been able to corner a market that most have not. I’d like to share with other stylists how to do the same. I want to support my industry, teaching and helping other potential entrepreneurs grow their businesses and go further.
Clover: What advice do you have for someone planning to open their own business?
Render: Have a plan, but don’t expect it to go that way. Be versatile and willing to pivot. And you cannot make any excuses. You just have to get the job done.
Read more of our Meet the Merchant stories for real-life stories of small businesses in action all over the country.