Lisa Grigsby: Owner, Planned2Give; Executive Director, FilmDayton; and Curator, Dayton Most Metro

LMG headshot

Lisa Grigsby used her experience in the restaurant business to succeed in the comedy club world. She leveraged that experience to launch an event planning business, market Dayton’s film opportunities, and publicize community events.

In the beginning…

LMG age 4
Lisa at a tap recital, age 4

When Lisa Grigsby was growing up around Washington, DC, she thought she was going to be a banker, “because I always liked playing with cash registers and money”. Her interest in finance continued after her family moved to Chicago. “My junior and senior years in high school, I had an accounting class that I absolutely adored”. She also served as her high school football team’s statistician. Working with numbers felt right to her, and she began college at the University of Oklahoma as an Accounting major.

Lisa chose the University of Oklahoma for two reasons: it had a football team and nice dorms.  Although Oklahoma was “kind of culture shock”, she found a place with the football team as a trainer doing stats and other tasks. “I was the first woman team trainer in the Big Eight at the time…and my coach was not real pleased”. After several days of sending her “through (the dressing room) thinking it would rattle me”, he realized she was unflappable. She relished the work and says, “I got to go to some great bowl games”.

At the same time, Lisa discovered that accounting bored her. She stayed in business, however, and earned her degree in Marketing.

What did Lisa do after she graduated from college?

After graduation, Lisa returned to Chicago and got a job as a lingerie buyer for a department store. The job was more inventory management than marketing and lacked challenge. “I would dread getting up in the morning and going to work”. She lasted for nine months and quit.

While she considered her next steps, Lisa got a waitressing job. To her surprise, she recognized “that I really loved that”.

How did waitressing influence Lisa’s career path?

Lisa knew she wanted to do more than wait tables. Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises (LEYE) was opening a Shaw’s Crab House in a Chicago suburb, and Lisa applied for a job.

Shaws-Crab-House-2
Shaw’s Crab House, Schaumburg, Ill; photo by Midwestern Adventures, February 11, 2013 at Midwestern Adventures

When she interviewed with the general manager, she noticed a picture of Phillips Crab House on the wall. She was familiar with Phillips from summer vacations and commented on the photo. After chatting for 30 minutes, the general manager created a plan to prepare Lisa for management by exposing her to all aspects of the restaurant. She waitressed, worked the bar, and finally spent time in the kitchen, so she would be able to perform any task.

One day a man sat down at one of her tables and pulled out a cigarette. In the 1980s, smoking was still permitted in restaurants. Lisa immediately pulled out her lighter and lit his cigarette. He said, “I really love your attitude,” and handed her a $100 bill. Then he introduced himself. He was Rich Melman, one of the LEYE owners and, thereafter, one of Lisa’s mentors.

Lisa had additional mentors who taught her the restaurant business, but eventually she was ready to move beyond Shaw’s. She found a manager’s spot in different restaurant.

How did football push Lisa into the comedy club business?

Lisa wanted to see the University of Oklahoma play in the Orange Bowl, but, since she was no longer with the team, she needed a second job to afford the trip. She started telemarketing for a comedy club, The Funny Bone Comedy Club and Restaurant in Chicago. She worked from 10am to 2pm, calling people to say, “You just won Yuck for a Buck!” She got paid $0.15 per person who actually attended the show. After 2pm, she went to her restaurant job.

When Lisa decided that it was time to leave her restaurant job, she told the Funny Bone’s manager she needed a job and he offered her one. At that time, Lisa had never been to a comedy show, so she didn’t know what to expect. The manager said, “It’s got to be like running a restaurant… you just help seat people”.

In the 1980s comedy clubs were hot. The Funny Bone was located inside a hotel. The club handled ticket sales, the door and the talent, and the hotel ran the restaurant and bar. The manager was a comic.

After observing people often tipped her in order to sit up front, Lisa convinced the manager to offer VIP seating for $5.00 and pay her $1.00 for each one.  She also noticed the restaurant servers weren’t very attentive, so she met with the hotel’s food and beverage manager to let him know, “you’re missing sales and you’re leaving money on the table”. Each suggestion made her aware of the difference between the manager’s artistic brain and her business brain.

How did Lisa get started opening comedy clubs?

The Funny Bone’s corporate office noticed, “You guys are making a lot more money than you’ve ever made”. Consequently, the corporation’s representative came to visit. When he told Lisa they wanted to open another club, Lisa asked about their business and marketing plans. He said, “You’ve got a lot of questions; you want to do this?” He wrote Lisa a check for $50,000 and said, “Here’s your seed money; go find a place in Atlanta.”

Use FB signLisa identified the factors which helped the Chicago club draw an audience: the nearby presence of a TGI Fridays and close proximity to apartment complexes. She instructed a commercial realtor in Atlanta, “Find a spot that’s within a quarter mile of a TGI Fridays and it needs to be within a quarter mile of a highway”. The Atlanta club was successful and “I ended up opening 26 clubs around the country”.

Each time Lisa opened a new club, taking it from concept to operation, she chose the décor, contracted with vendors, hired staff and planned scheduling. She quickly “learned to take on more and more and not bother” the general office. Some clubs already had a manager, some wanted her to find a manager, and some said, “We’ve got this guy who’s not quite ready; see if you can get him in shape”.

Experience taught her to think quickly on her feet. “You have a show and you have a crowd full of people. The show starts at 8 o’clock and it’s 7 o’clock. (The limo company tells you the main act’s plane) is not going to land for another hour… all right what am I going to do?”

From football teams to comedy clubs, Lisa was used to working in male environments. “In the comedy club world, 90-95% comics are men” and it was her job to shepherd the them around town, including bars and strip clubs. “I had to take them to the radio in the morning… to promote the club…you’d knock on the door, they’d be hungover from being out drinking…I’d throw water on their face, get your clothes on!” “I just got used to working in that world”.

When did Lisa come to Dayton?

In 1991 Lisa had been working in comedy clubs for five years. She was in Covington, Kentucky teaching a new Funny Bone franchisee how to run the club, when she got a call seeking her recommendations for a manager for a comedy club in Dayton. Lisa asked, “Is it Wiley’s or Jokers?” The caller didn’t want to disclose that information, but Lisa pointed out, “Jokers has a full restaurant and bar and Wiley doesn’t, so they’re different skill sets”. She agreed to meet and signed a nondisclosure agreement in order to discuss the question further.

Jokers logoThe club in question was Jokers Comedy Cafe. Mike Bowling, creator of the Pound Puppy stuffed animals, had opened the club in 1985 and “had never made a penny”. Lisa agreed to come to Dayton for 90 days. “We’ll turn the club around and get the numbers all in line, then we’ll find a manager”. After about 60 days, Lisa reported the club’s numbers looked good and recommended they hire a manager. Instead, Bowling offered her the job for a year. Lisa declined, because “Dayton was probably the smallest city I’d been in” and she knew nothing about it.  “When I came here for 90 days, all I did was work that club”.

Bowling persisted. “At the time I had an apartment still in Cleveland, my winter clothes all in storage in St. Louis, expired plates on my car from Georgia and an expired driver’s license from Illinois, because all I was doing was going around from club to club”. Lisa decided that maybe it was time to settle in one place, “so I named what I thought was an outrageous amount of money and they said okay”. She agreed to stay for a year.

What led Lisa to work at Wiley’s Comedy Joint?

In 1992 Bowling sold the business to Tim Mehlman, a Cincinnati-based purchaser who had never owned a club. Lisa offered to stay for 90 days to teach him the business, and he agreed, but thereafter showed little interest. Consequently, Lisa continued to run the club. “At that point, I’d just gotten lazy…this is easy. I’ll just keep doing what I’m doing”.

In 1993 all the paychecks bounced twice and Lisa handed in her notice. She agreed to stay on the condition that Mehlman remove himself as an authorized signer on the checking account, “so he couldn’t drain the club’s profits out of the account”. They continued to have disagreements, however, and a month later, Mehlman fired her without cause.

Use Wileys front
Wiley’s Comedy Joint, 101 Pine St, Dayton, OH 45402

Lisa immediately called Dan “Wiley” Lafferty of Wiley’s Comedy Joint, the other comedy club in Dayton. Over lunch, she offered to work for him for $100/week. “Until I figure out what my next step is… I got time on my hands and nothing to do”. When they went back to the club, Wiley interrupted their conversation to help move an ice machine. In the process, he cut his finger badly enough for a trip to the hospital, leaving Lisa alone at the club. In the course of that afternoon, she accepted deliveries, answered the phone and made reservations. “So I ended up working for Wiley’s”.

wileys-sign-e1530132351953.jpg
Wiley’s Comedy Joint – June 15, 2018

Since Lisa didn’t have a noncompete agreement with Jokers, she was free to call the agents handling the big name acts she’d booked at Jokers. She told them that if Jokers “doesn’t pay the deposit on this act, call me. I’ll honor that date at the club across town”. Three days later, the calls started coming in.

Gradually Lisa convinced Wiley to include urban comedy, which hadn’t been part of the repertoire. They “bring in a different crowd which means, hey, I have a larger audience to pull from”.

How did Lisa become the owner of Jokers Comedy Cafe?

In 1995 Mehlman defaulted on his balloon note, and Mike Bowling suddenly owned Jokers again.  He convinced Lisa to return to help him understand the club’s situation. Use Jokers RockAtell PromoThey learned that Mehlman hadn’t paid the sales tax, as well as owing numerous vendors. Lisa determined that Jokers owed around $65,000 in back sales taxes and even more to unpaid vendors. Bowling agreed that she would run Jokers for one year and at the end of the year, she would buy the business for the remaining amount of debt. A year later, Jokers was hers. Eventually, she bought the building, too.

In 1998 Lisa got involved in the Dayton community. It was summer and hot when a young woman came in to apply for a job wearing short shorts and a cropped top. When Lisa offered her something to drink, she asked for a beer. Lisa didn’t hire her. “That night it just kept bothering me. Why doesn’t she know any better? Who’s going to tell her?” The next day, Lisa searched for programs to train people for job readiness, and found a new program, Clothes That Work. She was their second volunteer.

Clothes That Work 2016
Clothes That Work Luncheon 2011 – Doris Ponitz, Lisa, Ginny Strausburg, Sue Zickefoose

Gradually Lisa realized that she liked Dayton. “You can do something in Dayton, have an idea, make it happen, watch it succeed and it doesn’t matter how deep your pockets are, because people here care and they will connect.”

When a prominent Dayton community leader, Doris Ponitz, suggested Lisa go through the Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce’s yearlong Leadership Dayton program, Lisa balked. As a small business owner, it was expensive. She discovered, however, “it was a great eye opener to what Dayton has to offer, because I came here not really getting out of my little bubble, and I just worked in the club.” She gained an additional benefit. “It also made me have to trust my staff a little more, because I’d be away for a whole day, so they got to grow… That was a big growth experience for me”.

In the ten years Lisa owned Jokers, she successfully operated in an essentially male-dominated business, expanding the club’s offerings with specialty shows, open-mike nights and corporate events. She also developed a reputation for nurturing rising young comedians. (Dayton Daily News, August 13, 2006)

Use FB front
Funny Bone Comedy Club & Restaurant Dayton at The Greene, Beavercreek, Ohio

In 2006 a tornado blew down the Jokers marquee and Miami Township wouldn’t allow Lisa to rebuild it. At the same time, The Funny Bone was about to open a 325-seat club at a new shopping and entertainment complex, The Greene. Lisa doubted Dayton was big enough for three comedy clubs, and she negotiated a merger of Jokers into the Funny Bone chain which included all of the Jokers staff. “I knew that this will either be great or a colossal failure, so I had a 6-month contract with them. I made it 9 months before they fired me”. Lisa fired an act she thought was “creepy and unethical”, but corporate management said, “you don’t run your own club anymore; this is our decision”.

What did Lisa do after she left the comedy business?

As Lisa was figuring out her next steps, she did some contract work for the Miami Valley Restaurant Association, Culture Works, the Aids Resource Center (ARC, now Equitas) and the Humane Society of Greater Dayton. ARC asked her several times to be their fulltime events planner. Once they negotiated a provision that Lisa could work her own hours (no mornings), Lisa agreed.

Art Ball
Lisa at the Dayton Art Institute’s Art Ball

Lisa loved the challenge of staging events for ARC in unusual venues, such as the Roundhouse at the Montgomery County Fairgrounds. “It doesn’t have much electrical. It doesn’t have bathrooms, so it was a challenge to figure out how to make it work, how to put it together”. She was used to working frugally and finding ways to bring events in below budget added to the challenge.

By 2014 the ARC had become more “corporate” as the organization expanded in both scope and geographical reach, eventually rebranding itself as Equitas Health. “It wasn’t where I wanted to be anymore. It had become too many layers of corporate for the entrepreneur in me”.

What did Lisa do next?

In 2008, sponsored by the Southwestern Ohio Council for Higher Education, Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce and some major corporations, Richard Florida came to Dayton to kick off DaytonCREATE, a yearlong effort to inventory the community’s assets and to assist the community with developing some practical ideas to persuade talented youth to stay in Dayton. (Dayton Daily News, April 6, 2008)  Lisa participated as a Catalyst (volunteer).

During the process, DaytonCREATE founded FilmDayton as a film festival and identified the need for a community calendar. Dayton Most Metro, a downtown message board, became the source for event information and positive news and reviews. Lisa got involved in both.

When Lisa left the Aids Resource Center in 2014, FilmDayton was out of money. Lisa volunteered to work for the summer to get it on firm ground.  Since then, she has continued as the Executive Director.

Previously, Dayton had partnered with Columbus and Cincinnati to petition the State of Ohio to adopt a tax incentive to foster a film industry in Ohio. The State created the Ohio Motion Picture Tax Credit (OMPTC), but it didn’t help Dayton much, because most movies were made in Cincinnati and Cleveland. In 2016 the Board of Trustees of FilmDayton decided to shift from a film festival to a film commission to market the area as a film production location. After Lisa earned her official certification as a film commissioner, FilmDayton relaunched as a film commission in April 2016.

Premiere of The Way
Premiere of The Way with Lisa, Martin Sheen, Emilio Estevez, Ron Rollins, Karri O’Reilly, Shaunn Baker and Eva Buttacavoli

As the film commissioner, Lisa reaches out to movie directors to encourage them to film in Dayton. “In a perfect world, you fly them in and get a copy of the script and go okay here’s what your script would look like in our town. (Except) FilmDayton doesn’t have any money, so that’s really hard to do”. Lisa works with Film Cincinnati to encourage producers to employ people from Dayton and promote Dayton as a scene location. For example, Miles Ahead, a biopic about Miles Davis, was based in Cincinnati, but the director filmed scenes at the Refraze Recording Studios in Kettering and the Montgomery County jail.

In order to demonstrate the economic impact, Lisa persuaded “a couple of the County Commissioners to come do a (movie) set tour, so they could see what goes into the business of film,” including the cast of 12 or 15, around 100 extras, a crew of 75, the food, the parking, etc. Consequently, the County awarded FilmDayton a small contract to expand its work.

LMG pouring beer
Lisa pouring beer for Dayton Most Metro

In addition, Lisa developed Dayton Most Metro into an online magazine covering a variety of topics such as such as Arts & Entertainment, Dayton Music, Dayton Theatre, Active Living and Community. Dayton Dining is her favorite.

Dayton dining
Dayton Dining Facebook page

She started Dayton Dining as a newsletter to publicize Dayton restaurants and eventually added it to Dayton Most Metro. “I think I still have the heart of a restaurateur and I know how hard it was when you’re in the day-to-day”. Restaurant owners may intend to work on marketing, but then “the dishwasher didn’t show”.

Also in May 2014, Lisa “decided to take the summer to put together a business plan to launch Planned2Give”, an event planning business she created with Jeff Jackson. Before they could finalize the plan, however, Jeff started getting calls. Many nonprofits recognized it was cheaper to hire Planned2Give than to keep an event planner on staff. With Anthony Bourdain

What is Lisa doing now?

Currently Lisa works part-time as the Executive Director of FilmDayton and runs Planned2Give with Jeff.  She also manages Dayton Most Metro as a volunteer. It gives “me all these things to work on and I can work on all of them autonomously when I need to… Keeps me from doing the same old, same old”.

Lisa’s observations:

  • Take more chances
  • Figure out what success looks like for you, not for someone else
  • Meet people for the fun of it; don’t always have an ulterior motive
  • Don’t bitch; find a way to make it better
  • Get out of your comfort zone
  • Explore; there’s tons to do
  • Get involved
  • If what you want doesn’t exist, get out and start it
  • Find partners, trust them and don’t micromanage them
  • “Sometimes you have to do things just because, and not because it’s going to benefit you at that moment. You’re just building goodwill somewhere along the line”.

“The overriding thing to my whole life is I don’t panic…things are just going to happen as they’re supposed to. Or maybe they’re not the plan I had, but nobody knew that plan and however it comes out, it comes out…I never knew what comedy club I was going to open. I never had a plan to buy a comedy club. My fall back is always that I can still waitress… that gives you a lot of freedom. The worst that’s going to happen is they’ll fire me”.

class of 2016 woi
YWCA Dayton Women of Influence class of 2016

Brent Johnson, Owner, Square One Salon & Day Spa

Brent 2Brent Johnson combined the business and customer service skills he learned in retail and occupational therapy to build his salon business. Today, he and his partners own and operate six Square One Salons in Dayton and Columbus.

In the beginning…

Brent Johnson has been fascinated by business since childhood. As soon as he turned 16, he got a job in a restaurant and discovered, “I loved working”. In his last year or two of high school, he attended school for a half day and worked half a day. “I always wanted my own business, so the more I could learn, the more I could be exposed to the public, the better my confidence would become, the more I could connect with people”.

Brent’s first two managers taught him to “really listen to and be a problem solver for guests. Really listen to people and find out what they want and go deeper than their answer. Don’t be afraid to step out of your box a little bit and do whatever it takes”.

What did Brent do after high school?

After graduation, Brent quickly moved from a job as a floor manager at a store in the Dayton Mall to become the assistant manager of Benetton at Town and Country Shopping Center, and then the manager of Benetton at the Dayton Mall. The promotions enabled him to move from his parents’ house in Carlisle, Ohio to his first apartment in Dayton’s downtown Oregon District.

Brent recognized, however, that the promotions were both “a gift and a trap”. The increased money was great at the time, but it wasn’t enough to live on forever. Consequently, he enrolled at Sinclair Community College for “one class a quarter”. At that rate, he thought, “by the time I’m 86, I might actually have a degree”.

Although Brent dreamed of owning a business, he was unsure of his direction. “The financial world was sort of in crisis and I got scared I was going to be 50 years old and working in the Macy’s Young Men’s department, selling Levis”. At the time, he was a Visual Merchandiser for Macy’s and loved the creative aspect. Consequently, he decided to pursue the goal of a Masters degree in art therapy. His first step was the 2-year degree program in Occupational Therapy at Sinclair. “Art therapy was in the safe world of the medical field where I would actually have an income and health insurance”.

Upon graduation with his Associate’s degree, Brent immediately took a job at Maria Joseph Nursing & Rehabilitation Center focused on geriatric patients. After three years, he moved to the rehab services at Grandview Medical Center and continued working with similar patients.

How did Brent move from being an occupational therapist to owning a salon?

Brent never lost his dream to open his own business. When two friends, Nick and Doug, and his roommate, now husband, Josh, raised the idea of opening a hair salon, Brent was ready.

Partners
Original Owners Doug, Josh & Brent (Photo by The Carr Photography; source: http://www.squareonesalon.com)

During their early planning, Nick left for Chicago. The three remaining partners each added different dimensions to the project. Doug, a hair stylist, had years of salon experience. Josh, a schoolteacher, had a Master’s degree in learning styles and a degree in massage, which inspired them to plan spa services in the salon. Brent said, “I don’t bring anything to the table other than a lot of retail experience, visual merchandising and customer service. And I love people”.

How did Brent and his partners go from a dream to a successful salon?

Cannery Bldg
The Cannery Building

At first, all Brent and his partners could do was dream. In 1998 a friend told them the Cannery Building in downtown Dayton was being renovated to include retail and residential units. The project planners “were motivated to talk to anybody, because the bank wanted to see retail commitments”. The bank required a business plan, however, and Brent and his partners had no idea how to write one.

When they sought help at SCORE, the mentor “thought we wanted to open a salon like a place to go smoke cigars” and admonished them for failing to wear a suit to their meeting. “It really lit a fire under us”. The partners realized they needed “to act like we know what we’re talking about”.

Then Brent broke his leg. His injury drastically reduced his hours at Grandview, because his job, which included showing patients how to move safely, was “hard to do when I was non-weight bearing on my left leg and in a wheelchair myself”. With time on his hands, Brent started drafting their business plan using a friend’s business plan as a template. It “had nothing to do with my world, but at least I saw a Table of Contents”.

They needed a down payment of $10,000 in order to borrow $100,000, but all they had was $300 and nothing to sell. The partners each raised $3,300 from family and friends, and the bank made the loan.

The partners used $20,000 to buy equipment, start a payroll and pay accounting and legal fees. They used the remaining $80,000 to refurbish the space. In November 1999,

SQ1 Dayton exterior
Square One Salon & Day Spa, Dayton

Brent, Josh and Doug opened Square One Salon with seven employees. “We had 8 styling stations, a massage room and a facial room and a bathroom and a break room and a laundry room… We thought it was important to do it all”.

Brent quit his hospital job to work full-time at the salon. At that time, he didn’t “know the difference between a facial or a highlight”, so he concentrated on customer service and the interior design.

In order afford a pay cut to help the salon’s cash flow, Brent gave up his health insurance and his car and walked to work for two years. He did home health care in the evenings or on weekends to earn supplemental cash.

Square One entered into a contract with Aveda to carry their products exclusively. In return, Aveda provided free education, a free back bar, and business guidance based on Aveda’s analytics. Early on, Brent adopted their benchmarks to measure the salon’s success:

  • Don’t pay more than 6% for rent
  • Don’t let your payroll for stylists go over 45%
  • Make sure your managers and front desk personnel margins don’t run over 8%

What did Brent and his partners do after opening the first salon?

After several years, Brent and his partners opened Therapy Café, a bar/restaurant, also in the Cannery Building. They quickly learned it was a drastically different type of business. “It was a potential killer of everything we had…we had to take out a $400,000 loan and it’s hard to make that up on $2 coffees and $9 martinis”. They also learned owning a bar/restaurant isn’t a party. “You have to stay up late, but you can’t drink”. To Brent’s relief, after four years they sold Therapy Café without going bankrupt.

Therapy Cafe
Therapy Cafe

“We learned some valuable lessons…what I call our adult college:

  • Stick with what you know; do what you do well
  • Just because you do one thing well, doesn’t mean you’ll do everything well
  • Just because it looks like easy money, doesn’t mean it is
  • Nothing is free”

Thereafter, Brent and his partners focused solely on the salon. They knew, however, their space constraints limited their team’s potential to “spread their wings”. “We had people who had been with us for 8-9 years”, and they risked losing stylists to the lure of “opening their own business” by renting a chair in a loft or salon. “They’re in charge of booking their own appointments; coming in when they want to”, which works for some, but not all.

use Sq1 Centerville front corner street
Square One Salon & Day Spa, Centerville

Square One’s solution was to open a second location in order to give employees opportunities for advancement. Brent found an old building with reasonable rent in downtown Centerville, Ohio. “We’re all about going into historic buildings and renovating that building”. After intense negotiations, Brent and the owner agreed to a five-year lease with the first six months free for the necessary renovations. Square One put $275,000 into the building to complete the 5,200 square foot salon.

How did Brent go from two salons to six?

“Seven years ago, we got really scared again”. Businesses were leaving Dayton and Brent and his partners worried that “all of our eggs are in one basket”. The opportunity to buy two salons in the Aveda network in the Columbus, Ohio area – downtown and New Albany – coincided with Doug’s desire to move there. Brent, Josh and Doug opted to buy them.

use-sq1-columbus-interior-collage.jpg
Square One Salon & Day Spa, Columbus; Source: http://www.squareonesalon.com/columbus-gallery.php

Opening the new salons was “a struggle, because their culture was so completely different than ours”. In order establish the quality and customer service expected in a Square One salon, Brent made a lot of trips to Columbus.

Use SQ1 New Albany collage
Square One Salon & Day Spa, New Albany; Source: http://www.squareonesalon.com/new-albany-gallery.php

Two years ago, they opened two more salons after a longtime Dayton employee warned Brent he intended to open his own salon. He said, “I want financial security; I want to own a business and be my own boss; and I want to have creative control”. Brent sat down with Josh and Doug to devise a strategy to motivate the employee to stay.

They decided to offer to sell shares of stock to certain employees. Brent, Josh and Doug retained ownership of 51% of the stock and offered 49% to qualified employees. The criteria for eligibility were:

use SQ1 Brown St front
Square One Salon & Day Spa, Brown St, Dayton
  • Longevity – at least 10 years of employment with Square One
  • Full-time (30 hour/week)
  • Hold a leadership role

They offered shares to seven people and five accepted, including the employee in question. Sale of the shares paid for the build-out at two more locations: Brown Street in Dayton and Oak Creek in Centerville, Ohio.

Owners
Square One Salon & Day Spa, Owners 2017 (Photo by The Carr Photography; source: http://www.squareonesalon.com)

Brent said that with the new shareholders, “I’m really motivated to make sure my employees are happy; so are they. They’re really motivated to make sure they have the education they need to provide great services; so am I. We’re all motivated to keep it looking great; we’re all motivated to make the client happy; we’re all motivated to be sure our benchmarks” are met.

What is Brent’s business philosophy?

Brent’s philosophy is simple: “It matters. Everything matters from the condition of the stairway to the cleanliness of the break room to the treatment of everyone who walks through the door”. No matter whether it’s a client or the UPS driver, everyone should be treated with respect and courtesy.

Treatment of employees also matters. Brent’s emphasis on respect and listening has led to a “95% retention rate with our stylists”. In difficult situations, Brent asks himself “three questions: is it good for the business? Is it good for the client? Is it good for the employee?” He initiates a conversation to understand the situation, discover the employee’s goals, and emphasize his expectations.

Brent believes in creating a balanced team of people with different strengths. “You need to have people who are good at doing books or managing people in addition to people who are good at doing hair”. If everyone was similar, “no one wants to do the books, because everyone sucks at doing the books, but we’re all really great at doing highlights”.

Use Sq1 Dayton interior collage
Square One Salon & Day Spa, Third St, Dayton; Source: http://www.squareonesalon.com/dayton-gallery.php

To give employees opportunities to advance, Square One offers training in both job skills and leadership and management development. Unlike many other salons, Brent distinguishes between managers and stylists in order to benefit from the strengths of each. With training, stylists may advance as teachers and leaders “along with their career behind the chair”.

In addition, the partners demonstrate they care about their employees by providing full-time employees with health insurance and a 401(K) savings plan.

What is Brent’s advice for customer service?

“Never shy away from asking a guest if they had a great experience. If you sense that they’re telling you it was great and it wasn’t,” dig deeper. “I want to know before they walk out the door”.

Brent’s process for resolving client issues is:

  • Thank the guest: “Thank you for making me aware”
  • Apologize
  • If the solution isn’t obvious, ask, “How can we make this better?” “Most of the time, people just want to be heard”
  • Thank them again

“Once you do that and you own it, people just de-escalate really fast”.

 Brent’s observations:

Sq1 Centerville back door
Square One Salon & Spa, Centerville
  • “I’ve never quit one job without having another one in place”
  • “Just because it’s a great idea, doesn’t mean it’s a great idea for you”
  • “You don’t have to have a business degree; you can learn it. It doesn’t have to be taught in a classroom; practical knowledge – for example, Therapy Café – is so valuable”
  • “Don’t try to do everything, because you just can’t master all of it”
  • “Work-life balance is really important; make sure you get your family time in”
  • Brent’s dad taught him, “if you agree to dig a ditch, you make it the best ditch, not a half-assed ditch…when you agree to do it, you do it to the best of your ability, no question”

“I love business and I love my salon, but it’s not the salon business that I love. I don’t love hair, I don’t love creating makeup and hair. I love it when it’s beautiful and I love that my client’s happy and I love watching the artist be creative and be proud of what they do”.

use Sq1 Brown st back
Square One Salon & Spa
www.squareonesalon.com
Phone: 937.461.2222
Email: sq1dayton@gmail.com

Sandy Mendelson, President, Mendelson’s Liquidation Outlet

use Sandy2

Although Sanford “Sandy” Mendelson started with few resources and only a high school education, he has developed successful businesses, closed or revamped businesses, and bought and sold real estate. I asked Sandy how he crafted his career. The highlights of his story follow.

In the beginning…

As a child growing up in Dayton, Sanford “Sandy” Mendelson “liked to do everything except read and write in school…I just loved building things, making things, tinkering with my hands. My dad had a scrapyard in 1955 and I started going to the yard and taking stuff apart, sorting stuff out and playing with junk and taking stuff home.”

During his high school years, “I was the handyman of the school, fixed everything… in charge of the stage crew…a lot of the things I was in charge of, because I was a go getter.”

In 1960 his father, Harry Mendelson, opened Mendelson’s Electronics on Linden Ave. in Dayton to sell surplus. “We were in the government surplus stuff, buying stuff from DESC (Defense Electronics Supply Center).” Sandy worked in the business, but by the time he graduated from high school in 1962, things were going sour. His dad’s employer went bankrupt and Mendelson’s Electronics was struggling.

What happened when Sandy’s dad died in 1963?

Three years after Harry Mendelson opened Mendelson’s Electronics, he died, leaving the family in dire straits. “We had $68 in the bank, no money at all, two homes, four kids, a mother sick with emphysema. It was a bad scene.”

The day before Harry died, “we went to look at some stuff for Max Isaacson, owner of Globe Industries. It was all Cessna 180 autopilots. He said, ‘I got to get them out of the building.’ The next day, my dad has a heart attack and passed away. Max comes to the house for sympathy for my family. He says, ‘Do you want this stuff?’ We had no money. Max says, ‘Take it. You sell, you pay me.’ So I took an ad in Flying Magazine. Cessna 180 autopilots had a ridiculous price. They flew out of here. So that was the guy that gave me the break, who started me. He gave me an opportunity to excel as a merchant and think how to make a living.” 

How did Sandy’s mother influence him?

Shortly after his dad passed, Sandy and his mother, Ida Mendelson, discovered Harry had borrowed $10,000 from Winters Bank on a personal note. “We knew nothing about it.” When Sandy and his mother went to see the banker, “I said, ‘my dad did it, we’ll honor it in one year, no interest.’ The banker said, ‘No.’ My mother was a really, really tough lady. When she got in your face you knew you’d been chewed up.” Ida stood up to leave and the banker quickly backpedaled, agreeing to Sandy’s terms. “One year to that day, I walked in with $10,000 and paid the man back and I’ve never looked back since.”

“I used to bring all the boys over to play poker and my mom would say, ‘You know the rules. It’s for keepsies.’ And she would clean us all out. She had her little purse, put the money in there and zip it. ‘It’s keepsies!’ Then she’d open the refrigerator and feed us all. We’d come back the next week again and try to beat her.”

“I learned my hawking through her. She was a tough lady, but she knew how to make a deal; she was very smart.”

How did Sandy make his first big deal?

“I was going by NCR and I see they’re scrapping stuff out. So I pulled up to the dumpster and asked ‘What’s going on here?’ ‘We’re changing our modes, we’re going from electro-mechanical to electronic cash registers.’ I was in the dumpster looking around, the guy says, ‘you can’t be in here. You got to go up and see… the head of steel purchasing.’ I go see him and say, ‘I’d like to buy this material.’ He said, ‘You’ve got to scrap it out; it’s got to be destroyed.’ So I crossed my fingers and said, ‘Okay.’ I went ahead and gave them more money than they were getting. I got some people really mad at me…because I took the deal from them. They’re throwing everything away; they don’t know if they need it for future use or nothing.” 

“We took the exact box out of NCR, put it on a skid, numbered it, had the same rack in the other building, put the same part back in the same number order it was before. After that I had 300,000 different part numbers” and it was time to talk to NCR.

Sandy took his printout of all the parts with him. It was so long, he had to use a two-wheeler to transport it. “The guy went nuts. ‘You did what? You were supposed to destroy this stuff.’ What I did wasn’t exactly kosher, but I didn’t sell the parts to their competition; I did nothing with it. I said, ‘I know you need some parts back. I know you got problems with your service areas.’ They had 3,500 service departments around the world with no parts…they couldn’t make anymore, because all the machines – they tore them down and got rid of them. They were having serious problems.”

use drawers of partsHe sold the parts back to NCR on an as-needed basis at 65% of standard cost. “They were selling it for ten times what I sold it back to them. For 30 years, we were buying surplus inventory… and we’d ship within 24 hours anywhere in the world. They would pay the freight. That’s how I got wealthy, because of them. I bought all these buildings, because I needed more space for their deals. Ten years ago, NCR started changing. The old machines were gone and I did scrap everything. It was a very good relationship.”

Has Sandy’s business changed since that first big deal?

“So many things I’ve done over the years.” Sandy started Mendelson’s Sporting Goods, which grew into four stores. “When General Surplus burned down, I started buying GI clothing from the bases. One thing led to another. I bought ten combat boots, and I bought a hundred combat boots, and I bought sweatshirts. We had skis, we had archery, clothing. We done very well for the first years, then Walmart came in and you can’t beat the big boys. Things were going real tough, so I had to close that up. I paid everybody off I owed. Someone said, ‘Go bankrupt.’ I don’t do that.” 

Sandy continued to experiment with new ways to sell merchandise. Using the outlet use MLO front doorstores in Reading, Pa. as a model, he opened The Mart Factory Outlet in 1982. The Mart offered sporting goods, housewares, clothing and appliances. “It started out doing real good. I would get 10% of the sales as the rent; we collected the money and paid the sales tax. Then that fell apart…so I put my own merchandise in here – Mendelson’s Liquidation Outlet. We’ve done okay ever since.”

In 1986 Jeffrey Stahl told Sandy he was frustrated with his employer, an electronics firm. “Jeffrey knew how to sell and I knew how to buy. So we opened a company called Parts Express International (PEI). I have a lot of product, but I don’t have the means to sell it right. Jeffrey is a very professional and ethical person who knew how to put a catalog together and work it. It’s 31 years later, and it’s worked extremely well. His tremendous retail entrepreneurship gave me the fortitude to stay in that business; he’s the bones and the body.”

Did Sandy open any other businesses?

“Another crazy Sandy idea…I needed to get my trucks off the parking lot. I had the wholeuse truck lot filled full with trucks and they wanted that lot for baseball.” In 2001 Sandy bought the site with the old B&O Railroad freight terminal and parking for the trucks next to 2nd Street Public Market in Dayton. Based on the concept of the Springfield, Ohio Antique Center, he renovated the terminal as the Antique Mart in Webster Street Market with a deli and multiple consignment booths. He ordered “400 showcases and we filled them full of merchandise.”

“The first two years of the Antique Mart were phenomenal. Antiques were doing very well and then here comes eBay…and antiques go in the toilet and all my tenants started pulling out. So I said, ‘Well Sandy, let’s start selling showcases.’ I sold every showcase and actually I made some money on them. Sold them all and went ahead and decided to make a banquet center out of it.” use TOM Deli Sandy executed his pivot by revamping the market as The Deli and Top of the Market, offering a deli-style restaurant on the first floor and event facilities on the second.

In 2000 Sandy had led the effort to raise $250,000 for the Get Well Fund for Dayton police officer, Mary Beall, paralyzed by a gunman in the course of duty. Ultimately, they raised over $300,000.

In 2005 John and Mary Beall’s daughter was planning to hold her wedding reception at the Top of the Market, but Sandy wasn’t happy with his crew there. “The day before the wedding, they walked out, so I put the Sandy call out, “I need help.’ I had so many chefs, so many waiters, people stood in line, ‘how can we help,’ because I help anyone who has a problem.” 

Sandy’s observations:

  • The most important thing is “ your handshake. If your handshake’s good, you’ve got it made; if your hand is no good, nothing will work for you.”
  • “You have to have the green disease. If you don’t have the drive, you’re not going to make it.”
  • When faced with a problem, say, “Yes, we can. When you say ‘no’, you’re already on the defense.”
  • Find a mentor. “I want to start a thing called the Start-Up King where we would help people learn how to go into business. We need to get these people a chance to excel in retail. They’re all afraid to go into business, because no one shows them how.” For instance, “lady buys a beauty chair…and she takes it away. A month later, ‘Sandy, I’ve got a problem. I didn’t know I had to get a health permit.’”
  • Emphasize networking. “Share the intelligence of what you can do. Networking is a key. But most businesses don’t go to other businesses and talk to them. Canal Street Arcade and Deli opened behind me. ‘What are we doing? What can we do? How are you doing this thing? I’m having a problem with deliveries.’ That’s not stealing. If I’ve got good food and good parking, I’m going to get good business; it’s not a trade secret.”
  • “It’s been a great life!”
use MLO bldg
Mendelson’s Liquidation Outlet
340 E. First St.
Dayton, OH 45402