Sunday, February 9, 2003

Couple learn about business
by buying one

By Jenny Callison
Enquirer contributor

Many small businesses have a silent partner to help them weather the critical early days of their enterprise. Robin and Jeff Burk's was the Mason-Landen-Kings Chamber of Commerce.

AsSu”ge Salon & Spa owners Robin and Jeff Burk pose in the waiting area.
(Michael Snyder photo)
| ZOOM |
Robin Burk, a stylist for two-and-a-half years at Mason's All About You, had entrepreneurship dropped in her lap. The salon's owner, opting to get of the business, asked Robin if she would like to purchase it. She and her then-fiance Jeff sought advice.

"The first thing we did was call John Harris," she recalled. "We wanted to know if it was a smart thing to do or not."

Harris, the chamber's director, encouraged them, steering them toward two other chamber members, a CPA and an attorney, and also recommending that they check out the Small Business Development Center in Lebanon.

"I advised them to seek professionals that would give them an objective opinion and help them organize a strategy and plan for success, particularly in the areas of finance and legal," Harris said.

"We took the CPA a list of the assets the owner had given us, to see if it would be worth our while," said Robin Burk. "He said, `Great opportunity, great location.' The location (on Reading Road) helped the value."

That short course in business valuation equipped the couple to negotiate a lower price for the salon.

There was no special financing through the SBDCso the two purchased All About You themselves with help from family and friends.

Next came the crash course in business management.

"Everything we didn't know, we either called the chamber or asked our CPA or lawyer," Jeff Burk said.

Robin had often managed the salon when the former owner was not there, so she was familiar with the demands of the business. A stylist for 14 years, she also knew her profession.

Jeff, a heavy machine operator, had helped out in the salon during the winters when he was laid off. That experience helped him understand interpersonal dynamics or, as his wife said, "how to get along with a bunch of women."

To fine-tune products and services, the couple solicited input from several steady clients.

Then came the physical work.

When the sale was completed late last February, the couple closed down the salon for three days and recruited family members and friends to do a thorough remodeling. Robin Burk had very specific ideas about space and flow.

She sketched a plan showing where walls and room dividers should be, noting designs for columns and other architectural details. She gave the plan to her brother and told him to start building. The crew also installed cabinets and countertops, replaced carpet with easy-to-clean vinyl tile, and repainted walls and ceiling.

The salon had one pedicure station; the new owners added another.

"That was the smartest thing we did," Jeff Burk said. "Because I had answered the phone, I knew how many calls we would get from mothers and daughters or friends who wanted to come in together for a pedicure. Now we can accommodate them."

Said Robin Burk: "We closed down Saturday afternoon and spent 60 hours in here on the weekend. We left at 2 a.m. Wednesday and opened up at 9 as AsSu”ge Salon & Spa."

The next challenge was to build clientele. Robin Burk had maintained a full roster of clients. She contacted the salon's former stylists to gauge their willingness to return. She also got the word out that the doors were open.

"All it took in the beginning was making a few phone calls to get a few people back in," she said. "Our marketing since has been done through print advertising, word of mouth, and promotional efforts, especially through the Mason schools.

"We ran discounts for teachers, we put gift baskets together for festivals, and we've done different things with the chamber."

AsSu”ge has shown strong growth. Last March, Robin Burk was the only full-time stylist. Another stylist worked part time and the salon had one nail technician. Currently there are five stylists and two nail technicians. Two employees are licensed to do chair massage.

Jeff Burk is training to become a massage therapist and will offer full massage when he earns his license. Meanwhile, he does whatever needs doing.

"It's a lot of work, more than what you think. You practically live here," he said of small business ownership. "The little things add up, from maintenance to promotion. But we try to follow the Golden Rule, to treat others as we would like to be treated."


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