Hairstylist Vanessa Shaddy was so nervous she could hardly sleep.
After 16 years of renting a booth inside someone else's salon, she finally decided late last year it was time to plunk down $15,000 from savings and open a shop of her own.
Worries kept her up late an night. So many doubts were swirling around her at work that she said it became necessary to leave the salon four months earlier than planned.
But in the 4½ months since she opened her own space within a new salon complex in west Bakersfield, she said she's making more money than ever before. And she loves it.
"I literally love owning my own place," she said. "It's the nicest thing."
More and more these days, stylists, manicurists and estheticians are taking the plunge and setting up salons that would have been beyond their reach just 20 years ago.
Their entrepreneurial streak is being encouraged in some cases by an upcoming change in state rules regarding independent contractors. But mostly, people in the salon industry say, the shift is driven by a trend allowing independent business owners to rent small, self-contained spaces where they can do business on their own terms within a local network of similarly independent salons.
Freedom is the biggest perk, Shaddy and other stylists say. They can decorate their salons however they please and set their own hours. Plus, instead of receiving a modest commission on the sale of supplies like shampoo and conditioner, they sell directly to customers and pocket 100 percent of the profit.
The arrangement is not for everyone. Salon workers can take years building up a clientele large enough to support an independent shop, which at a cost of many thousands of dollars can represent a big risk for someone new to the business.
But for people with the right mix of experience, savings and pluck, opening an independent salon has never been easier.
Shaddy's salon, called Revive, is located within Salon District, a complex containing 29 shops, all but three of them rented out, at the northeast corner of Stockdale Highway and California Avenue.
Owned by Casey and Linda Rion, the complex offers a variety of salon spaces for between about $250 and $750 per week. There's a shared laundry and kitchen with a property manager and a wholesale beauty supply store on site.
Salon District is modeled after a concept that has swept the industry during the past decade. Chains such as Salon Republic and Sola Salon Studios, which has three locations in Bakersfield, have opened dozens of locations across the country. Each contains small — some would say intimate — spaces suited for one to three stylists.
The Rions also own Hairpros on Allen Road, where all the stylists are employed by the salon, and Serenity Salon & Spa, which leases out booths to independent hairstylists on Coffee Road. While there are no plans to sell or close either of those locations, the couple is more focused now on opening another Salon District-like complex within about a year.
Their property manager at Salon District, Jennifer Macellari, said customers enjoy the personal attention independent shops offer.
"It just makes them feel special," she said, adding the complex at 212 Coffee Road, Suite 206, will host a grand opening with raffles and beauty product representatives from 3 to 6 p.m. Nov. 14.
Casey Rion said recent changes in the industry have been hard on some traditional salons. He said new opportunities for stylists to go solo, as well as upcoming changes to state contracting rules, has forced some salons to close.
"We’re seeing that a lot of salons aren’t able to sustain, whether it’s because of the new law or neglect," he said.
The law, Assembly Bill 5, is a controversial piece of legislation signed in September by Gov. Newsom. It codifies a California Supreme Court decision distinguishing independent contractors from employees.
Thousands of workers who had been classified as independent contractors will now be deemed employees entitled to higher pay, health benefits and new workplace protections. The law, set to take effect Jan. 1, contains exceptions for medical and other professionals, as well as writers, photographers, travel agents and others.
The law exempts cosmetologists, estheticians, electrologists, barbers and manicurists from being declared employees "but only if they set their own rates, are paid directly by clients, schedule their own appointments" and meet certain other requirements, according to a summary published in September by the Atlanta-based law firm Fisher & Phillips LLP.
Toni Brewer, who owns a brightly decorated little shop inside Salon District, said it was expensive going into business for herself. But she said it was worth it, too.
The place has fewer distractions than the typical large salon and she can still walk around and socialize with other stylists nearby, Brewer said. And although her rent is a little more than she used to pay for a booth, she said beauty product sales more than make up the difference.
"The more that I'm here," she said, "the more I'm loving it."