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Starting a Small Business

Small Business Podcast: Hello everybody. Welcome back to Small Business Thanks for joining us for another show this week. We're going to be talking with various business owners and entrepreneurs over the next couple of weeks about how they're using online feedback sites to bring business into their small businesses. We've talked to a few business owners already, a bed and breakfast owner as well as a spa owner and today we're going to be speaking with Dawn Ellinwood. She is the owner of Ubuntu Hair Studio and she uses Yelp and also to get marketing for her business. We're going to talk to her about her ventures and also how she is using these sites. So Dawn thanks very much for being with us today.

Dawn Ellinwood: Thank you Tim.

Small Business Podcast: Well, so let's see let's talk about you as a business owner. First, how long have you owned your business?

Dawn Ellinwood: I actually opened Ubuntu in June. So six months to seven months.

Small Business Podcast: Okay. And is this first small business you've ever owned?

Dawn Ellinwood: It's the first one I've owned by myself. I was a partner in a small salon in Florida when I was 18.

Small Business Podcast: Oh, wow.

Dawn Ellinwood: Yeah. I realized pretty quickly that 18 was not what I wanted.

Small Business Podcast: Not what you wanted in terms of having a partner?

Dawn Ellinwood: Well, 18 owning your own business I was spending more time in the business than anything else and I was kind of like hey, [1:22 It's not really what I stand up for] I so waited a few more years before I drove back in.

Small Business Podcast: Yeah, that's obviously really young to start.

Dawn Ellinwood: Yeah.

Small Business Podcast: So what are the differences now between I guess maturity but are there things that you know now that you wish you would have known back then?

Dawn Ellinwood: Yeah, I mean definitely there's you know a level of maturity the more birthday candles you blow out but also just I've now done hair 22 years so you know there's a lot more experience and a lot more finesse than being able to like stand for you know what my business is about instead of worrying about every little thing someone says or thinks or you know. You know when you're younger it's like, oh my God are they going to like it. What if they say this, oh my God? Not that there's not any of that but there's a lot less than that so.

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Small Business Podcast: So what drew you back to opening up your own place again now?

Dawn Ellinwood: Well, I actually live in San Diego and I've been working in Los Angeles for the last 10 years and I was commuting back and from North County San Diego to Beverly Hills and working for a big salon there which was great. I mean I have a 10 year clientele there but it got a little more difficult when my husband and I brought our daughter home from Ethiopia about a year and a half ago. So its kind of one of those things that was you know I should open my own place and its like, nah I don't really want to to open my own place and it kept coming up and it was like okay, its time to open my own place. So I just put that alright. If I'm going to you know be closer to home I'm not finding you know the type of business I want to work in so I'm going to just create the type of business I want to work in. So that's how you know the whole adventure of okay, let's open a salon and there've been moments where it's been great and there've been moments where it's like, "Oh my God I've lost my mind!"

Small Business Podcast: A new family tends to make a lot of decisions for us when it comes to business.

Dawn Ellinwood: Yes.

Small Business Podcast: So do you basically have to start over then in terms of clientele because I can imagine a lot of people driving from Beverly Hills.

Dawn Ellinwood: Yeah. I do have a few clients that live in San Diego that used to drive up to LA to see me for a kind of [3:44 client if you will] you know that certainly helped but you know I'm just been looking at what types of ways can I attract new clients to my salon. How can I get the message out of my experience? What my business stands for? Why we're different? And why would someone want to come to us? I've been looking at different ways of how to get that out. You know I've gotten phone calls from every advertiser from the yellow pages to you know the local papers to magazines like oh, advertise with us, advertise with us. Oh, yeah, you know $2000 for you know a beautiful full page ad in a magazine and then like, is it really effective. Not so much.

Small Business Podcast: Yeah. Have you tried those different things and kind of experiment with what would work?

Dawn Ellinwood: Well, I've actually looked at what my budget can withhold and it's not a big glossy ad and I've also looked at what really draws clients to businesses especially like in the salon business. You know a glossy ad is great but most clients don't come to you because of that. They come to you because of friends of theirs, they see someone's hair that they like, they've heard good things about your salon, about the way you treat people. So I've been focusing then on how do I get you know word of mouth out and I find you know clients peer to peer you know like direct referrals great and then an even wider way to get people maybe that wouldn't hear about us otherwise they find us online you know peer critiquing type.

Small Business Podcast: Yes, we'll talk about that. When did you first see that people were writing reviews or did you actually solicit those first reviews?

Dawn Ellinwood: Actually we had a review go up after our grand opening party on Yelp and on Kudzo so that would have been you know our grand opening in July and then what we've done is every time we do a client's hair we let them know hey, we're really looking to get the word out about the studio so if you would please write your experience about being here on either Kudzo or on You know that will really help spread the word and we'd really appreciate it and a lot of clients have done that. They've written reviews you know on the sites and I would say the only thing that's frustrating is we've probably had a total of about I'm going to say at least 15 reviews and they get posted and then they drop off and I don't know where they go and every time I call not call but every time I email going, hey where did the review go and I get you know, oh well not every review get posted and I'm not actually getting the answer to my question which is it was posted now it's not there, where does it go? So that would be you know kind of one of the shortcomings I would say. Sometimes the reviews don't stay up.

Small Business Podcast: There's some frustration that although there's some ways to talk to these sites it's pretty limited and you get the feeling that your email is just kind of go into a black hole somewhere.

Dawn Ellinwood: Yeah. You get a "cut and paste" answer I think.

Small Business Podcast: That doesn't even really answer the question.

Dawn Ellinwood: Exactly.

Small Business Podcast: Do you have any I assumed those ones were positive have you had to deal with any negative reviews either?

Dawn Ellinwood: Yeah. I just got a negative review actually just a couple of days ago. And I'm not clear if the person actually came in and had the service or just read about the service and didn't like what she read. It's about a pedicure.

Small Business Podcast: And did you have an opportunity to kind of give your side of that like some of the sites allow?

Dawn Ellinwood: You know what I actually have been just kind of sitting back and looking at it before I respond I don't want to do any kneee-jerk response and I do believe the people should be able to express their feelings about something. So I actually am going to respond back but I didn't want it to come across as defensive and you know we're not the business for every client. Her main complaint was that she didn't think that our pricing was fair. She thought our pricing was too expensive and you know we're a service business and we're not a service business for everybody so just because one person feels like we're charging too much I don't think means that you know we should totally re-change the way we do business because the quality of service we offer is very high and some clients get that and some clients don't.

Small Business Podcast: That's interesting because with the bed and breakfast owner we had talked to had a negative review that was from someone who just thought the pricing was out of whack and had never actually stayed at the place so which I think you know look I'm a small business advocate for sure and I agree that everybody should be able to state their thing but I think that's pretty I don't know what the word is cheesy for somebody who'd not even be there and to write a review. That's ridiculous.

Dawn Ellinwood: Yeah. I mean and quite frankly we do a live in the United States and we all have freedom of choice. So if you don't like the pricing of the place don't do business with them.

Small Business Podcast: I think it's a great idea though that you that I'm going to sit back and wait and not immediately post you're wrong and this is why and I think that's a smart idea.

Dawn Ellinwood: Yeah, because I mean I want you know I want to use every review as a way of really look at our business are our clients being served. If they are [9:19] what did they like. If they're not being served okay, what's missing? So you know when you use that constructively and you know it doesn't benefit anybody if I come back from the mindset if I'm going to be defensive and how dare you say that you know. There's a reason that you know feel that way so let me kind of sit back, you want to look at it and see okay, why would do they feel that way. Is there something missing in our service? Or is this just the person that regardless of how great the service is not going to want to pay our price point?

Small Business Podcast: And your response can actually turn that review into something that we'd look at and say, hey they responded. I understand their response. I'm going to go to this place.

Dawn Ellinwood: Exactly.

Small Business Podcast: So have you tracked down business that is directly attributable to these review sites?

Dawn Ellinwood: Yeah. We've been tracking you know we'll ask people like you know how did you hear about our studio and I am going say probably 20% of our new clients that have come in have found us via online. Whether it's Kudzo, whether it's Yelp, whether it's like a Google search engine and our website pops up and I'm noticing more and more clients are looking to online sources. If its not the first way they find your business it's a way to kind of double check once they get a recommendation. Like a friend may say, hey I tried this new hair studio called Ubuntu you should check it out where you used to go okay well let me go check it out. Now I think people are going, oh, well let me see if they have a website. Let me see if there are any reviews up you know in the review board and I think that you know kind of a second way to reassure client or to capture clients that maybe are curious.

Small Business Podcast: How about competitors when you first open the business you may have checked out who's around and where they were or do you follow their reviews as well?

Dawn Ellinwood: You know I do check on their reviews and mostly lately it's been okay. Well, how many reviews did they have? And how come their review stays the same and mine keep changing. You know I'm kind of trying to figure out how come you know like there's a restaurant right next to us. So they've got 33 reviews and how come mine keeps going from 12 to eight to five to six to seven to four you know so I'm just kind of unclear on how you know the traffic works like how come some reviews stay up and how come some don't. And I've looked at other salons sites even and you know kind of looking at okay, are these reviews staying up for a long time or are they kind of changing a lot and I don't know because we keep getting several reviews posted that they keep changing and dropping off because it seems like most people are pretty consistent with the reviews that stay on but they don't seem to be super active in this review posting. Does that make sense?

Small Business Podcast: It does seem a little arbitrary and they may have their reasons behind it but I think if this whole method of review is going to become trustworthy they're going to have to really be transparent about why things are happening on the sites.

Dawn Ellinwood: Yeah. So there are a lot of great things about the site that's just my one big frustration with it.

Small Business Podcast: What's the future for you? Do you see yourself opening new studios or expanding? What is it for you?

Dawn Ellinwood: Well at this point I want to just get well established here in the one location that we have. I mean you know if demand is there absolutely I would consider opening a second location and we try to do business a little differently. We're actually a no tipping salon and any tips we do get, get donated to [13:17spotlight] and charities that we pick. So we're trying to create a different way of purchasing beauty products.

Small Business Podcast: Why did go that route? What made you decide that that was best for the business?

Dawn Ellinwood: I just looked at for myself what I am drawn to when I go to businesses and when red product was first introduced you know through the Gap and Emporio Armani and Motorola and Apple and those things. I loved the idea of purchasing things that I wanted and having part of my purchase go towards something bigger. So I wanted to create that type of model as my business so I figure people always need to get their hair done you know. I'm highly trained. I've got very high end clientele in Beverly Hills and you know I want to be able to offer that in North County San Diego and I wanted to be able to give back while doing what I love so decided that this was you know a great way to do that and especially given you know the economic turns right now I think a lot of times that people feel like I came getting what I want and what I need but I'm also making a difference at the same time. You know it makes you feel better to do it that way versus I'm just going to go and do what I want and that's it.

Small Business Podcast: You mentioned the economy so I want to ask you about that. Higher end places can be less affected sometimes by the economy. Is a high end studio affected or do you see some holding back, people waiting longer, etc. How is it affecting your business?

Dawn Ellinwood: Well, Ubuntu is a brand new business so we don't have a super expanded clientele yet. So for us we're getting started so there's probably maybe a little less trying a new place immediately. We're new so there maybe like I don't know them yet so they may not be as like [15:20 later try off] initially without kind of the feedback that they get from people and checking sources. When I work in LA I've been there 10 years, I have a very established clientele but even up there I'm noticing clients waiting longer in between getting their hair done so they're not stopping completely but there's definitely like a holding back.

Small Business Podcast: Oh, so still are driving up to LA.

Dawn Ellinwood: I actually just completed my last trip of going every week up to LA.

Small Business Podcast: Okay.

Dawn Ellinwood: So I'm going to focus down here full time now.

Small Business Podcast: Okay. And when you started, I don't think I asked you, did you get a loan, was it personal small business financing? How did you start that?

Dawn Ellinwood: I have dug in every rat hole I can find. I dig in small business loan. I've used you know personal capital, I've done the whole [16:12] okay, let's purchase this on credit card and soon as that's sold we'll pay that off. We can do this. It's kind of been very creative in finding resources to get the business up and going because you know what they say no matter how well you plan. It always takes longer and cost more.

Small Business Podcast: And did you predict or project that you wouldn't make money for a while and how did you figure it would take you to be profitable?

Dawn Ellinwood: Well I did figure that I wouldn't you know make money immediately hence the reason I have been here half the week and up in LA half the week. I didn't think it would take us long to not kind of really build and I think you know circumstances have some things to do with it that have not been here and is focused as I need to be in order to really build so you know I think it's a matter of just focusing and really utilizing all the resources available to get the word out and you know just offering the best service I can to the clients and that always I think ends up [17:19 winning in the long whole].

Small Business Podcast: Well, good philosophy Dawn. If somebody wants to find out about you we might have a few listeners you never know in North San Diego County. So how do they reach you?

Dawn Ellinwood: Our studio number is 858-792-5959 or our website is

Small Business Podcast: Alright listeners, we'll link to that in the notes for today's show as well so you can click over to Dawn's business. Dawn thanks very much for your time today. I appreciate it.

Dawn Ellinwood: Thank you Tim.