The Weave Shop Franchise
by Mary Worrell
Most small businesses hope to stay in business after a year with growth plans limited to things like an additional product line or a storefront. But Latonya Saunderson was different. She started her own small hair salon after moving to Atlanta in 2008 in a bit of rented office space and has since grown the business not only to a storefront, but to 10 salons in three states with more franchise locations on the way.
Saunderson opened The Weave Shop with its signature service – a $50 sew-in weave. Compared to the usual prices of sew-in weaves, often times between $200 and $400, The Weave Shop has created a niche with affordability without sacrificing on service, Saunderson said. This has been the key to the company’s exploding growth.
Originally from New York, Saunderson moved to Detroit to pursue a career in the music industry before close friends and her daughter’s desire to get involved in modeling lured her to Atlanta in 2007. A licensed cosmetologist, she quickly found a job in a salon. ”I found a big demand for weaves in Georgia and was inspired to start my own business focusing on extensions,” Saunderson said. “I decided to open my first small location in a 400-square-foot office space with just a braider and myself.”
After some advertising in the local newspaper, Saunderson began to see a steady flow of clients and it became clear she was growing out of her small space. ”After five months, we were overwhelmed in the small space – it was a fire hazard,” Saunderson said. “I had to break the lease and move to a full store front. We decided to open a sister location in Lawrenceville three months later and the Buckhead location three months [after that].”
So in less than a year, The Weave Shop had grown to a three-location chain with Saunderson just trying to keep a handle of the constant influx of customers coming for the $50 sew-in weave. ”My family has helped me take the company to the next level with branding and marketing,” she said. Saunderson’s 18-year-old daughter models in much of the advertising for The Weave Shop.
The company decided to go with franchising in order to take quick advantage of the demand for the service. In a franchise model, other small business owners make an investment in a ready-made business while agreeing to run it according to the corporation’s requirements. The company is a full-service hair salon, but the sew-in weave is undoubtedly its most popular service, the technique for which Saunderson keeps under wraps.
“It’s unique because it allows us to move faster doing the sew-ins. While working at the local salon when I first moved [to Atlanta], I wanted to come up with a way to make money and still not cost the consumer a lot of money,” Saunderson said. “With our technique it takes one hour to do and anybody will tell you that extensions take at least two hours.”
While speeding up the sew-in weave process is what grew her business, Saunderson said the company almost grew too fast. ”It grew really fast before we had gotten systems in place,” she said. “My family came in and helped me with employees, expectations, manuals, trying to keep employees on the same page with customer service.”
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The company has done print and billboard promotions and engages in much of the usual social media marketing in spaces like Facebook and Twitter. Marketing is something that got customers in the door, but Saunderson said she feels she spent a little too much time and money on marketing in the beginning. ”I almost overkilled it,” she said. “Yes, we’re well known, but we spent a lot of money on it. I would have slowed down a bit.”
Saunderson said the first few months were “crazy” before systems helped standardize many parts of the business. Now Saunderson is focusing on the business, but occasionally does hair in the shops.
“I’m doing a lot of training with the franchises that come on board and I’m traveling quite often,” she said. “I still do some hair. I just finished doing Jennifer Williams’ hair from Basketball Wives. We’re working on our own product line, a magazine, and a reality TV show.”
The Weave Shop’s ability to pull celebrity clientele despite its low prices is a source of pride for Saunderson and her business and a sign of the service the company provides, she said. The economy hasn’t made a dent in the company’s sales, which Saunderson says have grown 400 percent in the last two years.
“Even though we’re in a recession, most women are going to find a way to get their hair done even if it’s not as frequently,” she said. “With us they can afford to get it done more frequently than normal.” The company employs 300 people including at its corporate offices and Saunderson said she is looking forward to expanding and providing more jobs to stylists and those looking for work around the country.
“We’re looking to expand to 300 stores in the next three to four years and outside the U.S.,” she said. “Extensions are for everybody and there is a high demand for every nationality. Everyone wears them.”
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