Thursday, Sept. 19, 2013 | 2 a.m.
Step into Blowout Dollhouse, a new blow-dry and hairstyling salon on the second-floor Market LV corridor at Tivoli Village, and the cozy space feels like a life-size dollhouse, its candy-striped floors, pastel paneling and delicate, Victorian-tinged decor a bright spot among the industrial piping and wooden beams of the surrounding loft space.
You’ll quickly be greeted by one of the salon’s stylists, life-size dolls decked out in frilly dresses and perfect coifs, and offered a cocktail (topped off with cotton candy from a nearby business) and a scalp massage before getting down to the salon’s signature service, the blowout — a blow-dried hairstyle that can last as long as several days, and which has become a popular (and pricey) option among the Strip’s top salons.
Blowout Dollhouse, which specializes in blowouts and does not offer cuts or color, may seem as luxurious, but at a cool $35 for a wash, blow dry and styling, it’s all very down to Earth — which was owner Latoya Holman’s goal when she set out to open the salon eight months ago, making the leap from a long career in communications to a first-time small-business owner.
I spoke with Holman about opening the salon, the challenges of running a new business and why everyone deserves a good blowout.
What prompted you to open the business? How have you used your background in communications to run a salon?
I’ve been living in Las Vegas for 14 years. I report to the executive director of the R&R Partners Foundation and do community-outreach work for them full time. Being around all those cool, creative minds empowered me to feel like I could do something creative, too. So I concepted Blowout Dollhouse, and I’ve been able to do both; the agency has been really amazing about it.
We’ve structured in a really good way in that I don’t run this day to day — [stylists] Dallas [Lee Whipple] and Danny [Escobedo] run it — and I’m really responsible for brand management and marketing and doing what I need to do to keep the business running and making sure it stays on goal in terms of what the concept is.
Why open a blowout salon versus another kind of business?
I have really curly hair, kind of a fro. And I love it, but it’s just so much work blowing it out. It takes me two hours to do my hair, and I’m just not as good at it as a stylist is. I had heard about these blow-dry “bars” that were popping up, and I always thought it was the coolest thing ever, but we didn’t have one in Summerlin, where I live. As far as its specific concept, I got the inspiration from what looked like a dollhouse-themed tea house I saw in California, which actually turned out to be a salon. When I walked in, everything just clicked for me.
I wrote my business plan — I had never done that before — at my friend’s house, just banged it out. I’m not a wealthy person; I’m just a creative person. I live paycheck to paycheck. So I put my business plan together, and I brought together some community members who I thought would get it, and I got a couple of investors — a very low dollar amount. The startup was bare bones, very little money. I put it out there on faith and hope and just opened it up. From the day I concepted it to the day it opened, it was maybe five months. It’s been the greatest learning experience.
Has owning a business always been a goal for you?
I’m kind of a giver. I’ve never really had control of my day-to-day schedule and what is expected of me; I’ve always worked for someone else. So I’ve always been fascinated by the concept of being responsible for and setting my own goals, managing my own time and working at a level that produces results for myself that I can be proud of; I’ve always admired entrepreneurs. I just never thought I had that courage because it’s scary. I mean, what I’m doing in here — it’s terrifying. But, I’ll tell you, it’s being terrified that fuels me every day.
I’m completely impassioned to get here early and make sure everything’s photo ready and give people that experience that I know I would want. If I thought it was a piece of cake, I would be lackadaisical about it. But the fact that it’s a challenge, and it’s my challenge that I’m controlling, it fuels me. And I never knew that my need for having some sort of professional control over what I do would lead me to this. It was just years of building up confidence and recognizing that what I’ve accomplished in the community and what I’ve done for other employers, why not try that for myself? And if I fail, guess what? I tried it.
Once you found investors, how did you go about learning how to open and run a business?
I didn’t realize it at the time, but really what I was doing was selling myself to people who had faith in me. And a couple of them bought it. It’s not like I got a ton of money. I secured, between the bank and friends, $27,000. And a lot of debt. I opened a bunch of credit cards to help get it open. I’m taking money out of every single paycheck, I’m not getting my nails done, I don’t do any of those things anymore because I put every penny in this. People always say, “You’re a minority-owned business, you’re a woman, how’d you do it?” If I can do it, anybody can do it. It just takes a good idea and perseverance.
What about the timing? In context of Las Vegas’ economic climate, what told you that now is the right time to do this?
One of the first things I noticed was the support for the Obama administration around startups and small businesses. You can pick up on the political shift in supporting small-business owners. When I started reading about those things in the news, I thought maybe the tide is turning. One of the other things is the pickup in tourism in Las Vegas. I monitor that very closely, and the industries and hotels here are doing better. And the reason I chose the prices I did was also because of the recent difficulties with the economy. I wanted to create a blow-dry bar that a college student and a single mother and also a wealthy woman who lives in Queensridge could all afford.
There’s literally teenage girls coming in here on their allowance because they can get a blowout for $35. It was important to me that women across the scale, economically, could come in here and be pampered and have that experience. You don’t have to be wealthy. I’m not wealthy, but I deserve to be able to walk into a beautiful environment, have a cocktail and feel like a doll for a day. And I wanted every woman to be able to do that. So I think that while, yes, the economy is turning around, I still have to be cognizant of that. It’s important to me.