Surviving and growing a beauty brand during pandemic

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By Starlett Quarles

Contributing Columnist

Last month I introduced you to Carson native Rashard Marshell, creator of the RVM Brand and owner of four beauty salons on Wilshire Boulevard.

This month I continue my conversation with this enterprising young man as he discusses how his businesses survived and thrived during the COID-19 pandemic.

SQ: So, currently four salons make up the RVM Brand. Talk about your franchises.

RM: The salon, of course, is a woman’s salon. Weaving, extensions, short cuts, color — anything a girl can possibly imagine. The barbershop of course caters to the gentlemen. Barbering, shaves, cuts. Just giving gentlemen a place to go, relax and get away.

I also have the twists [salon.] It’s more for natural styles. Dreadlocking, natural hairstylists. Not too much heat [on the hair]. They also do weaving and hairstyling there as well. [But mostly] braids, Locticians and the whole “natural” thing.

And then I have “The Overflow”- the new business I [acquired] during the pandemic. It caters to stylists that travel in and out of town; stylists that work on sets; stylists that might come one day here, and one day there. I have a building made just for people that are in and out. It’s pretty much self-explanatory, it’s overflow.

Also, all of our overflow from the other salons, when it’s too crazy or too packed, [stylists] work there too. And you know, it’s created a good source of extra income for me.

SQ: Talk about the significance of being a Black business owner of not only one business, but four businesses in the Mid-Wilshire area.

RM: So now it’s my reality because I’ve been in this field and on Wilshire for so long. But when I first came over [to this area], it was kind of surreal. I’ll never forget the first day I rode down this street, I was like, “Wow, this is so nice. [Look] at all the buildings.” And there were not a lot of African Americans on that block. So, I’m not going to say that I brought Black people to that neighborhood or to Wilshire, because they were already there before I got there. Even one of my salons had an African American [business owner]. And across the street, there was an African American [business] as well.

But now, [with my salons] I’ve brought so many more Black people over there to where it used to be like 10 or 15 [small businesses], to now we have like 80 or 100. And I just feel like, “Oh, Wow. Look at all the [Black] clientele we have coming in.” It’s just surreal. But to me, like I said, it’s my reality.

And I didn’t realize until I sat back and looked that, “Oh my God. Wow. We’re still here.” [Because] I’ve seen a lot of businesses come and go. There were a lot of business [in that area] that didn’t make it.

And to be able to still be one of the ones that’s making it and still be able to grow and take on new buildings or new locations on the same block — especially with the rent increases and everything — I just feel like that’s a blessing.

SQ: So how did your four businesses survive COVID?

RM: Well first, when COVID started I had three. And the way I survived was [because] I have a great savings [plan]. And I didn’t realize until I sat back and looked that, “Oh my God. Wow. We’re still here.” [Because] I’ve seen a lot of businesses come and go. There were a lot of business [in that area] that didn’t make it.  I’m always saving for rainy days. And even when it rains, I still don’t use it because I’m like, “No, one day I’m really going to need it.” It’s always on my mind that something greater might come, and [COVID] was that something greater.

So, when COVID happened, I had a nice side, rainy day, petty cash fund, I guess you can call it, set aside for things like this. So, I was using that money, and then I pretty much cut into my retirement to make it through.

And then during the pandemic another business [closed] when they couldn’t get through it. They were pretty much at their wits end. So [the owner] ended up calling and asking me if I was interested and I said, “Yeah, I’ll take it.”

So, during the pandemic not only was I not making any money to pay for my stuff, but I went ahead and took over one of the buildings across the street and started paying rent there as well, just to make sure that when everything got back to what we call “our new normal,” I had another building to help pretty much replace some of the money that I was losing.

So, I was strategizing during the pandemic on how I can pay extra money for that year to bring in all the money that I was going to lose, plus some in years to come, if that makes sense.

SQ: So, wait. You didn’t receive any federal funding? No PPP loans? No nothing?

RM: Well, I tried for the PPP Loan and [eventually] was just over it. I did [apply] for the SBA [EIDL] Loan; but at the end of the day, it’s a loan, you know? I got no free money, no grants or anything.

SQ: I’m so impressed with you. What’s in the future for you? You’re still young. Where do you go from here?

RM: From here? Well, people don’t realize that the salon business is not easy. It’s about [managing] personalities, too. One, working with barbers and hairstylists is a lot because it’s so many personalities. And then every few minutes a new personality is walking through that door because they are a client.

So just dealing with all that and the [“salon politics”] is a lot, you know?

At the end of the day, everybody wants to be the “head honcho” anywhere. That’s with any industry, any business, and any line of work. So [as the owner], I have to deal with the politics behind the scenes and what’s going on; [cater] to the clients, and [handle] the day to day and still keep a smile [on my face] while running my business at the same time. So, the salons are already a lot.

But if I did do another salon, I would probably buy a commercial property and just have private booths so [the stylists] can do their own thing.

Other than that, I just got into [buying] real estate, heavily. I’m up to four homes right now. I’ve been buying properties around California and out of state to help start my real estate portfolio; and [eventually] start the commercial real estate side so I can lease the buildings to businesses like mine.

So, I guess my next step is to buy commercial real estate properties and just go from there.

Starlett Quarles is a Gen X Advocate, public speaker and host of the internet TV Talk Show, “The Dialogue with Starlett Quarles.” For more, please visit www.TheDialogueLA.com.

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