Margarita the Hair Doctor, for a Total Look.
“I knew from an early age that I want to be a cosmetologist and in the early 80s I left the BVI to New York with the intention to study cosmetology. While there, I landed a job with Turner Construction Company and later enrolled at Robert Fiance School of Cosmetology. I spent 15 years in New York.” She said.
How was the transition from the corporate world to becoming an entrepreneur?
It was easy because my first day in cosmetology school I knew this was what I wanted to do. In addition, getting a business license in New York was very easy. I went to the courthouse, told them I am interested in opening a salon, showed them my cosmetology license and they pointed. Step two; they pointed me the business records where I would make sure my intended business name was not being duplicated with someone else’s. step three: Total Look was okay; I paid $15.00 and got my business license.
When I graduated from cosmetology school I wasted no time before I could open total Look in Queens New York, which I operated for four years before I returned home.
When you graduated from school you only get a piece of paper showing that you have completed the courses. To get the cosmetology license you have to register with the State to do the practical and written exam to get your cosmetology license.
I graduated on Friday and on the Monday afternoon after work, I went to The Queens Center Mall, which was within walking distance from my home and walked into a beauty salon call Glendies. I asked to see the manager, he came out and I told him, “I am fresh out, just graduated from Robert Fiance School of Cosmetology and I am looking for a part-time job on the weekends where I can continue to practice the skills I have learned, so I don’t forget them.”
He said, “Bring me a model and show me what you can do.” We made an appointment for the following weekend. I showed up with my model, who was a friend in my building and my tools. I did a cut and a colour for her. He looked at it and said, “You got the job.”
I had to go for orientation with ANS, which was the parent company of Glendies and started working the following weekend. When the date came for the written and practical test with the State, I took the day off, went took them and got my license in the mail.
I continued working for Turner Construction; it has become more a distraction, for I enjoyed hair styling so much. Six months later, I resigned. I made very good relationships at that job and everyone was asking me why I would want to quit such a good job to start my own business. Little did I know that the entrepreneur spirit of my father, who never worked for anyone his entire life was so much in me and when I explained that to them, they understood. They (the big boys) all told me that if it doesn’t work out, call me first, I will have a spot for you waiting. I never look back since.
How was it getting the business started?
Getting a location, raising the money to buy equipment, hiring staff, it was a challenging journey! Nevertheless, anything that you are going to do, you have to a plan and stick to it. Do not worry about the bumps in the road, j use them as stepping stones.
So I opened up the store and I started working by myself. From day one I had a big following because I was pretty well known and everyone wanted to come in and support.
Within the first two weeks of opening the business, the fire department came in and made an assessment and told me that I am entitled to having a firearm and they are here to help. They said, “Whenever you are ready, we will take you on the firing range so you can learn how to protect yourself as a business person.”
This was a shock for me, for I really didn’t expect that.
Then I had three sergeants from the Police Department came in congratulated me and said that they are here to protect me. Every day I would work long and late, sometimes until midnight or 1 am and they were always parked across the street, and I felt safe.
I managed to get a manicurist who was just as driven as I was and as late as I stayed, she would too. I got other employees, but they would usually work until 8 pm and leave.
I am sure there were several other beauty salons around, what made yours different?
All though I could cut, weave, colour and offer manicures and pedicures, the bigger picture for me was hair care. Customer will coming a make their request, I would evaluate and then recommend to them what they really need, versus their wants. They truly appreciated that. It’s like being a hair doctor and I really consider myself ‘the hair doctor’. You do not go to the doctor and tell him/her want type of medicine you want. They check first and tell you what you need based on their prognosis.
Cutting is my thing. When I worked at Glenbies there was a guy there that will cut hair all day. One up, one down. I was inspired and so I kept my eyes on him and I said I wanted to do that. So, I invest more time, took more classes in cutting and brought that into my own business. I never miss the International Beauty Show in New York, there are classes for everything, and you can be sure that one of my classes will always be about cutting. I cut with John Acheson, a world-renowned professional cutter in the hair industry and he could use scissors in such a special way. I then started to observe other professional and watch their styles, because in cosmetology school, you get only the basics and you must advance in this industry. I cut for all gender, age or race.
Over the years you have evolved and you now put a lot of your time into skin care, why is that?
Cosmetology is fully rounded. It covers skin, hair, and nails and I feel that skin care has been slighted. We don’t talk about skin enough and treat it enough. The skin is the biggest organ of the body and there are guidelines to slow down aging or getting creases. Simply brushing or moisturizing your skin will help a great deal.
Once I got hair under my belt, I felt comfortable in colouring, cutting and treating hair I now focus on completing the cosmetology circle by putting a lot of energy into skin care. It is my new thing.
We have moisturizers that help the skin from drying out. I use two companies out of New York. I went to school with Christine Valmy and did my aesthetician/cosmetology. I now carry her line of skincare products and Repechage, which are both organic based products.
When we do a facial, we are taking out dead cells. You do not see them, but when we cleanse, scrub, mask or massage, we are actually cleaning the skin, increasing circulation to the brain, draining your Lymph Nodes and exfoliating. A complete rejuvenation of your skin.
An important point for persons over 23 years of age is that it is recommended that you do a skin care treatment once a month or once every six weeks.
I do it to myself all the time and one thing I do is share my knowledge. If it works for me and I like it, I share it with you.
To what will you contribute your success?
I can say hard work, determination, passion, continuous learning, and the list could go on, but if you don’t have good products it can all fall apart in a second. So, I must say that we use top of the line products that bring out the best in skin, hair, and nails.
I tell my staff that we are a cosmetology-based salon. It is not about what we think; we must follow manufacturers guidelines to a ‘T’ to get the results you are looking for.
How busy are you with the skincare aspect of your business?
Not as busy as I would like it to be, because I am still in the rebuilding phase. As soon as I back on my feet, especially with my house, I would start to push it more.
You returned home in 1995, how has that transition been?
Very interesting. On one hand, it was great, because when the word got around that I was back home and a licensed cosmetologist I got a lot of support, for which I am still grateful. On the other hand, finding qualified help was a challenge.
What makes you different?
There are people who just do hair. They are not licensed, so that is what they do. A licensed cosmetologist don’t just do, they know and that is the difference. I don’t just do hair, I know hair. However, I don’t want to be the only salon that is doing well, I want to know that everyone is doing well also and putting out nice professional styles and keeping their customers happy. Competition is a healthy thing.
Do you do weddings?
Yes, we do. We haven’t done any lately. As a matter of fact, we were registered at Long Bay Hotel and they will call us and we go and style the entire bridal party. To tell you the truth, we are always so busy that it is hard for us to leave and go do hair somewhere else. However, we try to fit it in if given enough time.
How is your customer base? Is it mostly repeat customers or new ones?
The bulk of my customers have been with me since I started 18 years ago, but all my customer are long time repeat customers and I cannot thank them enough for their loyal patronage. So I say, “Thanks.”
There are always new customers and I attribute that client base to my staff whom I appreciate.
How was your Hurricane Irma experience, as it related to Total Look?
I was not here during the storms and you can see our former location at the Palm Grove Shopping Centre, which was totally destroyed. With the help of my staff for whom I a truly grateful, we were up and fully functional by the end of November in our new location on Fleming Street where I had my home goods store, ‘New York Flava’.
What is the one thing that you would like to within the cosmetology industry that you haven’t been able to accomplish as yet?
Great Question. In New York is you work with or under a licensed cosmetologist for a certain amount of hours you can obtain an apprentice license. It is still on my to-do list, and I would love to be able to do that here.
I know that the Technical School offer care courses in cosmetology and I must admit I have not gone to see how in-depth it is, but it is a step in the right direction for having more professional licensed cosmetologist on island.