Lessons of corporate career helped Mill Creek salon owner to success

MILL CREEK — Some people might consider it risky to put aside a successful career in the corporate world in order to start a business in a field they know nothing about. But for Colleen Buck, owner of the award-winning Elle Marie Hair Studio, it seemed the most natural thing in the world.

The risk paid off. Since the first location opened six years ago, Elle Marie has not only expanded, it has also won multiple awards from different trade publications. The company took top honors with Salon Today 200 magazine three years in a row.

“We were a top five finalist for ‘Evening Magazine’s’ Best of Western Washington for 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011,” Buck said.

In 2009, Elle Marie was runner up for 425 Magazine’s Best of 425 and in 2008 it won a Business Excellence award from the South Snohomish County Chamber of Commerce. Buck was runner-up for this year’s Herald Business Journal’s Entrepreneur of the Year Award.

But how did this Seattle native go from 30 years in the corporate world to running a hair salon? It wasn’t through job dissatisfaction. Buck loved her previous career. She started as a banker with KeyBank and later left the world of finance for the high-tech industry.

It was when she was an administrator with McCaw Cellular that Buck felt she made the most growth, both in herself and in her understanding of how to run a successful business.

When McCaw Cellular was unexpectedly sold it left Buck wondering what to do.

By now, she was well experienced with starting up new offices for McCaw. Could she start a business for herself and be successful? Buck decided to start two businesses instead of one.

She went to school and received life-coaching certification. Meanwhile, her daughter, Lorry Green, who was a hairdresser, suggested that they open a hair salon. Initially, Buck envisioned a business run out of her garage. Instead, an opportunity arose to purchase an existing salon south of Mill Creek that she believed had solid demographics.

Using knowledge gained from her corporate years, Buck worked on creating a company culture for this new business and set out to hire the right employees.

Elle Marie Hair Studio took off right away. As the company got bigger and more successful, it began to take time from Buck’s life-coaching business.

“Finally I had to back out (of life coaching) and put all of my time and effort into Elle Marie,” she said.

Green became Elle Marie’s day-to-day operations manager. Buck’s older son, Jody Bossert, is in charge of marketing. Daughter Alison Buck spent her college summers at the front desk. And teenage son Liam Buck gets work experience and supports the stylists by folding towels and performing other tasks.

Buck admits to not knowing how to do hair like Green or how to work social media like Bossert. What she does have is a keen understanding of the role that employees play in a company’s success and how to create a good working atmosphere that breeds success.

When a new employee is hired at Elle Marie, they want someone who believes in their company culture of being a team player who is friendly, trendy, energetic, professional, honest and supportive.

To ensure a positive attitude, Buck allows employees flexibility in their work hours. They’re encouraged to continue their educations and to think about where they want to be in five years with their careers and with their personal lives.

Buck brings her third career to work, too. She offers free life coaching for Elle Marie employees.

Employees are rewarded for business achievements. This can be anything from a small gift up to a trip to New York for an industry event. There are team-building exercises such as overnight camping excursions and more.

Green, a 10-year industry veteran, knows of few salons that have staff meetings and none that has them to the level that her mother has implemented.

“She really taught me to reward our employees,” Green said.

And the employees are employees in the truest sense. This isn’t a salon that sublets stations to stylists. Everyone works toward the common goal of building the whole business.

The payoff for this dedication can be attractive. Buck says some Elle Marie hairdressers are pulling in $75,000 to $80,000 a year.

“To find a place where you can come in and grow and make more than double what the average hairdresser in America makes is pretty amazing,” Green said.

A new Elle Marie location is scheduled to open across from Alderwood mall in August. It will feature 15 chairs and will be Elle Marie’s largest salon.

The first Elle Marie Hair Studio opened in 2006 with five employees. A second location opened in Lake Stevens two years ago. With the opening of the third location, Elle Marie will have more than 50 employees.

Elle Marie

Mill Creek-Bothell salon: 17917 Bothell-Everett Highway, Suite 102, Bothell. Phone: 425-402-1900. Hours: 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday.

Lake Stevens-Snohomish salon: 9623 32nd St. SE, Suite B102, Lake Stevens. Phone: 425-397-8883. Hours: 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday; 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday.

Lynnwood salon: 2701 184th St. SW, Lynnwood. Opening in August.

Online: www.ellemariehairstudio.com

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