Cyndi Mitchell turned over her salon to 29-year-old Emily Douglas (the two in the center) after realizing she no longer had the energy to run BreCyn Salon. She gave the business to Douglas in stages and now works for Douglas twice a week. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Why an Everett woman gave her business away — to an employee

It was the sudden death of Cyndi Mitchell’s only child in 2006 that led, in a roundabout way, to Mitchell giving away her successful Everett hair-salon business last year.

Her daughter, Breana, died at the age of 29, of complications with medication she was taking, Mitchell said. Breana left behind a husband, a son just a few months old, and a mother tortured by her sense of loss.

“I died that same day,” said Mitchell, now 68. “My world stopped. And I began to put my energy into trying to find, or explain, what happens when we die.”

She read and read as she grieved, plowing through books by psychics and mediums, doctors and nurses, scientists, hospice workers and people who’d had near-death experiences. She re-read the Bible and she read Einstein. Three years in, she started taking notes.

She wrote a self-published book, “When You Think About It,” fought off breast cancer and started another book, to be called “A Hairdresser’s Guide to the Quantum World.”

At some point, Mitchell looked up and realized she no longer had the energy to run BreCyn Salon, the business named after herself and her daughter what she started in 1986 on Hewitt Avenue. She moved the salon in 1989 to Beverly Boulevard, where it stands today. She thought about selling it.

“And then I went through that scenario and thought, that means a stranger would own this place,” she said. “That means the people I care about would be working for someone I have no clue who they are. And that’s when I decided, oh, I don’t have to sell it.”

Instead, she gave it away in carefully planned stages to 29-year-old Emily Douglas, one of 14 hairdressers working at the salon at the time.

Under the deal, Mitchell kept the property and Douglas pays her rent. But Douglas took over the salon in January 2016 and Mitchell now works for her.

“I still work here two days a week,” Mitchell said. “I still love coming in and seeing my people.”

Though Mitchell is unusual in that she actually gave away her business, she is just one of thousands of baby boomer business owners in the United States expected to exit their businesses over the next few years as that population ages and looks toward retirement.

Roughly 10,000 baby boomers (those born between 1946 and 1964) turned 65 at the start of 2011 and 10,000 more are expected to do so every day through 2029, according to the Pew Research Center.

How much impact baby boomers are having on business sales is hard to say, but indications are it’s a hot market for business buying-and-selling in Snohomish County.

There’s definitely been a trend in the past couple of years of more business owners wanting to sell, said Dick Bennett, an investment broker with Champions Real Estate Services in Edmonds.

Influencing the trend is the specter of rising interest rates, a recoup of some of the value for businesses that lost ground during the recession and more willingness from business owners to work with potential buyers.

With bank loans harder to come by since the recession, small-business owners are exploring more creative solutions, such as considering valued employees, much as Mitchell did with her Everett hair salon.

Even if they can’t get a lump-sum payment, they may be able to work out a deal in which they take a certain percentage of the profit, Bennett said.

“If you were looking for a business and you don’t have any money, but you have a strong desire to run a business — why not put them in there?” he said.

Even businesses so small the owner is the sole employee have value, Bennett said. As in the case of the owner of a carpet-cleaning business he recently advised, the owner may be able to find someone to follow him around and learn the trade.

Such mentorship is invaluable, BreCyn Salon’s new owner Douglas said.

“It’s been a huge relief knowing that Cyndi’s there, and to pick her brain,” Douglas said. “It’d be a lot scarier to go wing it on your own.”

Douglas said she was at a crossroads when Mitchell approached her about taking over the salon. She had been offered a job at a salon in downtown Seattle. She never pictured herself taking over a business.

The experience has been challenging, but very rewarding, Douglas said. She’s had to take on the role of the boss.

“You have to learn how to communicate and have hard conversations with people who you consider your friends,” Douglas said.

But it’s also been an opportunity to help all of the women who work at the salon. The payoff for Mitchell is that Douglas has continued to grow the business as Mitchell envisioned. The company’s books are now computerized, clients can be booked online, two more hairstylists were hired and the legacy Mitchell built over the years will continue.

“That was the reason I did it,” Mitchell said. “I wanted to see it continue, I wanted everyone to feel safe.”

As far as retiring in the traditional sense, where people quit working in their mid-60s for a life of leisure, Mitchell has no intention of doing so. Selling her business simply allows her to focus on research and writing, she said.

“And I will probably continue to put my energy there,” she said. “There’s just so much to know.”

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