Brave New Curl

A moment of inspired action is worth a lifetime of great expectations.

Mona Harb is magical. When she speaks, it seems as if she’s sharing the most magnificent story you’ve ever heard, even (and especially) when she’s relaying anecdotes related to her success. More than that, her voice and descriptive, emotional storytelling inspires a feeling that this new information will change your world.

The story of her success begins in Lebanon, where she was born and raised. When she was 15, her family immigrated to the United States where she had to adjust quickly to American life.  We find her today in Vienna, VA, where this innovative businesswoman, mother, and creative stylist owns and operates Lofty Boutique Salon and Spa.

Harb graduated early from Fairfax High School at age 16, which gave her self-esteem a boost, but also left her with a lot of time to put off the challenge of adjusting to her new life in America. “I was new to this country, I didn’t know how to live as an American and I missed Lebanon so much, so I watched tv all night and slept all day. Finally, my father said ‘You either go to work, go to school, or back to Lebanon with your grandparents.’” Faced with an ultimatum, Harb went to cosmetology school and, upon graduation, joined her father at his pizza shop.

A comment from a cousin visiting from overseas prompted a change of heart. “She asked me, ‘Why would you want to smell like pizza? Someone as pretty as you, and you have the training to do something else!’” The observation opened her eyes and, at age 18, Harb returned to the salon. “I didn’t love it until my mid-20s, though.” Something clicked, and Harb enjoyed making a difference with people and helping them to feel happy and transformed. “I really am an artist — I used to sing and dance and act as a child, but as an adult, I didn’t have the opportunity to do that.” Doing hair became an extension of Harb’s artistic expression and served as a creative outlet.

The story doesn’t end there, however. Harb soon realized that she inherited her father’s entrepreneurial spirit. “When my father came from Lebanon he worked as a busboy. Five years later, he was a taxi driver. He saved some money and opened Sammy’s Pizza, where I worked with him. He would make the pizza, and then walk around the river because he wasn’t sure if the customers would like his food. But he served the community, he cooked from the bottom of his heart, and he made his own recipes. He had beautiful blue eyes and a lovely smile that people came to see, maybe more than his pizza. My father had a very successful business, but he didn’t know anything about it when he started it.” From his example, she learned to be patient, persistent, and genuine. And to go for it.

For Harb, “going for it” meant inquiring about a building that seemed ripe for the renting. Sure, it was impossibly large and in a neighborhood already overflowing with salons (there were five within a two block radius when she first opened). “I read a book about how to take your business from good to great—I must have read it about 50 times!” The “three circles” idea in the book resonated with her: people who lead great companies are passionate about their work, excel at it, and make money at it. “I said to myself: curly hair!” And just like that, her niche was born.

“It was a challenge, in the beginning, to focus on how to get started on the right track. I’ve always wanted to own a business, and I had that business sense. I was scared, I didn’t have any money…but I had the will, I had the niche, and I had the experience,” she says.

Harb’s niche – curly hair – is driven by her goal to empower other women. “They are absolutely amazing; they can be mothers, they can be lovers, they can be businesswomen, there is nothing to stop them from being what they want to be. And I try to help them every day with their appearance.” For her clients, she diagnoses the temperaments of their curls (lovely, mellow, mad, angry, or even chaotic) and talks them through cutting and caring for them, which builds their confidence and self-esteem. “It’s wonderful to see people embrace their curls.” She also teaches other stylists about curly hair through her service-marked Curlyogist training program. “I want to empower these lovely people who do hair – do not be afraid of curly hair!”

This niche, however, presented its challenges. “One of the reasons it was hard for me to establish the business is that curly people don’t need haircuts as often.” She had to think bigger and broader; over the course of the 14 years since she opened, Harb has expanded her business model to offer spa services, massage therapy, esthetic skin care, and yoga classes. “I also had a boutique; it didn’t work. I had housewares, too, it didn’t work. I was fighting Amazon, those big huge names.” She learned that she needed to offer more than goods and services – she needed to offer an experience. Her next big project will add a full-service bistro experience, e.g., wine and beer, tea, cheese, snacks. “I want a social atmosphere, lots of people bringing children, friends, husbands. People can sit and enjoy each other while getting their hair cut, colored and styled here.”

“I’m thinking ahead and asking ‘What is the trend? Why do I go to a certain place, what do I like about it, what’s the benefit, and how can I give it to my clients?”

“You have to remember, you’re pushing a big boulder – and it’s hard to do at the beginning until you catch the momentum.” Eventually, and slowly, “people will know your name, and you won’t have to push so hard.”

 

Mona’s Lessons Learned
Tips to Inspire and Empower

  1. Figure out where your three circles meet. What are you deeply passionate about? What are you good at? What can you make money at? “That’s how I became successful; I answered those questions. That’s what I preach to other women to do – look inside. There has to be something that you love to do.”
  2. The challenges may be significant, but the help that you get from others will outweigh it. Accept help. “When I first opened, two young women come to get their hair done in my big and almost empty space. They were so happy with the service, they went home and told their mom, ‘she’s so good, but her place is empty.’ Their mom called and offered to donate some supplies to help fill the space. She brought me 4-5 boxes of paintings, mirrors, décor – the community helped me!”
  3. Look ahead to get ahead. “You can’t run your business today like you did yesterday and expect to be in business tomorrow.” Pay attention to trends and figure out how to provide them in a way that makes sense for your business.
  4. Run your world. “Stay in control of your business and don’t let it get away from you. Direct your business, don’t let it direct you. Know how, when, what you want to spend.” Focus on what brings in the most revenue.
  5. Hire to inspire. “I hire people who make me feel good, people who I can inspire. I’m a great leader because I have something to offer and I’m always looking to learn.”
  6. Build before you leap. That is, don’t leave a paying job to experiment with something untested. “If you have an idea and it’s something that you’re good at, take baby steps. Start small and grow the business. Keep the paying job until you can’t do both anymore. When you have the same revenue from your fun hobby and your paying job, that’s when the hobby becomes a business.”
  7. Reach out to your community. “Form partnerships, ask other small businesses to get involved. When I first opened, I made a deal with other entrepreneurs to sell their products on consignment. It helped them, and it helped me. I owe my success to this lovely community that I’m in. The people are wonderful and have helped me to get where I am.”
  8. Always connect yourself with someone big. “I was being fitted for a bra at Nordstrom and told the salesperson that I wish I could host a bra-fitting event at Lofty. She asked her manager and her manager said yes! We held (fittings) at Lofty for three years and then moved them onsite at Nordstrom.”
  9. Prioritize Love. “Find good love. Find decent people to be your partners. If I didn’t love, I wouldn’t be able to create lovely things. I have been married to a lovely man for 40 years; if I didn’t love and get love back, I wouldn’t be able to create this magic.”

Schedule your appointment at Lofty Boutique, Salon & Spa in Vienna, Va by calling 703-242-0609 or visit www.loftysalon.com.

Crystal Brandt
Crystal Brandt is a freelance writer and contributor to WOMAN magazine. A Southern Maryland native, she lived in New York City for almost 8 years before returning to St. Mary’s County in 2007. She has taught writing and literature in Maryland and New York, including courses at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, Pratt Institute, and Brooklyn College. She earned a B.A. in English (2000) from the University of Maryland – College Park and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing (2006) from Brooklyn College. In addition to writing, her interests include making and talking about music, practicing yoga and meditation, and experimenting with her blender and bread machine.