In this episode, we have the pleasure of chatting with one of our neighbors, Julie Burrus with Inspire Salon & Gallery. Julie has been in the salon business for 15 years, but before that, she had an interesting job right out of high school as a Russian linguist for the military. She went through an apprenticeship, 3000 - 3500 hours of training! Now that she owns her own salon, she has some great insights for business owners or soon-to-be business owners. Julie has a unique perspective on running a business that I think you'll really enjoy. That's enough of my perspective, let's jump into our conversation with Julie Burrus.
Julie: Hi, I'm Julie Burris with Inspire Salon and Gallery in downtown Mobile. We're a Paul Mitchell focused salon.
Marcus: Awesome. Welcome to the podcast, Julie.
Julie: Thank you, Marcus. Thank you for this opportunity.
Marcus: She can breathe a deep sigh of relief. So you have done your ... she's done her homework everybody, so she's coming to us with a cheat sheet and stuff like that. But ... before we get into all that, I want to get into who you are, where you came from. Did you go to high school in the area? Did you go to college in the area? Did you go straight to cosmetology school? Did you do all that stuff? So, tell us a little bit about you.
Julie: I have done so much. I've lived all over the place. Originally, I'm from Michigan, but I have a lot of family in Alabama so we've relocated back and forth many times over the years. And I've lived all over the country, as well as in Europe. I was a Russian linguist in the military straight out of high school.
Julie: Yes. I did graduate from high school in Foley, Alabama.
Marcus: Wait, you can't just gloss over that. A Russian linguist for the military out of high school. So where did you pick up Russian?
Julie: The military trained me. I took Spanish and French for a little bit in high school. My mother was in the military, and didn't know what I was going to do after high school, and she said go the the recruiters and tell them that the only way that you will join is if you can be a linguist. [crosstalk 00:01:36]. So I had to take a test, and miraculously I aced that test, and I went into the military at 17 ... well, on the delayed entry program at 17, went in at 18, and they sent me to the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California where I learned Russian for a year and was completely fluent in the language, and took off from there.
Marcus: Do you get ... forgive me, because I did not know this about you so I have to park here for just a second. Do you get a chance to practice your Russian at all?
Julie: No. There have been a few times that clients have come in, who were living here locally, from the area and I've tried to speak, but it's been several, several years [crosstalk 00:02:21]. Yeah, don't do that. If you don't use it, you lose it. The way that I learned it was total immersion, and so it just was crammed in there. And just the more years you go without using it ... I can still remember a few words, though.
Marcus: So, you spent some years in the military. What branch was it?
Julie: The Army.
Marcus: And where did you ... so you own a salon, where did you get that ... how did that all come to be?
Julie: Well, in about the ninth grade I started doing my friends' hair; doing perms and their parents would pay me for it. And I realized, "Hmmm."
Marcus: There might be something to this.
Julie: I have a little knack for that, but I had some other aspirations as well. And in basic training in the military, I kept everybody's hair off their neck with a Bic razor, so kind of started my barbering there. But then it kind of fell to the wayside for the language thing, but just years later decided to go into it. I've only been a cosmetologist for about 15 years.
Marcus: Well, that's not ...
Julie: That's a lot.
Marcus: ... that's not an insignificant amount of time.
Julie: I'm not 18, though.
Marcus: So you obviously, you had kind of a knack for this early on. And was it always kind of in the back of your mind? Was it always kind of like a dream that you were going to pursue?
Julie: It was an interest. I've had a lot of dreams. If I could really be doing what I absolutely loved, I'd be a rock star. I do love cosmetology. Actually, a friend of mine kind of pushed me in that direction several years ago. She was a cosmetologist and dragged me into a hair salon to be a receptionist there, and I got a good taste of it.
Let's go back and say, as I was growing up I was not the kind of youngster that was allowed to go into a fancy salon. It was the place in the mall or something. So I was exposed to the possibilities more as the receptionist and I did that for about a year, and then I became the market manager for Paul Mitchell, a company from the Gulf Coast, and that really excited me.
Marcus: You saw a completely different world, I'm sure.
Julie: Yes, saw a different side. I got to go to Vegas, the big hair shows, and visit all the salons around the Gulf Coast. And it really intrigued me and I did that for about a year, and enrolled in cosmetology school.
Marcus: I don't know that I've ever mentioned this to you, but I got all of my ... I have three boys, and rather than pay what, 50-60 dollars or more every two or three weeks, I cut all their hair. And it's always been something that kind of interested me.
I was in Portland, or Seattle I think it was, four or five years ago and I was walking by, and there was just this really just like cool barbershop there on the street. And I was like, "Man, Mobile could use something along those lines." So when I initially saw this space, I had no intentions, because I don't have the background, the degree, or any of the licensing or anything like that, but immediately it was like, "Hey, this kind of reminds me of that barbershop that I saw." It was that kind of old school feel with the rustic feeling and stuff like that. Like a man cave or something. But anyway ... I think what you do is very cool, I guess.
Julie: I think it's really cool, too. And I did start on my children in their high chairs with Cheerios on their trays.
Marcus: Exactly. I mean, out of necessity, I think, some parents ... especially if you have some kind of a knack for that. I cut a mean fade, by the way.
Julie: That's awesome. Go to school. I'll take [crosstalk 00:06:08].
Marcus: You got a booth for me? So you, somewhere along the lines and kind of fill us in, you made the transition from receptionist. Did you go to cosmetology school? I'm gathering you did ...
Julie: Yes, of course.
Marcus: ... instead of apprenticing.
Julie: I went to cosmetology school. I was in a hurry; I like to get things done. I did enroll at Bishop State Community College here in Mobile.
Marcus: Go Bishop.
Julie: And they prepared me, and here I am. I'm owning my own now. But I did go straight from there back to the salon that I was the receptionist at, and I worked there for my entire career. That's where I've learned everything, as well as through Paul Mitchell and [Transitions 00:06:51].
Marcus: So this is your first salon that you've owned?
Marcus: Very good. And so, I want to go back to ... because I have a sister-in-law who is a stylist as well, and she did a, whatever, internship ...
Marcus: ... apprenticeship, that's the right word. So what's the difference in time as far as what's required between apprenticeship and going to cosmetology school?
Julie: Well, with apprenticeship ... there are pros and cons to both. Apprenticeship takes a lot longer; it's about 3500 hours I believe, 3000 to 3500 hours that have to be logged by whoever you're apprenticing under. So it's a large, long-term commitment but you do get more of a one-on-one experience with that.
With actually going to a cosmetology school, it's a lot fewer hours, 1700. But regardless, you have to go to state board and pass that, and then you're in business.
Marcus: Very cool. And so what made you want to start your own salon?
Julie: Well, I love the industry, I'm excited about cosmetology, and I just like to progress. I kind of hit the top of where I was going to be at my previous salon, and there was no place to go but downtown Mobile.
Marcus: Yeah, I know. It's cool. We've enjoyed having you guys in. For those of you that are listening, they are literally two doors down in the same building. And so for the longest time that space was empty; there was nobody in it. And it's been kind of cool because we've got Dean White here in between the two of us, and you're on the end, and it's just been cool to have some other folks here. You guys kind of bring a cool vibe to the building and stuff like that. So I feel like we're book ending the lawyer in the middle. So, Ian, if you're listening, man, let's ...
Julie: Let's step it up.
Marcus: ... let's get you going. We'll get you squared away. Oftentimes I'll ask business owners to kind of like harken back to when they first got started, as in your case as a stylist, stepping into that role. But then also as a business owner, the differences between those two. What are some of the things, some of the thoughts that come to mind as far as that goes?
Julie: Honestly, I would say stylists ... can sometimes be an individual business owner. You're running your own thing a lot of times. If you're lucky enough to get into a salon where they really will help promote you, that's wonderful. But for the most part, it's your responsibility. And there are so many different ways that you could do it. You could be a booth renter so you are, technically, running your own business. Or work in a commission-based salon where it's more of a team environment.
But as far as running my own full-on salon, there's a lot more that goes into it. The tedious little things, making sure the coffee's stocked and just all the responsibilities that every business owner faces are tenfold because you've got a team under you that's relying on you.
Marcus: That's the responsibility that you feel at times, at least for me. It's a big responsibility.
Julie: And it's not now just whether I succeed; it's whether the entire salon team and the whole thing succeeds.
Marcus: That's good. That's a very honest answer, and sometimes people gloss over and they think running a business is just all glamorous and having lunches with people and collecting money. And the reality is, and we hear this time and time again from people on this podcast, is that it's not everything that you would think it would be. It's not Instagram perfect.
Julie: It's not all that glamorous, but it's very fulfilling.
Marcus: And so it's your ability to pivot in those moments where you have to make a decision, and making the right decision, or if you make the wrong decision being able to pivot back to something that is going to make you successful.
Julie: Regroup and redirect.
Marcus: Yeah, absolutely. Well, if you were talking to someone that was looking at not necessarily starting a salon, but they were looking at starting a business. If there was some bit of wisdom or something that you would say to them, what would you say?
Julie: The best thing I can say is research, research, research. Find out who can help you and just look for every opportunity to learn every aspect. It's just constant research. And go for it. You only live once. If you're dedicated and you're determined, you can make it happen.
Marcus: There's no replacement for action.
Marcus: And even if the action is wrong, knowing that you're still moving forward ...
Marcus: Were there any organizations that were helpful to you when you were getting started? You said research, research, research.
Julie: Actually, I did a lot of reading myself but the most helpful organization that I took part with was the Small Business Center at the University of South Alabama.
Marcus: Very good.
Julie: I had a mentor there. I got my business plan together and did everything that I could on my own, but I just wanted somebody to help me look it over, make sure that I was doing everything right because I'm very much a by-the-rules kind of person.
Julie: Yes. It's the military in me. I don't know if I should mention names, but Mel Washington there was ...
Marcus: He actually came up in the last recording of the podcast.
Julie: ... he was very helpful as far as finding financing, and just making sure that I felt good about it.
Marcus: That's cool. We've got to get Mel on the podcast. Mel, if you're listening, have your people contact my people.
Julie: Right? Mel's wonderful.
Marcus: Yeah, he's a good guy. We know each other from the Chamber and through some mutual friends and stuff. He consistently comes up as somebody that really cares about people that are starting businesses and helps them get out.
Julie: Right. And it's not just that meeting. He really follows through and checks back with you, and will help with anything that he can, so I'm very thankful for that.
Marcus: That's cool. Now, you mentioned reading. Do you have any books ...? Normally, we would ask what are the last two books that you've read and that you found helpful. Do you have any books that you'd like to mention that ...?
Julie: Well, sure. The one that I found helpful with getting ready for the business is probably the last one that I've read, and it was the "Women's Small Business Startup Kit" by the Nolo Publishers. It gives you lots of tips and legal advice. It was a really boring read for probably somebody who's not looking to start a business, but I found it very helpful.
And then I don't know how I came across the other book that I read last. It was called "Lost in ShangriLa." It just showed up on my bookcase. I don't know, but it's non-fiction about a plane that was lost in 1945, and it was filled with military people and they crashed in New Guinea. And it was about their trip through the wilderness with all the savages, because the people of New Guinea were cannibals at the time. But they made it through, and it was how they were rescued. And I don't ... I finished it. I finished the whole book. It was really interesting.
Marcus: That's cool. There's something to be said, and I'm glad you mentioned a fiction book ...
Julie: It's non-fiction.
Marcus: It's non-fiction?
Julie: It is non-fiction.
Marcus: Oh wow. Well anyway, what I was going to say is because it wasn't a business-oriented book I guess is what the more important aspect, because so oftentimes we get so wrapped up. You're literally sitting in front of a bookcase full of nothing but business books, and my tendency is I listen to business podcasts, I go to business all day and work all day, and I'm working on the business, and then you go home. And okay, do I pick up a business book in my spare time? And it's like, no; at some point in time you have to check out.
Julie: Right. Absolutely. But I fell into the same pattern. I go home and I'll sit on the couch and supposed to be watching the news or watching a program, and I'm on the phone reading something about hair or business or just anything, constant.
Marcus: Any edge that's going to help you succeed, that's what you're looking for. Well, what do you like to do in your free time?
Julie: Free time? Well, I have five children so I like to spend time with them. We like to go out on the boat and just chill, and visit some of the local businesses.
Marcus: Sailboat or powerboat?
Marcus: Motorboat. Ski or fish or anything like that?
Julie: It's just a boat. I don't know anything about boats. It's a boat that's in my backyard. It's a Hydro Sport 180cc. There you go.
Marcus: So it's just a boat that gets you on the water. That's all that really matters.
Julie: Right. Cruise on the river, go down to Dolphin Island.
Marcus: So let's go back to the salon now, because I think that's important. Why downtown Mobile?
Julie: Well, because I just ... I have been intrigued with downtown Mobile for years. I see so much potential down here. And I think I've seen a wave where there was a little bit of growth going on and then it kind of backtracked, and now it's just really on fire, and I just love the vibe down here. I see just tons of potential and I had to be a part of it.
Marcus: There's something really cool happening down here with ... I think I read a book or some article or something that says basically when an area's going through a resurgence, the first thing you see is the artists move into the area, and then you see the restaurants move into the area, and then you start to see some businesses kind of trickle in, especially businesses like yours and mine were. It's like we want to be part of that creative scene because there's not ... there's definitely not something any different between what you do as far as the creative aspect, and a restaurant or an artist. And we like to kind of include ourselves in that since we're a creative agency. But it's definitely ... the downtown area's kind of like completely changed.
Julie: It really has. I love the art walk that they have monthly, and we feature an artist at the salon; we're Inspire Salon and Gallery. And I did that so that I could be a part of that scene and help out local artists if I could.
Marcus: Tell us a little bit about the salon. What sets you apart? What's your edge on everybody else besides just being generally awesome?
Julie: Yeah, we're just awesome in general. We're a Paul Mitchell focused salon. I really have a passion for Paul Mitchell, the company, as they do for hairdressers. They provide a lot of ongoing education, which we take part in all the time. We'll have educators come into the salon as well as travel, so we stay really up to date. We like to have a lot of fun but keep it very professional and laid back. I am not ... I'm not really comfortable in a spa-like atmosphere. I like to sing and dance and have fun, and that's the kind of vibe that I want to come out of my salon. I want you to just come in, be totally chill and have a good time, be pampered, sit in my massage chairs, sing a little with me.
Marcus: Tad got his hair cut the other day over at your salon, and came back raving about the hair wash and massage chair experience.
Marcus: It was ... it definitely left an impression. So if you're in ... need for a good relaxation moment, then maybe just go get your hair washed.
Julie: Yes, we offer that anytime. I sometimes sneak back there and just sit in the chairs myself between clients, just to take a minute.
Marcus: You have a cool vibe to the salon. I know you spent quite a bit of time doing the build out and stuff like that. It's got a neat feel.
Julie: I did. I really wanted an open space where we could just be creative and cool. I like it a lot.
Marcus: So, how many stylists do you have working there now?
Julie: Right now I have five. One of those is a part-time girl. She's actually a chemical engineer throughout the week, but her passion for hair has brought her to me on the weekends, and she's really good. And I have three other girls, two of whom I've worked with for a long time. They followed me from a previous location. And a local girl from downtown.
Marcus: Nice. Very cool. And tell people where they can find you, so website, Facebook, anything else that you might have that ...
Julie: We have a website. It's www.inspiresalonandgallery - and it's spelled out; it's really long but it's all I could come up with - dot com. Our Facebook page, Inspire Salon and Gallery. You can book online, book appointments online. And we're located at 412 Dolphin Street, Unit AA, on the corner of North Hamilton and Dolphin.
Marcus: For those that are keeping track, we're Unit CC, so that's why she's being goofy and kind of poking ... So she's the overachiever AA, and I guess we're the mediocre students at CC.
Julie: When we walk in our back door, it says AA on the door and we're like, "Hmmm."
Marcus: Exactly. We won't touch that one, [crosstalk 00:20:25]. That's awesome. Well just to finish up, I want to thank you again for coming on the podcast because I know ... this is not an easy thing, folks. So if you're listening to this and you're hearing somebody's story, you have to know that this is not something that business owners do everyday. You think that they're used to talking about their businesses and stuff, and it's not necessarily the case. So I want to thank you for coming on. I really appreciate it.
But to wrap up, any final thoughts or comments you'd like to share, or anything in particular?
Julie: No, I'd just really like to thank you. And yes, I was nervous but you did a wonderful job at easing that for me. And I just thank you for the opportunity to talk about starting a business, and I would love to empower anybody out there who has goals of starting their own.
Marcus: That's awesome. We do hope ... that is the whole purpose of doing this. I think I shared that with you earlier. The whole purpose of doing this is to share the stories of business owners so that people don't feel like it's something that they can't necessarily do.
So, I appreciate your willingness to sit with me and share your journey as a business owner and entrepreneur, and it's been great talking with you.
Julie: Great talking to you as well. Thank you.