Breaking the Glass Ceiling with Laurie Helmick

In this episode, businesswoman extraordinaire Laurie Helmick, owner of the famous Luxe Salon in Denver, Colorado, joins us and shares her experiences as a salon owner. Laurie has been in the salon business for over 43 years and is the pioneer of day spas in Denver. She engages us with her stories about how she climbed up the career ladder and what helped her become as successful as she is now. Additionally, she sheds light on how businesses have suffered during the pandemic and how it affected customers and business owners alike.

Laurie’s website: https://luxesalon.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/luxesalondenver

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/luxesalondenver/

Katie Brinkley 0:02

Hey there. This is Katie Brinkley and you’re listening to Rocky Mountain marketing. This podcast is all about helping Colorado based small business owners, entrepreneurs and professionals discover the strategies and systems that take their marketing to all new heights. Let’s dive into today’s episode. Welcome back to the podcast. My guest today is Laurie Helmick. Laurie has been in retail and the salon industry for 43 years. She developed the day spa concept in Denver in 1988, one of the very first in the nation. She has owned her own salon business for 22 years with our partner Jody Martinez, who she hired when he was just 20. She has had a very strong female mentor in her life. Dana Crawford being the most impactful she aspires to mentor women in their honor. And she is turning 65 next week and has no plans of slowing down. How exciting. Laurie, thank you so much for coming on the show today.

Laurie Helmick 0:59

Absolutely.

Katie Brinkley 1:00

So let’s start at the beginning. Tell us a little bit about yourself. Tell us where you grew up and what your life was like growing

Laurie Helmick 1:05

up. I grew up in a suburb of Minneapolis, Minnesota, you can hear the soda and I grew up fortunately with horses and dogs and cats and I had a great time on 10 acres, but I always had an affinity for working. So I started working when I was 13 years old cleaning bathrooms in a retail store and I’ve been working ever since. So I moved out to Denver from Minneapolis, Gosh, 30 to 33 years ago, started working with Danna Crawford right away. So it’s been quite the ride.

Katie Brinkley 1:38

Yeah. Tell us a little bit about working with Dana Crawford and how she’s been a tactful mentor to you.

Laurie Helmick 1:43

Well, she actually opened a spa, and the hair salon at the Oxford the year before I moved to Denver, but nobody really knew how to run it or what to do with it. And I had been working with the corporation, Aveda. And so we were kind of developing this concept. And so it was a perfect fit. So she and I worked together for almost 10 years and build it into a one a two and a half million dollar business. But it was all all of it was nobody ever done it before. So it was all trial and error. But it was very successful. And she having always been such an amazing entrepreneur really helped me develop my entrepreneurial spirit.

Katie Brinkley 2:22

And I mean, I think that that a lot of entrepreneurs, you said you started at 13 trying for your first job. I think a lot of printers have that drive to try and do something at a young age. And just talk to us a little bit about your career journey. I know you started young and what are some of the stops that you took along the way?

Laurie Helmick 2:41

Well, I worked for a company through college called Dayton’s Dayton Hudson and then it was target. It’s now target date. And it was like a Nordstroms. And I went through their training program after college and I was one of the few people that work there per time that was got on the training program was a very big honor actually. And I worked for Dane’s for 13 years as an assistant buyer, buyer, sales manager, group manager, and I really loved it. I think department stores. I still get chills when I walk inside a department store. But the company was changing. And I didn’t see myself going the same way they were once Hudson’s bought Dayton’s. I just got a little hair up nice something. And I went out and looked in the paper back in the days when one dads were you could actually find a job in the paper and Aveda was looking to hire somebody who run their salon division. They had 10 salons in Minneapolis. And so I did that and ended up as head of distribution for the West Coast, which meant that I went to all the major cities and and worked with the distributors. And that’s actually how I got to meet Dana Crawford in Denver. And I went all over the West Coast and it was an amazing job. They didn’t have Per Diem was back then. So we all flew first class. And I mean, that was in my early 20s. And I thought I had arrived. But they had some challenges. And so I just kind of made another decision to and I picked up and just moved to Denver with no job and no place to live. But I had the Dana Crawford connection and she basically took me under her wing. And I lived in the carriage house behind her house and she taught me a lot of what I know today for sure.

Katie Brinkley 4:28

Awesome. It’s funny. You brought up a lot of things. My family is from my mom’s side. Family’s all from Michigan. Oh, my grandma always loved the Waldorf salad. And had since Yes. Funny. So you bring up Hudson’s I like Waldorf salad.

Laurie Helmick 4:44

Yeah. And you even knew I was Yeah.

Katie Brinkley 4:47

And I also got to have a little bit of a fun 20s traveling. I was a flight attendant Oh, it being able to travel and your 20s is really great to see a lot of the country and In the world, and you landed here in Denver to I think Denver is a great place to, once you land and then settle down. It’s a hard place to leave. Exactly. If you could go back and do anything differently in your journey to where you are now, what would you change? If anything?

Laurie Helmick 5:16

Wow, that’s an interesting question, I probably would have changed the fact that I, you know, like, at Dayton is when I saw the culture changing, I was a very strong type a female. And I think if I had known back then exactly how to handle that part of my personality a little bit better, I might not have kind of made it more difficult for myself in a corporation hierarchy, if you know what I mean. And I think it made me I didn’t really realize the glass ceiling, the female glass ceiling until I think when I worked for Dana. And I think that’s probably the biggest thing I would change. But like, for instance, when I left Aveda, I, the owner, who was very, very, very famous for Stryker Walker court, he was a very, very type A Austrian man. And I did not know how to handle that kind of professional situation. And a lot of it was immaturity. But that’s probably the only thing I would ever change is maybe how I handle those things.

Katie Brinkley 6:15

Now you talk about the the glass ceiling for women. Let’s hear a little bit more about that. Well, when I first

Laurie Helmick 6:21

joined the Dayton’s training program, there were 20 people 18 More women and two were men. And the two men got promoted into positions before any of the women did. And it never occurred to me, until I got working as a sales manager. And as a buyer, assistant buyer that it seemed like men were promoted more quickly and into positions that were higher up than most of the women. Ironically, the women really drove the company. And I worked for some phenomenal buyers who were also huge mentors to me, but all of us left after a certain point, because we could never get past a certain point. And you have to remember this was in the 70s, late 70s and early 80s, it was very obvious, let’s just put it that way. And I made the mistake of telling a store manager that I didn’t appreciate the way he treated certain some of us women, and that didn’t go over so well. So my changed? Well, I have to say, when I look at go into stores now and I see this store managers are in their 20s and early 30s. And they’re women and men, it makes me feel better about it. But I just wasn’t very naive about it until unfortunately, I had to discover it for myself.

Katie Brinkley 7:36

Now, what do you think about being a female business owner?

Laurie Helmick 7:40

Well, I think it’s funny because Dana was the same thing. And she never looked back. And I think I could say that about myself as once I got into a position of owning a business and never occurred to me, I couldn’t, there was nothing I couldn’t do. And that included serving on boards, it included working with the National Association. And I think maybe I ended up in the hair industry because there was a little bit more. It was less regimented, that way, much more entrepreneurial, and very successful women, it didn’t matter. Really, you didn’t you’re you’re gonna get stopped just because you were a woman. And and because I have a really strong business background, thanks to Dayton’s. I was able to do very well very quickly, because there’s not that many business people in the industry.

Katie Brinkley 8:26

What do you think that some of the biggest mistakes that business owners make when they’re trying to grow and sustain a successful businesses?

Laurie Helmick 8:33

I think what I’ve seen is owners who get greedy for themselves financially. And that’s probably the number one thing that I have noticed. Also, I think a lot of times business owners, I’ll pay $1 up front, and I’ll take one and behind. I mean, there’s just small businesses not well regulated in a lot of ways. And I think a lot of people get in trouble because it ended obviously, with this COVID thing. The reason so many businesses are in trouble or not going to open is because they didn’t manage financially didn’t manage their businesses well at all. And you know, that happens in my industry in the restaurant industry. You know, in almost any industry. Unfortunately, I I have the more of a word with all that says I’ve got to have six months of operating income. And so that’s I think what has kept us going for 22 years. That’s so smart.

Katie Brinkley 9:25

And I think that I’d like to have for our listeners that are tuning in listening to the episode. We’re right in the middle of COVID. And a lot of stores and restaurants, restaurants are still closed, but a lot of stores are slowly starting to reopen. Talk to us about how it was when you were closed, how you made that six weeks go by and were able to keep a positive attitude and make sure that you didn’t have to shatter your business. Well, it

Laurie Helmick 9:50

was seven weeks just so you know. And but who’s counting? Yeah, who’s counting? It was the hardest seven weeks of my life. You know? For the PPP long again, Dana Crawford taught me how to have relationships with bankers, I never it never occurred to me, I was one of the very first people to be funded to for the PPP because of my banking relationship with UMB Bank and was able to get funded in a week. But I think that but it was very stressful applying for that it was very stressful time for the grant Denver grant. It was very stressful applying for the SBA disaster loan, it was hours and hours of work and not knowing what what was going to happen. And knowing that I’d wanted to pay my employees, helping educate them about unemployment, dealing with clients who were very upset about not being able to come in for seven weeks, I’ve probably touched six, at least 600 clients by calling and making appointments and connecting. And then on top of that, juggling the financial aspect of paying all these bills in April, that for March with no income. So I’m just so grateful for my business acumen. Because it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done, quite frankly, and we’re opening on Saturday. And I have very mixed feelings about it. But right before you and I got the podcast, I was writing an email to all of our clients about our I call it the COVID conversation, to make them understand what we’re doing to keep them safe and keep the employee safe. So I’m just very grateful. I’m a gardener and I have a koi pond and I have a place to kind of Zen out in the mornings or the evenings because it’s been intense.

Katie Brinkley 11:33

Yeah, I’m sure probably the most stressful and challenging part of your business career, but there’s really no training for and no way to prepare for it. Not all of us were kind of thrown into it at the exact same time, which which I guess is a little bit helpful, as opposed to it’s not like Detroit, with the automotive industry and having Ford plant shut down or anything. It was all of us all at once. But it’s still uncharted waters, but it’s very difficult to try and navigate your way through. Now, how has it been for trying to keep up that positive mentality for your not only your employees, but for your clients and customers as well to keep them positive about coming back?

Laurie Helmick 12:15

Well, as I said, part of that was me personally touching every single client, when the owner of a business calls a client and says, we’re here for you to make an appointment for you, I think was very, and then letting them talk. I mean, because a lot of them had not been outside their homes, because we do a lot of you know, all age groups. So I think it was that camaraderie and that connection. And then with employees, we had zoom meetings, and then I would send mimes or memes that were kind of hilarious, like shower curtains between the stations, and they all thought I was serious. And they were all freaking out that we’re getting together tomorrow. And you know, we’re gonna clean the salon together and get organized. And you know, I made sure they knew that I got the PvP right off the bat so that they only missed one paycheck. And so it’s all about communication and just being upbeat and positive. Unfortunately, fortunately, I’m That’s My nature, the only times I really felt overwhelmed. Well, I should say only by the only times I really, truly felt bad or overwhelmed was when clients were really upset about not being able to get in when they wanted to. Or when I had dear friends who have small businesses who couldn’t get the PPP loans. And we’re really kind of at loose ends. And you know, just just a lot of really hard emotional energy out there. So but we’ve been so far, so good.

Katie Brinkley 13:39

Now, I’d like to talk a little bit because you, you mentioned that you have friends that you’ve met people and networked with people in the banking industry, talk to our audience a little bit about trying to establish those connections with people outside of your industry to be a successful business owner.

Laurie Helmick 13:55

Okay, that’s a really, really good point to bring up and to talk about because it because a lot of us don’t think about, we just think the bank is that necessary evil and that, you know, they have a very different mentality than a lot of entrepreneurs do. And so a lot of a small business people see them as kind of an adversarial situation, or they think working with a big bank will is safer than working with a regional bank or whatever. But what I found through my many years is by going into the bank and getting to know the loan officer getting to know the line people getting to know the bank manager, and just having conversations Dana introduced me to array Orlin we used to be the president of women’s bank, before they changed the name. And it really made me understand how important was to have that relationship. And so when I open my own business, I called her personally and said, I’d like to bank with you and she had moved banks, and I went to her not to the bank. So I think that And then when I got my SBA loan I worked with very closely with my bank. And so it becomes like a relationship. That’s very important. And so when this whole PPP thing came up who they call first the people that they have, like, I have a loan with you and be big, I went to you in the ER, they came to me because they knew I was trusted. They know that I’d been paying my loan for 12 years. So lots of reasons to cultivate, to interview banks to literally go out and interview five different banks, and talk to the people and see what culture you like the best. And, you know, ironically, the people who didn’t get PPP, were with big banks.

Katie Brinkley 15:42

Yeah, and how have you found a lot of these different connections for your business? Like I said, banking, I’m sure you probably have other businesses that you work with for different needs that you might want to not handle accounting or bookkeeping or anything like that. How have you found those good resources?

Laurie Helmick 16:01

Again, I my own bookkeeper and accountant. So knock on wood there, but it’s my business isn’t isn’t loto. And it’s like a small town. And I like to support my small town. So literally, it’s interviewing people, it’s just, you know, kind of going out and seeing who’s like lawyers seeing who’s out there who has kind of the same small business mentality I do. And also asking good friends and good, like people that I have their own businesses, hey, who have you used to do such and such. And I always feel good when I can give a referral to someone because I like working with smaller, not necessarily big law firms, but smaller law firms and that type of thing. So I think we all have the network of and you know, that lawyer comes and gets her hair done it luck. So it just kind of is more of a networking thing. Networking, fortunately, comes naturally. Yeah, and

Katie Brinkley 16:51

I’ve talked to a couple different guests that have been on the show about networking, because when I was in the corporate world and had a corporate job, I definitely was like, why would you want to go hang out with people that you don’t know, after work and talk about work? That sounds horrible. As a small business that is so important, and because you might not need a lawyer right now. But you might someday, who knows? Or you might, you might not need a framer, or you might not. But if you have those, that network of people, and like I said, maybe you don’t need a lawyer, but you need bookkeeping help. Hey, my boyfriend, who do you use and going to networking events and trying to establish those type of relationships with people outside of industries, I think extremely important for small businesses.

Laurie Helmick 17:35

Exactly. And the other thing is, is reaching out to your registered neighborhood organization. I’ve been a member of the lodo district board for many, many years. And that is a wonderful way to get to meet all different types of people throughout the community. And then to give back to volunteer, in fact, we’re we’re putting together a committee to help small businesses in lodo reopen as part of our responsibilities and neighborhoods. So there are many ways to and then you meet people, and then all sudden, you’ve got these connections. So giving back is a huge part of getting also

Katie Brinkley 18:10

now do you find that your clients and customers these days are mostly neighborhood residents? Or what is your market look like for finding and engaging and selling to these new potential clients?

Laurie Helmick 18:20

Well, you know, that’s been a big challenge, let’s set a rep he has a reputation, because we’ve been around for 22 years, and God has is, you know, very well known in the hair community. I was going down my rabbit hole of no parking and the fact that so we lost a lot of our destination clients. So we find

Katie Brinkley 18:40

loto is notorious for zero parking,

Laurie Helmick 18:43

right? We tried to work with the city for years, because we knew that was going to happen. And unfortunately, nothing changed. But I think we do a lot of professionals that work downtown, and we do as many residents as you think, because it’s so expensive to live down there. hair isn’t necessarily the priority for a certain age group. So it’s mostly professionals from the area that can walk or you know, are taken over.

Katie Brinkley 19:09

Gotcha. What type of marketing Have you found works best for your business?

Laurie Helmick 19:12

How many hours do I have about that? My very first marketing ploy that I had no clue I was doing was, You’re probably too young to remember the age one, that when VH one came out in the early 90s video I forgotten about that. A field producer called me at the Oxford and she said Hey, we’ll do a spot on the Oxford if you’ll give us some free rooms at the Oxford and I was like, who cares about VH one I don’t even know what it is. And I loved MTV, so I thought anyway, game and they did a five minute spot on the Oxford. That video went viral on VH one for five years. I used to have friends call me and say I saw you in the middle of the night last night, it put the Oxford Spa on the map. And we were voted top Spa by SELF magazine, even though they’d never been there. Because a few producers went back to New York and spread the word about these this funky place in Denver. Anyway, the bottom line is trying to be really creative about ways to approach things. When movies were really big and lodo being made, we would do services, free services for a lot of the people that were doing the movies or doing the TV series. I mean, I had to check Elizabeth Dole out. And it made me so nervous, I couldn’t, I couldn’t, my hands were shaking so badly. And I couldn’t do it, you know, we saw. And so that’s spread the word also. And then the other place that I’ve really seen is just having really good SEO on our website. And I didn’t know even what SEO was, but I asked her to have one of the first websites in the state was the first beauty salon website in the state and I had done free for some trade. And this was back in 95. So a certain king from Saudi Arabia came through to go to Vail or to Beaver Creek, and came to the Oxford and bought the entire stock of Aveda, because they didn’t. And he had seen the website. So that’s when I really realized how important that website was going to be a big deal. And so I’ve learned tried to learn and you know, hired someone. And so if you type in a salon in Denver on Google, eight out of 10 times will become up on the front page. So it’s good to talk

Katie Brinkley 21:39

a little bit about you said the front page. It’s that’s so important, as showing up as the first page on Google for us. Because I mean, you think about it, if you show up is the second or third report, not a ton of people actually even go to the second page. Exactly. How have you been able to make sure like you said, you hired a great SEO person, what are some tools that you’re using on a weekly or monthly or daily basis to improve your SEO,

Laurie Helmick 22:05

I have someone who I pay month, and I haven’t done as well with it lately, as I had it had been in and every time Google changes their algorithm, I get nervous about it. But it’s been so consistent that I haven’t wanted to do make any huge changes, because 50% of our new clients that come in are from Google or our website 50%. If you had told me 10 years ago that people would pick their hair salon, from the internet, I would have told you, you were crazy. And I think that’s the other thing is that I’ve had to evolve my concept of what good marketing is over the last 30 years because you know, it used to be doing an ad 52 ad, we were the first salon in Denver to advertise and 52 ad and that worked sensationally well for years and years and years. And all of a sudden, it became very clear, people weren’t looking at hair salons in magazines. So you really have to learn how to evolve. And quite honestly, I have not grasped Instagram the way I need to. And it’s just a matter of settling into that word. That’s one of my plans for when we get back open, because I know that we have not utilized Instagram nearly as much as we could.

Katie Brinkley 23:16

Let’s talk a little bit about what’s kept you here in Colorado. What is the appeal to having your business here in Colorado,

Laurie Helmick 23:24

when I started out Denver, or Colorado was one of the most user friendly states for female entrepreneurs in the country and that they had more women business owners per capita than any other state. And I didn’t know I had no idea that now I don’t know that that’s true anymore. But it was 30 years ago, Denver has kind of that Western entrepreneurial might don’t tell me what to do kind of a thing. And that’s exactly how entrepreneurs think. So I think there’s a really good synergy between just the environment in which a business can play can survive and thrive. However, I’m seeing that going away. And to be honest with you, between property tax increases that are disproportionate and the lack of planning for parking in downtown Denver has made it much less friendly than it was but color and now the color has gotten so expensive to live in. It used to be that people didn’t think twice about getting their hair done and now it’s people are seriously that’s why the term barley as you probably know what that is a lot of your your listeners might not but women only had to come in twice a year to get their hair done. So it’s again, the scene is changing. It’s kept me here. I also love fortunate enough to own my own real estate. That keeps me very happy.

Katie Brinkley 24:43

Yeah, I’ve been there’s been a lot of changes for Denver over the past decade for sure. And I know back when I worked at the television station in lodo. It was definitely changing right before my eyes over the three years that I was there and it’s parking was terrible before All of the houses got built. And now that all the housing has been built in three levels through four story, condos, high end condos are everywhere, it’s even harder to try and find a good parking space.

Laurie Helmick 25:12

Yeah, and I don’t want to sound like a grumpy person. But I’ve kind of enjoyed this last seven weeks driving down to locks to do work, because it’s like the 80s. Again, it’s like parking everywhere. There’s very few, you know, there’s people on the street, but it’s not like jammed. Nobody’s running over each other. It’s just been kind of fun. Now, before we

Katie Brinkley 25:33

finish up, is there anything that I didn’t ask about during today’s discussion that you think is important to share with our listeners?

Laurie Helmick 25:38

I think from a small business perspective, I think what’s really, really important is honesty. Is financial honesty is emotional honesty, is how you treat people. I think part of my success has been that I am an a very honest person that almost to the point sometimes I irritate myself. And I think that good karma is will keep someone with a good idea, and a solid foundation going for as long as they want to go, I think. And now more than ever, I really believe that.

Katie Brinkley 26:13

Laurie, this has been such a great conversation. Where can we find out more about you and your business online is

Laurie Helmick 26:18

kind of easy. It’s www dot Luxilon. Lux e s a l o n.com.

Katie Brinkley 26:25

Awesome. Thank you again, so much for coming on the show today.

Laurie Helmick 26:28

You bet. I’ve enjoyed it.

Katie Brinkley 26:30

And if you’re ready to take your social media to the next level for your small business, head over to my website and check out my free video training the three biggest mistakes small businesses make with social media and how to avoid them. Discover how to make your social media marketing stand out from the crowd online. Thanks so much for listening to this episode of Rocky Mountain marketing. As always, I’d love to hear from you. You can visit my website at www.nextstepsocialcommunications.com or connect with me on LinkedIn. Just look for Katie Brinkley. Let’s keep taking your marketing to new heights.