Laurel Stanton began her career in 2005, after graduating concurrently from high school and vo-tech. “I’ve always known I wanted to have my own business, but there weren’t the right opportunities in Boston, where I’m from,” she said. “Competition is in your face. Nobody goes out of their way to help you get started.” She knew that she would never own a business in Boston.
As she advanced in her career, she and her partner moved north to Portland where they were closer to family. “Portland was instantly welcoming,” she recalled. After working at a local salon, Stanton made the leap to open her own salon, offering eco-friendly products, sustainable practices, and superior customer service.
The biggest obstacle in opening Lavender was finding the right location. Stanton knew that she would need a robust business plan and reliable financing to acquire a property when it became available in the tight Portland real estate market. After developing her business plan with the help of business advisor, Sarah Guerette, at the Women’s Business Center at CEI, Stanton was able to secure financing from Bangor Savings Bank which would allow her to make an offer on the right space.
With an eye set on Washington Ave, a burgeoning neighborhood in Portland’s East End, quickly becoming a destination for food enthusiasts, tourists and locals, Stanton made an offer on a space as soon as it became available and secured 63 Washington Ave as Lavender’s future home.
RUNNING A BUSINESS SUSTAINABLY AND LOCALLY
From the start, keeping products and partners as local and sustainable as possible was paramount. Barrett Made of Portland contracted the build-out; local metal worker, Andrew Pratt, created the sign, salon stations, and trellis; neighbor business Venn + Maker made custom scissor tool rolls and stools for the stations. When Lavender hosted its grand opening, other Washington Ave businesses contributed, including catering by A&C Grocery and beverages from Maine Mead Works. When you walk into Lavender today, you will see a tray of lavender flavored cookies made by local C.Love Cookie Project and pastries from BLVL. The salon features local artists in a rotating gallery space, and instead of taking commission from the artwork sales, she suggests the artists donate 10% to a local organization of their choice.
Working in salons meant Stanton was constantly exposed to products that contained toxic and harmful chemicals, causing eczema on her hands and frequent migraines. When a family member who was diagnosed with cancer inquired about the safety of specific hair products, Stanton began to dive deeper into the world of eco-friendly salon products. Brands like Oway, where all color and styling products are biodynamically harvested in Italy, offer the safest synthetics possible. “The level of sustainability used to make these products is beyond organic,” Stanton explained.
While eco-friendly practices are not often synonymous with hair salons, Lavender has made it part of its mission to recycle 100% of its post-service waste. Local composting business Garbage to Garden takes all hair clippings. No paper towels or plastic products are used in the salon. Green Circle Salons recycles all chemical and foil waste. The salon’s integration of sustainable products and practices is a stand-out in Portland. “We really don’t have any competitors here,” she said.
For staff, ongoing in-house education is provided, as well as a stipend for outside education. “Education is important- not just for the staff, but also for our clients. We need to know what we’re talking about and why it’s important- everything from hair care and products to sustainable practices,” said Stanton.
Having worked in the hair industry for over a decade, Stanton knows how difficult it is to survive and grow in the field. Some of her previous employers paid exclusively on a commission basis in a staunchly competitive environment, compromising both stylist and client experience. At Lavender, employees are paid an hourly rate plus commission. When stylists are working, they are contributing to the success of the entire salon, not solely to the growth of their personal clientele. “I value my employees. I want them to get paid!” said Stanton.
Lavender Salon was recently nominated for “Best New Business” in the Portland Indie Biz awards. “I’ve never been nominated for anything. I guess we’re doing something right!” Stanton concluded.