Pandemic provides business opportunity

Jennifer Johnson styles a client’s hair at Sweet Pea Salon, which she opened after being furloughed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The middle of a pandemic may not be the ideal time for many people to start a business, but for Jennifer Johnson of Zion Crossroads, it turned out to be perfect.

“I hadn’t thought about opening my own salon before the pandemic,” she said. “It was never in my plan.”

Johnson, who was born and raised in Louisa County, has been a stylist for more than 20 years, most of that time working for a large hair salon chain. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, she was furloughed and then the company filed for bankruptcy.

“We weren’t really sure what would happen,” Johnson said. “They might be bought out, they weren’t sure when they would reopen, so I decided maybe I should figure something out temporarily because I don’t know if I’m going to have a job.”

The company was bought by new owners in April, but by then, Johnson had already decided that she was going to continue working for herself, opening Sweet Pea Salon in May when Virginia entered phase one of its reopening plan. 

Johnson chose the name Sweet Pea as a way to honor her grandmother, who passed away in February. Her grandmother, who always called Johnson ‘Sweet Pea,’ was always encouraging her to open her own salon. 

But the name didn’t come to Johnson right away. In fact, it didn’t occur to her until after she’d already opened.

“My cousin had sent me a mug that said ‘sweet pea’ on it, and it came in the first day I opened when I still didn’t know what to call it,” she said. “I went to bed that night and when I woke up the next morning, I thought, ‘That’s it. Sweet Pea Salon.’”

In the months since, business has been good. Many of Johnson’s clients from Hair Cuttery followed her to her new salon, and she’s picked up several new clients from the area. Her loyal clients come from as far away as Staunton to see her.

“Business has been wonderful,” she said.

With the uncertain times we live in, Johnson is fully aware that things could change quickly for her and her business.

“The worst-case scenario is that salons get shut down again,” she said. “That would make or break me, so I just have to walk by faith.”

Part of walking by faith for her is not dwelling on that worst-case scenario.

“You can’t focus on the what-ifs and you can’t focus on the negatives,” she said. “I’ve been in this industry for 21 years. I’m confident in my skills and in my relationship with my people. I love what I do. You just can’t worry about the bad things that might happen every single moment or you set yourself up for failure.”  

In the small salon that her husband helped her set up in their garage, Johnson is able to see clients and make sure that they’re social distancing and following all of the required guidelines. She offers full hair and facial waxing services, including cuts, perms and hair coloring. She’s also invested in a line of home hair care products so clients can maintain their hair at home.

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of running her salon is how much less stress she has compared to working for Hair Cuttery.

“The salon where I worked was a very, very busy salon with a lot of stylists and a lot of clients and the phone ringing off the hook,” she said. “I didn’t realize how stressful the environment was until I was out of it.”

In running her own business, Johnson has more control over her hours and is able to find a balance between running the salon and spending time with her family. She is open Tuesday through Friday and schedules clients as they call, allowing for time to take care of their needs and to disinfect the salon between clients.

“I’m able to do that because I do my own booking, and I know my people and what they need,” she said.

Johnson said she’s very grateful for her family’s support in her new business.

“Without my husband, we wouldn’t have gotten up and running so fast,” she said. “He kept saying, ‘You can do this, Jen. I’ll help you. You can do this.’ He was very encouraging and supportive. Without him, I could not have done this. My kids are supportive, too, and they love that I’m home, and [especially] now with virtual school.”

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