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Florida SBDC at FAU Client, Riot Hair, Finds the Secret Sauce to Success.


"If you build it, they will come." That's what Kate La Fleur thought when she started her Delray Beach salon business Riot Hair Lounge. As she reflects on the journey, she realized "things didn't necessarily work that way." Kate and partner, Patricia Cejas were successful working for other salons but were ready for a new direction and didn't want the traditional 9 – 5 lifestyle.

They embraced the opportunity and collaborative spirit of their friendship and began to move forward in establishing a unique model of a mini-business within a business through a staff of independent contractors. The Salon looks and operates like a full service salon – all the stylists are in one beautiful, artful space the owners created – where they, the contractors and the clients enjoy the high energy and comradery traditional hair salons offer commissioned stylists.

But their new journey was not without its challenges. "We were like a deer caught in the headlights." After learning about the Florida SBDC at Florida Atlantic University they reached out for consulting services. "We would be so lost without their assistance [Florida SBDC at FAU Consultants]. They were so helpful, friendly and knowledgeable and have been part of our business family for the past 4.5 years," says Patricia.

Meeting with a Florida SBDC at FAU consultant, extensive tools available through the SBDC were used to assist in Riot Hair Lounge's business development process. From market research to help identify locations and competitors, to learning the ins and outs of business accounting, human resources and operations, the creative duo relied on their SBDC at FAU consultant to help them start and grow their business. The first two years were focused on the start-up stage of the business development process.

By mid-2016 Riot Hair had successfully set up their business, opened its doors and were at a variable 50 – 75% capacity with regular chair operators and clientele, generating a modest income. But it was time to take the next step and focus on business growth – address the bottom line, future growth and long term stability.

While the goal would always be to attract new clientele, they had to reach beyond – to their mini-business within the business. One of the long term strategies was to operate at full capacity, with every chair filled on a regular basis instead of accepting the more traditional, fluid scene where hair stylist contractors come and go.

What made the difference? Kate and Patricia – their unusual chemistry, genuine love of creativity and community and synergistic style that flows naturally in creating their vision. They have built a family of hair stylists that love what they do and where they do it … Riot Hair Lounge. Instead of selling more "stuff" to grow the bottom line, they created a culture of camaraderie and loyalty … a unique group that embraces their symbiotic artistic environment.

In the past two years the business has grown significantly. They mentor and encourage young stylist assistants – several of whom have grown to become full-time stylists at the Salon. They are now at full capacity with 3 full-time employees, one part-time and a full staff of independent stylists.

In addition to the SBDC assistance, Kate attributes the success of Riot Hair to having a strong partnership with Patricia, open communication, where they each bring their own unique talents to the business. Both are creatively trained stylists yet they truly thrive in the collaborative, sharing process. "It's not just about our creativity ̶ it's also our client's input ̶ learning and sharing reignites creativity," says Kate. "We both share a common vision, but Patricia's strength is in the execution of that vision and we balance each other out."

In advising others whether to take that next step in starting a business, Patricia says, "Just do it! Meeting Florida SBDC at FAU Consultant Debbie Lanford was integral in our business journey and having her to fall back on is an asset we feel blessed to have."