Ask Angel

Studio Ownership vs. Employee Status

Dear Ms. Angel,

I would love to know your thoughts on whether you think I should open my own shop. I’ve been working in the industry for more than a dozen years and I am dedicated and serious about my job. I love piercing more than anything. My boss is a controlling a**hole who never listens to me, and I’m not happy with a lot of his decisions because they make my life difficult. Also, I feel like he doesn’t come close to paying me what I am worth.

I can’t stop thinking about whether it would be better to open my own place so that I can do everything exactly the way I want to and make all of the money for myself?
Sincerely, C.

Dear C.,

There are certainly many pros and cons to each side of this question, though you’re surely more familiar with those that relate to being an employee. You’d be wise to seek advice from multiple sources, and to do a great deal of contemplating (and list-making) before coming to a decision about opening your own enterprise.

Being your own boss would allow you the freedom to do things as you please, but running a business comes with a lot of hard work and responsibility—and no guarantees of a financial bonanza.

Obviously, a substantial monetary investment is required to open even the smallest of piercing studios. At a minimum you’d need an autoclave, piercing equipment, disposables, jewelry case(s), displays, and inventory, and office equipment (copier, computer, register, etc.). Then there’s the premises (lease), buildout, furnishings, utilities, insurance, business license, permits, and so on. You’d also need to plan and budget for a website, marketing, and advertising.

If you don’t have the capital on hand, others would need to be involved. Even with a stellar credit score, securing a bank loan to open a piercing studio is a serious long shot, to put it kindly. Therefore, you would need to take out a loan from friends or family; or, seek a business partnership. In a collaboration, you will probably end up in the same situation of not having full independence to do everything your way, even with a silent partner. Taking on debt that must be repaid, along with meeting your overhead and operating expenses, makes succeeding even more challenging.

If you didn’t sign a non-compete clause, and plan to stay in your current geographic region, a key consideration is whether there is sufficient demand for another local studio. Further, you’d be opening a competing establishment near your old boss, which is usually a recipe for some seriously bad blood. Alternatively, you would need to move to a new location. Where would that be, and are you familiar enough to evaluate the market effectively? If not, how could you acquire the information necessary to make an educated selection for a suitable locale?

You may have heard the real estate mantra, “location, location, location!”? This element is crucial for success in retail. Generally, the better the spot, the higher the rent.

Even the smallest of studios is likely to need at least one or more employees. That brings up the issues of complying with OSHA standards, legal aspects of employment practices, and dealing with Worker’s Compensation insurance, payroll taxes, and more. This also means facing the challenges inherent in managing even the best staff member(s).

If there’s nobody else involved and you structure your company as a sole proprietorship, you still need to pay self-employment taxes and quarterly estimated income taxes. (And would you lock the front door when you’re piercing?)

Before moving forward, you’d need a written strategic business plan.(i) It should identify what you must accomplish over a set period of time (usually one year) to get on the path to achieving your long-term vision:

1. Business Concept – Discuss the industry, your business structure, your particular service, and how you plan to make your venture a success.

2. Marketplace – Describe and analyze potential customers: who and where they are, what makes them buy, etc. Also, describe the competition and how you’ll position yourself to beat it.

3. Financials– Contains your income and cash flow statement, balance sheet and financial ratios like break-even analyses and earnings projections. This part may require help from an accountant and a good spreadsheet software program.

If this kind of stuff is tedious or exasperating to you, business ownership is not in your future. If it all seems stressful, that’s because it is! However, if you’re self-motivated and capable, the latter need not be a barrier. Solid decision-making skills are also indispensable.

There is potential for reward, though, and if your enterprise thrives you could reap substantial returns. Still, entrepreneurship is risky. No matter how carefully you consider all of the details, plan, and execute, nothing is certain. The vast majority of failures are due to cash-flow problems. Less than half of retail startups survive to their fifth year(ii). Only 40 percent of small businesses are profitable, (30 percent break even, and 30 percent continually lose money).(iii) Retail shops are apt to fail due to tough competition, and poor marketing and/or management.

The Small Business Administration (SBA) has lots of online resources including free courses on writing a business plan, financing options, and entrepreneurship.(iv) A good start might be their article (v) “Ten Steps to Start Your Business.”

For 12 years I owned Rings of Desire, my piercing studio in New Orleans. Fortunately, it was profitable enough that I was able to hire a manager who attended to many of the administrative duties. Still, it was a tremendous amount of effort, and way more stressful than my current life as a guest piercer. I always preferred performing piercings to running the company, but I still shouldered the ultimate responsibility and the pressures that come with it.

A positive (and possibly undervalued) aspect of being an employee is the ability to “leave your job at the office.” A business owner is always under the burden of their venture. It has to be a constant and ongoing priority to achieve and maintain success. And though you feel that you’re not getting paid what you’re worth, at least you receive income regularly. This would not be guaranteed as an owner, because operating expenses have to come first. Further, you likely have a familiar schedule of relatively fixed hours, but when you’re at the helm, you need to persevere until the work is done.

I don’t want you to think that I am negative about business ownership, or that I believe it isn’t right for you. I just want to make sure you’re aware of critical factors that need to be taken into account. Many people have no idea what is involved in running a retail establishment—including some who work in one.

Truthfully, if you love piercing more than anything, then remaining an employee is probably your best bet. Because as a proprietor, there would be many other tasks to attend to that are likely to keep you out of the piercing room, at least to some extent. If you’re not an ambitious entrepreneur with an abundance of dedication, focus, discipline, and resourcefulness, it is best to skip opening your own shop. If you’re dissatisfied with your current employment situation, you can always look into changing studios as a much simpler resolution.




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