By Design: Salon Ratay in Lake Mary, Fl

In every small town across America, there’s at least one salon that raises the bar for everyone else. Lake Mary, FL (population 13,822) has Salon Ratay.

Some believe bigger is better, but to Sherry Ratay, owner of Salon Ratay in Lake Mary, FL, success is not measurable by square footage. Nine years ago, Salon Ratay offered the works—nails, facials, waxing, haircolor and styling—in a large, departmentalized space. Four years later, Ratay had the chance to downsize. “I jumped on that opportunity with high heels on,” she says. “I didn’t nurture the rest of the salon like I did the color or design part.” She also dabbled in hiring independent contractors but while the money was there, the culture was not. So she made the move to a smaller space. The staff and service options decreased, but the revenue was nearly the same.

That’s because Ratay knows how to run a salon, and run it well. The application process is rigorous so she can make sure she hires people who understand her culture and want to be a part of it. After an applicant sends a resume, they speak with the manager, who gives them a rundown of the associate program and expectations. They then have an opportunity to shadow in the salon for a few days, unpaid, to see how services are delivered. “If that works for them, at that point we sit down and we discuss it, and I think that’s helped us with not having so many people come on and off the payroll,” she says, noting that one in five associates makes it through the program compared with one in 10 before she implemented the shadowing method. Additionally, all staff must meet monthly goals to advance to the next level. As a reward, the highest performing staff gets the new clients.

The culture, Ratay says, is to deliver excellence. “I know those are stolen words from everyone, but to me excellence is delivering a service that’s expected from your guest as well as the service provider,” she says. During the associate program, she teaches how to study personality, eye color, lifestyle, and how to take all things into consideration before performing a service. She believes a color consultation is about more than looking at the hair strand; it’s about looking at who the client is from the moment they walk in the door, at their handbag, their shoes and their body language. Ratay recalls an incident when a client cancelled an appointment because one of the colorists said that the salon doesn’t do blue hair. “Who said we don’t do blue hair?” she says. “You can’t assume that because you don’t do theatrical color at a salon that it can’t be done. If it works for the client, we can do it.”


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The training and salon culture has paid off. “It’s going to sound unrealistic, but within our color department, our retention is about 85 percent,” she says. “Salon Ratay is a destination, not a location. We’re not in a strip mall, so you have to know about us.” —Kristen Heinzinger