The evolution of a leader, a salon team, and a bottom line!


by Sara Altizer

Since beginning her career in 2001, Laura Kiorkis has had a deep passion for the professional beauty industry. A Redken Specialist and an Aquage Master Class Academy graduate, Laura has completed creative cutting and coloring classes at the Mayfair Academy in London, England. She loves doing hair and can’t imagine doing anything else. So when Laura moved across country to live closer to her family, opening a salon felt like the logical next step. As the new owner of Gemini of Chicago in Peoria, Arizona, however, she was quickly confronted with the complications of owning a salon company.

With the guidance of Summit Salon Consultant, Michael Nikolas and wealth of knowledge available through Summit Salon Business Center, Laura was able to find the solutions her salon company needed. With access to pricing strategies tailored for her specific region and established systems designed to build trust and encourage the growth of a strong culture, Laura was able to transform an unmotivated and sparse salon staff into forward thinking business leaders of the future. Here is her story.

Gemini of Chicago

Laura admits that it was never her long-term plan to open a salon. “My family wanted me to leave Chicago and move to Arizona to live near them,” Laura explains. “But I loved the salon I worked for and loved my leader, Jenny, the salon owner. I told my family I would only move there if we opened our own salon together.”

“I started out with two employees, one of whom was renting a booth at an agreed price that we just made up by comparing other suites and talking about what the renter was willing to pay, and the other was an employee from the salon that was there before we took over. We had an assistant and my mother and me working commission at prices we just figured were ‘fair.’ There were no set systems in place of any kind.”

“My biggest challenge was how to implement change and put systems in place,” Laura recalls. “It seemed that the employees were making up their own dress codes, vacation days, etc. I felt out of control, like I didn’t know what I was doing or how to tell if we were growing. I felt like I had made a huge mistake in buying a salon and regretted my decision.”

“I led by example as much as I could,” Laura explains. “I would work as a stylist the way I expected the staff to work. However, I made a lot of decisions and set rules based on emotion. When an employee did something wrong, I dished out a lot of blame. There was also no way of showing room for growth to potential employees because I myself was not allowing my career to grow.”

Inspired to Lead

Despite plummeting sales and feelings of regret, Laura refused to give up on her salon company. She attended The Summit and was amazed by the hope she felt.

“The real turning point for me was listening to Dave Kirby speak about the differences between leaders and bosses,” Laura explains. “ A leader responds instead of reacts. I learned to ask more questions and to lead with love. I learned to teach instead of give orders. I learned to lead with systems and facts instead of emotions. It has completely taken a lot of the stress out of managing a staff of hairstylists. I feel more in control and responsible for a positive culture in the salon.”

“When I returned, we did lose a couple of stylists because they weren’t willing to be part of the positive culture,” Laura explains. “In reality, these were ‘pot stirring’ individuals and people who felt personally attacked when new systems were brought into effect. I made it clear that any new changes were for the greater good of the company.”


Gemini of Chicago had three main areas on which to focus: pricing strategy, hiring practices, and culture.

“We looked at the surrounding demographic and median household income and set the new prices accordingly,” Laura explains. “Our existing prices were not too different from the base prices we set for level 1 stylists. However, I myself had not had a price increase in five years. So it affected my salary over the long term greatly. About two thirds of our clients continued as customers and the rest did not. However it was also around the same time our salon moved five miles north to a new location.”

“We also calculated the earning potential of each station and how it effects my bottom line,” Laura says. “We learned that if all eight stations have a stylist, we can turn a profit by double shifting the stations.”

“Now, we have systems in place without the emotional baggage,” Laura explains. “There are clear systems for fostering growth, discipline, promotions, handling clients, and personal growth as an owner. It is far more organized and it feels like I actually know what I am doing. I find it easier as an owner to keep a positive culture going because everyone who is part of the team understands the systems.”

“As leaders, we feel as if we are setting good examples for our staff,” Laura says. “They can come to us with positive or negative situations with confidence that we will have an answer for them or find one in a timely manner. There seems to be a stronger level of trust. Everyone in the salon company feels they can go to at least one manager with a problem because of our ‘open door policy.’ If there is tension at all, it seems to resolve itself after a personal development meeting (PDM). Coaching and team meetings seem to answer lingering questions, pull the team back together, and motivate.”

Best of all, Laura feels she has evolved as a leader. “I am much more patient, and I lead with love instead of guessing what I should do as a ‘boss,’” Laura explains. “I changed the way I implement change and the way I interact with stylists by knowing the difference between non-negotiable systems and subjects open for discussion. I started to recognize my own faults as a leader and made the necessary changes to improve. I stopped blaming and began to realize that when I made mistakes as a leader, I needed to accept the responsibility. I feel much less stressed about the future of the salon company as now I know the growth is mostly in our own hands and we have the power to either move forward or stand still.”

Summit Salon Systems have made a huge difference in the culture at Gemini as well. Now, managers and stylists are excited about the growth the salon is experiencing. And, with the new support system that’s now in place, the team feels confident that when challenges arise, they can work together to resolve issues professionally and thoughtfully.

“Our Summit Salon Consultant Michael Nikolas has been absolutely vital to our success,” Laura explains. “We would definitely not be here without him and are forever grateful to him. During a time when salons were closing left and right after the economy collapse, Gemini of Chicago managed to experience more than 15 percent growth and I believe this was due to the fact that we had just put Summit Salon Systems in place the prior year.”


With a strong foundation in salon business strategy and the support of a Summit Salon Consultant, Laura Kiorkis has been able to grow to heights she never imagined. Looking ahead, Laura has definite goals for the future. “In the next five years I would like to be working only two days behind the chair, with all stations double shifting, and a second location somewhere in central Phoenix. I would also like to see an added shareholder or two, with continued growth and profit every quarter.”

Are you ready to take your salon to new heights? Laura offers this advice: “Don’t hesitate for a second! You will not only see your company with fresh eyes, you will also see yourself differently, and you’ll be excited about getting to work!”


Gemini of Chicago’s Summit Salon Consultant is Michael Nikolas.

Are you interested in implementing proven salon business strategies into your salon company? Click to view upcoming Summit Salon Business Center programs.