SCORE Restores Bounce to Beauty Business

Small business owners have lots of reasons for going into business. They love a particular kind of work. They want to be their own boss. They find something that they can do with their family. They have a great idea and want to build a business around it.

Carole Lyden Smith and her husband Don Thompson had all those reasons, but they lacked the key to make them work, until they met SCORE.

In 1996, Carole and Don were called back from "retirement" by their family. Daughter Paula, owner of a beauty college, came to them with a plea, "Please help me out of this business. All the government rules and red tape are making my hair fall out." After long debate, Carole, Don and all three of their daughters decided to pool their efforts to start a new venture in a field they all enjoyed--beauty--and a place they all loved--the Smokey Mountains.

That's how Sevierville became the home of the Carole Lyden Smith Academy of Design, a high fashion hair design school for licensed hairdressers. Carole, who had worked in the beauty industry for years, had the savvy to make it work. She also had in mind a "dream product" that she knew could give the business the edge it needed to succeed-- a new type of shears that can, in the hands of a trained stylist, actually cut curl and volume into hair. It sounded too good to be true, but Carole and her family believed. They had the shears made and trained their students to use them. Everything was ready, except the public. The Helix" shears worked great, Carole says, "but skepticism was greater."

What followed was a roller coaster ride. The business languished for almost three years before a woman who received a Helix Cut in Virginia told her daughter, an editor of In Style Magazine (with a circulation of over 2 million) about it. An article was published and, almost overnight, a trickle of calls grew to over 350 a day. The family added four phone lines, and hired more employees. It was wonderful; everyone wanted the cut. It was terrible; unprepared for the deluge, Carole and Don didn't have anybody to perform the cuts anywhere except in the Southeast.

Three months later, down to 50 calls a day, they got a call from a producer of Fox Network News in L.A., who had heard all the commotion. He flew the family to Hollywood, did a news release on the 10:00 pm news, and pitched it on the Ally McBeal Show. Only slightly more prepared than before, the family again reeled from the public response.

Then, in March of this year, the largest trade magazine in the hair industry ran a feature. This time they started getting calls from the right people--hairdressers. Unfortunately, their response was "How dare you try to pull such a hoax on your own profession? You should be put out of business."

This was the last straw. On the verge of bankruptcy, having laid off over half of their employees and with their family life turned upside down, desperately Don called SCORE, a group of retired businesspeople who volunteer their time to help small businesses. After his first appointment with a counselor at the Greater Knoxville SCORE Chapter, Don says, "I felt that my heaviest burden had been lifted."

"After an initial consultation with all the family, SCORE released their first report. They listed all of our strengths and weaknesses. They listed the many negatives that they found in our business and the one positive--that we had managed to become successful in spite of ourselves. SCORE's help came just in time. As they went deeper and deeper into our little company, they uncovered so many flaws, we began to see that if we didn't change our ways we were goners. Our expenses had overtaken our income. We had a ton of employees who ran around and bumped into themselves. We had no rules, so everyone made up their own. We didn't know what a business plan was. We had no profit and loss statement, no balance sheet. It was utter chaos. I didn't know, and up until now, hadn't cared. We were all hairdressers doing what we loved."

Today, with SCORE's help, things are looking up. SCORE has walked Carole, Don and family through a business plan that is updated monthly, and advised them in marketing. Don says, "the best part is they give us an assignment and will not move us any further until that assignment is finished. With their advice, we turned down inspections and offers from large companies that we could not have supplied anyway. We recently hired a professional marketing company and are underwriting a Regulation A private stock placement to raise $5 million to help our little company grow. Thank you, GOD and SCORE!"