At 26 years old, Lisa Dinh went from owning her dream salon to finding out she had to put everything on the line to save the only place she could call home—her salon.
Tell us about how your career started as a hairstylist.
I graduated from the Aveda Institute of Toronto in 2009 and worked in different salons, but I started to freelance after my family built me an in-home salon in our basement. In 2014, Guy Tang noticed me on Instagram and when I met him, it changed my life. I was 24 at the time and still getting to know the industry, so he gave me the validation I needed. After that, I went from being booked two weeks in advance to three months, to six months and eventually to a whole year.
At that point I was renting a small room but knew I wanted to open a salon, which we finally opened in January of 2016. Since I couldn’t find somewhere I belonged, I decided to create it.
What do you love most about your job? What kind of colours and techniques do you specialize in?
We specialize in colour corrections and foilyage, which is like balayage, but uses foil instead of painting. We’re also known for a lot of ash tones and turning dark hair to light. My favourite part of my job is getting to change how clients feel about themselves.
And even more than the creative aspect, I love getting to know my clients. Building that relationship and having them support me throughout my career is what has made me stay in this industry.
For those who don’t know your story, tell us how your salon evolved and the hard work you put into building it from the ground up.
I spent my 20s saving money in hopes of opening my own space. I would work seven days a week and 12 to 15 hours a day, and put everything I had into it in order to create a space and environment that our hairstylists could call home, too.
About a year and a half into opening the business, I found out that the landlord was going to sell the building, which would have given me only 30 days to vacate. That transition was really difficult because I felt like everything I had invested in was about to be taken away. I could have potentially lost everything, but that wasn’t a risk I was willing to take. That’s why I decided to purchase the building—I didn’t want to lose the only place I could call home.
What advice do you have for hairstylists inspired by your story and want to open their own salon?
Make sure you have a plan, a proper accountant and lease. It’s important to have professionals help and support you in the business aspect because there’s so much more to running a salon than being creative.
Also, don’t give up! It’s going to be hard and sometimes you’ll feel physically and mentally exhausted, so you have to have an end goal in mind. Someone asked me this same question recently and I said,
“I challenge you to ask yourself what it means to be a salon owner?” For me, it was finding a home. You have to have passion behind the purpose and intent of opening a business besides the money.
Where do you source your inspiration? How do you stay on top of the latest trends?
Technology is so advanced now and things are constantly changing, so I get inspired by anything that is trending on my Instagram feed.
I also find inspiration while travelling in other countries and seeing different colour patterns, even when it’s not related to hair. Taking classes also fuels my passion.
What makes the client experience unique at Lisa Dinh Hair Studio?
When I opened the salon, not only did I want a space for the hairstylists, but also for the clients. I make sure clients feel as if they’re being taken care of and not rushed. We want to be able to spend our time with them and give our full attention, while also putting quality work and effort into their hair. I also like to make sure they’re comfortable and in a place where we feel like family to them.
You teach classes at your salon, as well as bring in guest artists from across North America. Tell us about the education offered at your salon.
We started doing education because we began getting requests from stylists across Canada for us to teach our techniques. The first class we held was last August, when we taught our techniques for colour correction and foilyage in an intimate setting. We now teach classes in our salon on live models every four months. This year, we also decided to bring in guest artists because it creates more exposure for the salon while also inspiring multiple hairstylists in one space. All of our classes are look-and-learn so that everyone is able to ask questions.
What tips do you have for hairstylists who want to build their social media platforms?
Consistency is key. That’s how we promote, market and brand ourselves— by putting out quality work. It’s important to post exciting things like tips and tricks, which is a great way to capture a following and an audience. You have to be able to post things that are trendy while keeping it different. In the near future, we’re hoping to involve the team more so that hairstylists can engage with clients and market themselves, too.
How do you maintain a strong team and maximize the overall vibe and success of your salon?
It’s important to have a really strong team dynamic. When I bring in someone new, I like to give them a trial period so I can get a feel for them and get the whole team’s opinion, as well. I don’t want anything in terms of negativity. It’s important to be able to provide new staff with a space where everyone is happy, which has made us have such strong relationships.
If hairstylists are happy, they will provide a better experience for clients. The people who are part of your business build your business.
Photos: Miguel Zaragoza, Denis Duquette