Evangeline Leah Rookey | Crain's Connecticut

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Evangeline Leah Rookey


As a 12-year-old, the smell of a salon caught Leah Rookey’s attention. “How cool is this?” she thought, and thus began her journey, first as as stylist and then as the owner of Artistic Hair Salon in Windsor Locks, Conn. Her 37-year career has led her to travel the world to learn the latest trends of hairstyling, manage a business, and more recently, look deep into herself as a work in progress. 

The Mistake:

As much as I loved to style hair, I needed to do less of that and learn how to build the salon by honing my business skills and investing in me.

When I was going through a divorce I had an epiphany. Up to then I didn’t need to work full time. I had a tiny little business. Life was great! When I realized I didn’t want to be married anymore I thought, “How am I going to live?”

I went from working three days a week to full time and now trying to hire an employee. That was a game changer. For over 25 years I had worked alone in the salon. Besides stylist, I had been my guests or clients’ therapist (behind the chair). Business was very busy but when my clients came into the salon, they liked the one on one. Some clients found it challenging when staff was brought in, but I had to keep my eye on the bigger picture.

I looked for answers and that’s when I found the Summit, a salon consulting company.  The Summit gave me direction. It taught me I needed to understand my numbers. I needed to understand my P&L (profit and loss). I didn’t even know what that was because my mother did my books. Bless my mother.

So I began to get the numbers end of it. Next came learning how to brand and market with social media to build the business. That is still a work in progress. Yet I realized something was still unbalanced. It was my spiritual side.

I‘m learning how to find the balance. My mother died last year and my 93-year-old father moved in with me. In the last few years I’ve committed all of “me” to my parents and the salon.  I realized I had to get back to the gym, which I did, and I hired my trainer back, two changes I’m really happy about.

Then I found Passion Squared, an online school for small business owners, because I needed more business coaching. And it’s through my Passion Squared seminars that I began questioning. "Do I really need to learn more about how to cut a straight line? Do I need to understand how to put bleach on a different way?" Yes, I’ve done a lot of that but there’s a part of working on “me” I’ve never done. Passion Squared connected me with a spiritual coach to help with that.

Fixing a problem is way harder than continuing to live with the problem.

The Lesson:

If I am not centered as a person, no business technique or social media is going to build my business successfully. If I’m not whole none of that is going to matter. And that’s with anybody in anything. It took me six years to find two really great stylists that understand this, and I’m still searching for more. Just like learning about how to run a business and how to invest in myself—it isn’t easy. If this was easy, everybody would be doing it. But when it’s not easy people walk away or they say, “Oh you’re just a hairdresser.”

People let themselves stay in bad situations—business and personal. I see it everyday in my chair. People quit trying to fix themselves and stay in their unhappy lives. They quit and stay in their jobs. They quit life but stay in the insanity, and then they get stressed. I said that to a guest the other day. Fixing a problem is way harder than continuing to live with the problem. That’s why people don’t get out of bad relationships. Because when you get out—you’ve got you. If you can’t get along with yourself, how can you get along with anybody else? You know what I mean?

I can actually say I love my career. Moving forward, my passion is to help coach young stylists to help them develop their individual talent behind the chair. I was very lucky to discover my career as a hairstylist at such a young age.

Photo courtesy of Evangeline Leah Rookey

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