In 2006, with two young children and a full-time job, Debra Sawyer found herself trying to strike the delicate balance between home and work faced by many working mothers. She says, “Even with my company allowing me to work from home about 75 percent of the time, I found it hard to manage it all.”
Growing up, Sawyer’s parents owned a housing company. She saw the best way to create the life she wanted was to build it herself. Even though she did not want to get into that same industry, the entrepreneurial spirit stuck with her throughout the years. “For about ten years, I wrote for a textbook company and considered buying them out. However, I could see that the industry was changing and felt unsure about its longevity.”
Sawyer wanted more control over her destiny but didn’t know what that would look like. Having ruled out buying the textbook company, Sawyer, a certified public accountant, also did not feel the accounting industry would provide her with the freedom and flexibility she wanted.
It was around this time her neighbor approached her for advice. Because of Sawyer’s experience and strong business acumen, the neighbor wanted her help in researching business opportunities.
“Some of the models I looked into on their behalf were a sandwich shop, a used clothing store and also haircutting,” Sawyer explains. “After comparing them with each other, I felt haircutting was the best option of all of those from a financial and lifestyle perspective.”
Sawyer was also able to offer her neighbor some insight on the salon industry. “My grandmother owned three salons,” she recalls. “As a kid, she used to pay me 25 cents to sweep up the floor. And in high school and college, I worked as a receptionist for a salon owner with seven stores. I remember it being a great environment.”
After doing all this research for her neighbor, it became clear to Sawyer just what a great idea investing in the hair care industry was. She decided this was how she would be able to reach her personal and financial goals.
Looking at her options in the haircutting industry, Sawyer felt Sport Clips Haircuts had the most to offer. “They have really zeroed in on their target market. I felt they had really created a sustainable business model.”
She continues, “It’s simple by design. Men’s haircuts require less time overall than women’s do. Sport Clips doesn’t do chemical work. The MVP Experience elevates the service to more than just an ordinary haircut, but it is also not a high-end salon. I felt that I could get behind the brand because I believe in the experience it was selling.”
After making the decision to invest in Sport Clips, Sawyer and her husband at the time quickly scaled their business to include 33 stores across several states. During that period of growth, Sawyer was even able to quit her day job. “We had gotten to a point where I realized it was time to go all in with Sport Clips. Giving my notice to my company was the best feeling ever. I went to that year’s Huddle feeling amazing,” recalls Sawyer.
A few years later, Sawyer and her husband divorced and split up their holdings. Sawyer came away with 12 stores and most of the support staff. “I kept the Florida and Virginia stores. I felt geographically, that was the most manageable for me. We call ourselves the FL/VA Dream Team.”
And the FL/VA Dream Team has proven to be quite the team, having grown from 12 stores to 21 stores in just three years. And Sawyer is still growing with her 22nd store set to open later this year and plans for the 23rd by 2020. “Getting back up to the mid-20 range was very important, because I did not want to lay any of my support team off,” explains Sawyer. “My team is amazing and have been essential to making this all possible.”
Along with leaning into the brand’s people-first mentality, Sawyer came back strong by embracing the system. “If you follow the model 100 percent, you can be successful,” she says. “Especially with multiple stores, it shortens the learning curve and helps you get to profitability quicker, you just have to trust the system,” says Sawyer.
As a multi-unit Sport Clips team leader, Sawyer has created the freedom and flexibility in her life that she sought. “I’ve had much more flexibility than I would have with a traditional 9 to 5 job,” she states. “When my girls were younger, I was able to volunteer in their school lunch room and coach their rec cheer teams. Getting to spend more time with my kids is priceless.”
Sawyer concludes, “Currently I live in Virginia, but now that my daughter plans to go to college in Florida, I have the freedom to make that my home base. I have been able to build my business in a way that made sense for my personal and financial goals and it has resulted in me being able to control my own destiny on my own terms.”
Hear more from Debra Sawyer on April’s Validation Conference Call. You can also learn more about Debra who was also recognized as a 2019 Franchise Rock Star by Franchise Business Review. Rock Stars are recognized for setting admirable examples when it comes to leadership, business acumen, financial and professional success, and contributing to their community.