WELLSVILLE, Ohio — As the COVID pandemic pushed many employees to work from home, it prompted local hairstylist Crystal Williams to take her job on the road.
After graduating from Raphael School of Beauty Culture Inc. at Boardman, Williams had worked the past 10 years at salons in East Liverpool and Weirton when the pandemic hit.
“I was working at Weirton and it all stopped. I was out of a job trying to figure out what to do because I knew work would be limited,” Williams said.
She decided to let regular customers know that she was available to come into their home to attend to their hair care needs, and she found that they were comfortable having her there. “People were afraid to go back (to living rooms) and wear masks, and it blossomed from there,” Williams said.
She had the idea of extending her home service to a real mobile service with a beauty station on wheels. After a Google search for “mobile living room,” she learned they were popular in big cities, as well as in California and the South, she said.
“I decided I had to buy a mobile home and make sure I could drive it,” she laughed. “The more I talked to people about a mobile home, the more they were like, ‘Oh my God, you have to do this. “”
It is then that the idea of Elite Studio Mobile Hair Salon was born.
Penny Traina, executive director of the Port Authority of Columbiana County, was one of those who promoted the idea and tried to help secure funds to make it happen. Williams said Traina went out of her way to try and find grants or loans that could be used to help buy the RV and equipment, saying:
“She looked and looked and looked; she was doing her best, even trying to raise money for a woman-owned business,” Williams said.
However, she was not eligible for any of the funding sources. So she went it alone, buying her unit and gear, then tackling what turned out to be the most difficult step: getting insurance.
“Finding insurance was difficult because you had to get customers in and out. No one in Ohio was willing to help me,” she said. “I made phone calls and phone calls. It was getting frustrating and I thought it wasn’t going to happen.
After finding a willing insurance company, Williams’ next step was actually finding an affordable recreational vehicle and remodeling it to meet the needs of his business.
For that, she credits her brother, Bryan Baublitz and his wife, Jackie, who wrecked and built the 2013 Ford Fleetwood Tioga Montara 26-foot-long, transforming it from a motorhome into a beauty salon. Complete with a required stylist’s chair and mirror, the salon is also equipped with its own sink and shampoo chair, toilet, hot water supply and electric generator, although guests may authorize hook-up to their home electrical service.
It’s decorated in the popular farmhouse style with a white flap, barn doors, and some Southwestern touches in the throw pillows and rugs.
In addition to her brother and sister-in-law, Williams thanked her husband Ryan for the support he gave her along the way to see this project through.
Now, about two years later, Elite Studio Mobile Hair Salon is on the road, offering the same services customers receive at regular salons, from haircuts to coloring to waxing. And business “got crazy,” Williams said.
In addition to the regular clients she’s had for some time, Williams said many new clients are showing interest, noting she’s gained seven new clients in the past two weeks alone.
His slogan, “Don’t feel like going to the salon? Let the living room come to you,” seems to be the reason, she said.
“Two years later, people still don’t feel like going to the show, especially with gas prices the way they are,” she said. “People say, ‘I’ve never heard of that. It’s pretty cool.’ It really piqued their interest because there’s never been anything like it here.
As soon as she posted a photo and information about the service on social media, it “exploded” with interested comments, she said.
She laughed at a customer who was on the phone with her brother while he was in the mobile lounge and shortly after they heard a knock on the door, opening it to find the man asking if he could come in and see it.
Some might expect hair salon prices to be exorbitant, but Williams said: “I’ve tried to keep my prices reasonable, maybe actually lower. I have always tried to be fair in my prices.
While it’s not possible to add a second chair and stylist when traveling from house to house, Williams said the surge in interest has made her wonder if a franchise might work, adding other motorhomes and stylists to his business.
“As long as they can drive an RV,” she said. “I’ve never owned one and now I can back it into someone’s driveway.”
Elite Studio Mobile Hair Salon does not have set hours at this time. Williams takes appointments Monday through Friday with some on Saturdays.
She can be contacted on her Facebook page of the same name or at 330 708 3357, although this number should change in the next two weeks to a new number which will be listed on the Facebook page.
Pictured above: A 26-foot-long 2013 Ford motorhome serves as the Elite Studio mobile hair salon owned by stylist Crystal Williams.
Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.