Back in 2008, Karla Larson-Miller saw an opportunity: the salon she was working for was closing, and she’d just accomplished great success in her secondary career as a real estate agent. An entrepreneur at heart, she recognized this moment as her chance to finally have a salon of her own.
Since taking this leap, she’s navigated long hours behind the chair and fulfilling sales orders, opening two additional businesses, and even employee theft. With her newest business less than a year old, there are no signs of her slowing down!
Give us a summary of your business in 200 words or less.
Bella Capelli Salone became a reality in 2008 in the heart of Old Hilliard. Those who have come through my doors, be it an independent contractor or a client, love the atmosphere and thrive with the business. Since the Salone is located in a 1920s house, I’ve been able to use the basement to open and grow my second business, BCS Beauty Distributors.
BCS Beauty sells professional products to stylists and salons. This came about when a product line, Chihtsai, was no longer offered in Ohio – from that one line, BCS Beauty has grown to almost $1 million in sales annually. On the second floor of the house, I have started a home furnishing store, WATZ MACK Home Furnishings, with two partners. As you can see, I’m an entrepreneur at heart.
How did the idea for your business come about?
The previous salon closed, and I had nowhere to go. Before opening BCS Beauty, I sold residential real estate for 16 years; I was closing on a big sale when the salon owner decided to close, which allowed me to take over the lease, gut the salon, and start fresh debt-free.
The distribution company came about when a product line I carried became unavailable in the US. I brought it back to Ohio when I opened BCS Beauty.
Was there a moment you knew you had something special?
The gratitude I have received from stylists who either worked at my salon or bought products from my distribution company fulfills my desire to educate on the best products to use behind the chair and/or sell to consumers.
I get to pick and choose lines I can actually stand behind since I am the one who makes the decisions. I can have integrity and hold true to my principles at the end of the day.
What does it mean to you to be an entrepreneur and business owner?
It means I can go to sleep at night knowing I did everything to the best of my ability, and I do not have to compromise any of my principles. I can just always do the right thing and be rewarded for it. The bottom line doesn’t always have to mean the largest profit; it can mean being the best at what you do, doing the right thing, and making people happy.
What does the city of Columbus mean to your business?
Columbus has been my home since 1984 and has offered me so many opportunities. I met my husband here (even though he is from Philadelphia). He moved here to be with me, so it is our founding city. We are 31 years strong, and Columbus will always be our home.
Are you from Columbus? If not, please explain what brought you here and ultimately what made you stay.
I am from Rushsylvania, Ohio. Beauty school brought me to Columbus in 1984, and I have never left.
What’s the number one piece of advice you’d give to anyone wanting to start a business?
Believe in the opportunity, and take a leap.
What do you wish you knew about entrepreneurship before starting your business?
There is no way to know everything about opening your own business until you are knee-deep in it. That’s what makes it so exciting, learning as you go.
What’s the most challenging part of your business?
Having so much to do and having to go home at night with unfinished business.
What helps you let go of work stress at the end of the day?
For almost 15 years, I was a volunteer for Colony Cats (&dogs). I fostered cats/kittens, fed and maintained colonies of cats, and still do TNR (Trap, Neuter, Release). Rescue will always have a special place in my heart.
Every business owner has a flaw. What’s yours?
Taking everything so personally, and having too much empathy.
Do you have any examples of when this has worked against you? And what you learned from it.
As far as clients go, you become like family, but ultimately, some choose to go elsewhere, some even pass away. Sometimes service feels like a thankless job. It is horrendous on our bodies, yet without that sacrifice, we cannot serve.
I choose to trust until I have a reason not to, and in business, that isn’t always a good choice. I have had many take advantage of me, several to a criminal level. Most entrepreneurs only want growth and zero frustrations. But small businesses see way more controversy since we typically have a hand in everything; there isn’t normally a management level to handle it.
Why do you think most business owners fail? What has made you different?
Most business owners have no idea how they are going to pay themselves and for all other aspects of their business. With the salon, I already have a huge clientele – I knew I could pay the bills even on my own. With BCS, I knew I didn’t need to pay myself in the beginning while I built up the business. That’s why I am still thriving.
What was your biggest mistake and what did it cost you?
Not vetting all the people who have worked for me. Doing a background check is imperative.
What tool has helped you the most for your business?
My website has been my biggest asset. Having a team of computer know-it-alls to help navigate has been a MUST.
When did you know it was time to expand your business, make your first hire, etc.?
I knew the moment I opened both businesses that I would flourish only with hiring. With BCS Beauty, I knew I couldn’t handle it all on my own anymore and was so lucky to have a client come help stock who grew into my right hand. As far as distribution, adding sales personnel is the only way to grow and reach more areas in Ohio.
What is something that you did that was a game-changer for your business?
Website, website, website.
What’s something you spent a lot of time on before realizing it wasn’t working?
Finding salespeople for BCS Beauty is always a struggle. Commission-based business isn’t always easy, especially if during growth you cannot afford to give a small salary plus commission.
I also think hard-working adults are harder and harder to come by these days. I see a huge difference between my age group and those younger than me with both my salon and BCS. Work ethic just isn’t the same…
What is something your business spends a lot of money on that’s worth it?
Quality products and quality decor.
Why does decor matter so much?
Decor is important because it helps people feel at home. Clients need to feel safe and comfortable because hair is such an intimate issue. I make sure to replace anything broken because of how it is perceived. Now, dust is another story…
What is something you’re working on now that you’re very excited about?
Bringing in new product lines, learning new techniques for hair.
Any hair trends you’re currently excited about?
Trends are more about showcasing talent. I prefer staples, the ones that keep my clients loyal. That’s why I have a huge following: consistency.
What form of marketing is the most valuable for you?
Website and social media.
Who is your best Columbus resource?
My accountant and website guy:
- CPA Solutions – Karen
- Jim Andrews – Website
Who do you vent to when you have a business problem?
My right hand, Kim Westhoven.
Where do you see your business in the next 10 years?
$10 million in sales yearly
What is your revenue range?
Under $500k – $1mm
What was the single worst decision you made regarding your business and how’d you recover?
Particular personnel, not vetting… I had to file charges against an employee for theft.
I was so lucky stylists are so forgiving and know it wasn’t my company that was dishonest, but it could have cost me my business since we deal with credit cards regularly. That was a big lesson in trust.
When you’re stressed or overwhelmed, what do you do to overcome this feeling?
Stand still. Stay quiet. Take a deep breath. Know when it’s quitting time.
What’s one component of entrepreneurship that’s much different than what most people think?
It is 24/7.
Have you been able to develop better work-life balance over time?
Yes, by entrusting my right hand Kim with BCS. I can rely on her to do growth goals, manage the sales team, and do everything I used to do myself, which allows me to focus on going home and relaxing.
What’s your end goal with the business?
To sell it when I retire.
If you had to tell a visitor one thing to do/see/eat in Columbus, what would it be?
Oh, I couldn’t choose just one thing. Columbus has everything, that’s why I am still here.
I recently discovered Bonefish Grill – their chicken (I have seafood allergies) is incredible! I also love walking around downtown Columbus and Old Hilliard, which is growing into an amazing culture.