1. Tell us about the beginning of Bonika?
When my daughters were age 5 and 7, I began working part-time at a wholesale knife warehouse handling their advertising. Money was tighter than I expected, so I went to full time and eventually became the General Manager. Money was good, but the hours were horrible for proper parenting. I began praying about what I should do, but felt no direction other than a knowledge I should find different work. So, I stepped out in faith and gave my notice and it was only after that I became acquainted with one of our knife customers who sharpened shears for beauty shops. My husband and I drove from Atlanta to Massachusetts in the dead of winter (which was an adventure for us southerners) for sharpening training. At the time there were very few women who sharpened shears (we are still the minority) and the trainer try to teach my husband instead of me, even though we had explained over and over that I was to be the sharpener, my husband was just there for support. Learning to sharpen from someone with that attitude toward women was difficult, but I learned and perfected my skill through networking with other sharpeners and eventually making friends with another female sharpener on the west coast.
So I started the business with just me sharpening in beauty shops in Atlanta and making a good income while having the flexible hours for my family. During the summers I would take one of my daughters with me as I worked and they learned to add, make change and deal with customers.
All this changed in 1996 when the Olympics came to Atlanta. I was asked to help recruit local stylists to work in the Olympic Village hair salon and as I result was able to work there as well sharpening shears and working as a receptionist. I learned cutting truly multicultural hair was hard on shears. I began applying my new found knowledge with what I already knew about shears to develop a shear designed specifically for cutting very curly or very coarse hair. We began selling the shear at hair shows and eventually developed a wholesale market patterned after the wholesale knife business I had experienced.
My husband left his fortune 500 company job at about this time and began working with me … his expertise and training is in sales. As sales grew, there was also a demand for correct sharpening. Our next venture was to sell sharpening equipment and to train sharpeners. As a former high school science teacher, I found myself gifted in this area. Since I had less time in the beauty salons, my son-in-law began working for us. Then my daughter (his wife) left her nursing job and began running the day to day business. She calls herself vice-president of daily operations.
The website http://www.bonika.com began a life of it’s own over these years and orders have been steadily increasing. My youngest daughter has worked for us off and on in various capacities over the years now and we hired two neighbors, my daughter’s best friend and other family friends. All this time we were working from our 3 bedroom home with a basement. We decided instead of moving the business, my husband and I moved out. We still keep one bedroom at the business, but our old master bedroom is now a daycare for the two grand-daughters who have arrived during this time with one on the way in the spring. Although the entire house is now business it still feels like working from home.
I don’t know where we will go from here, but we have sharpeners who have purchased our sharpening equipment in 45 states and 15 foreign countries. We are shipping a machine to South Africa tomorrow and I’ll be training someone from Cyprus next month. It’s been about 20 years and I never dreamed my little salon sharpening business could be as multi-faceted and international as it is, yet intensely family and personal.
2. What is your business opportunity all about?
We sell sharpening equipment and train scissor sharpeners. We also set these sharpeners up as distributors and warranty centers for our unique line of Bonika Shears (we have about 80 models). It’s only about a $4000.00 investment for a business that has almost no overhead, no franchise fees, and a daily cash flow. Sharpeners earn from $20 - $30 for each shear sharpened. Hair stylists need their shears sharpened about 3 to 4 times per year. With as few as 200 salons using your services on a regular basis you can earn about $60,000.00 or more per year and that is without selling shears. Most successful shear sharpeners will bring in 50% of their income through scissor sales.
3. Do you think this is a great business opportunity for women?
This business works well for en or mwomen because there is such a great need for shear sharpeners. Most hair stylists complain they can not find anyone who can correctly sharpen their shears. Our equipment is user friendly so it is relatively easy to use. I would say it is a little easier than learning to use a sewing machine.
Women especially have an advantage because this is still a male dominated field and women sharpeners are memorable. Most of the clientele are women and they are easy to relate to. Your hours of work can be any time beauty shops are open. This works well for single moms because they can schedule their work around their children’s schedule. You can even take one child with you as you work. As they become teens you can begin to teach them your trade. My youngest daughter earned spending money in college by selling shears in the small college town where she lived. My oldest daughter learned to drive by chauffeuring me around as I sharpened. She now virtually runs the business for me.
If you are the type of woman who likes to see her job as a ministry to others, this can also fill that need. Hairstylist listen to everyone else’ problems but no one hears their burdens. While you are in the back room sharpening, you will develop friendships and ministry opportunities than missionaries and pastors would envy.
4. What kind of support do you offer?
We have four types of support.
First, I personally am available during office hours to answer questions by phone or email. This is how I spend most of my day. There is no charge for this support if you have our equipment and are trained by me. Call our toll free number and I’m here to listen.
Second, we offer what we call “Bonika U” which is a long list of educational DVD’s we produce on sharpening, scissor sales, business tips and more.
Third, we have an annual “Sharpener’s Jam Session” here in Atlanta. Two days are free which include a full day of the various sharpeners sharing ideas that have worked for them in the field. The second day has guest speakers and sharpening demonstrations to keep everyone abreast of current trends. In addition we offer advanced classes in subjects such as clipper blade sharpening, clipper blade repair, surgical sharpening and more.
Fourth, we offer marketing support. We put our sharpeners on our website with a zipcode / city state lookup that shows the names of sharpeners within 100 miles of any salon. We advertise this sharpeners directory in national stylist publications and pay-per-click resources. We also design marketing promotions such as our current “Win a $1200.00 Shoto Shear” promotion in which the sharpeners can opt in at no cost to them. In addition we strive to bring in other salon related products that the sharpeners can sell such as Forfex Clippers, BabylissPro dryers and irons.
5. Do you believe that women can have it all?
What is all? There is always, always a trade-off for anything. What we can have and should strive for is a balance that will allow us to sleep at night knowing we have done our best at being the wife our husband needs us to be, the mother our children need and a financial provider making the most of your time away from your family. Having my husband, daughters, and even my grandbabies in the same business environment with me feels like having it all … but there’s always that drive to do a little bit better in my personal, spiritual and professional life that keeps me on my toes.
6. What is your advice to our mompreneurs
When I began, I was so scared to go out into the salons everyday. I would read the passage in the Bible each morning about Peter walking on the water. Then I would set out determined not to look at the “wind” or the “waves” but to keep focused. Be sure that you are doing what you are supposed to be doing and keep your eyes on the goal. Remind yourself when things are tough why you got into this enterprise to begin with and keep going one step at a time.