An Interview with Jill Godfrey

The Story of Sage Salon:

Breeding Award-Winning Hairstylists in Franklin, MA

So, tell us, how did you get started as a nail tech?

I kicked off my journey at 21, fueled by a breakup and a job offer from a friend who owned her own salon. I immediately enrolled in a four-week nail course over that summer and started renting a space at her salon in Bellingham.

I quickly realized though, that the salon was slow, and didn't feel right for me. That's when I stumbled upon a tiny space in uptown Bellingham. Now at the time, I didn't own a car. I didn't own anything actually. I lived at home. I started renting the spot and it was $300 a month and I was so nervous! I was thinking, “Am I gonna be able to make it?”

So I set up shop, actually only two doors down from my father's barbershop! But, I was sitting around every day. Back then there were no cell phones. There were only newspaper ads. So I would put an ad in the paper “$5 manicures” and people would call up and say “Like, $5 for both hands?” I started getting busy, my mom answered the phone for me, and then I hired someone else. Within two years, I decided to move to a larger spot - doubling the size of my salon.

Over several years, I had my fair share of ups and downs. I went through a divorce, and ended up closing that salon and opening a new one. That was the first Sage Salon. It was a beautiful space, but it was big, and rising rent costs led me to serendipitously finding the space we’re in now! We’ve been here at this location in Franklin for 8 years.

So I would put an ad in the paper “$5 manicures” and people would call up and say “...Like, $5 for both hands?”

What was it like having to move your whole salon?

The transition wasn't easy. Some clients didn't follow, and a few team members left, which of course added to the stress of starting over, and I was thinking “Oh great, did I make the right decision?”

But I gradually rebuilt a team and what began as two or three nail techs and an esthetician evolved into a thriving salon with award winning hairstylists and nail techs and two stylists on the Behind The Chair Team.

I realize now that everything that happened was a blessing in disguise. The ones who have been with me 20+ years always watch these younger girls. It’s really taught me that you have to change with the times or you won’t make it.

So how did your newer stylists become so successful?

Well I guess it started with Instagram! I remember Instagram was just coming up when one of my stylists, Taylor, was graduating from Tri County Vocational and she was obsessed. She posted everything! And to be honest, she kind of got made fun of for it at the time.

But I’ll tell you, over the years, I’ve seen a lot of hairdressers build their clientele and it can easily take five...ten years. But these girls built their clientele within a year and a half - like outright busy!

While COVID was happening, the younger stylists wanted to do something so they went on Behind The Chair University and they took classes at home. One of our stylists, Steph, got inspired to submit her first Behind the Chair Awards haircoloring entry - and she got nominated! That's how it all started and I went with her to our first awards show experience.

If you haven’t been to this event, it’s like the Oscars for hairdressers. The first time we went, it felt like we were walking the red carpet, I was like “holy crap, this is big stuff!” and everybody recognized Steph, too, from her social media.

If you haven’t been to this event, it’s like the Oscars for hairdressers. The first time we went, it felt like we were walking the red carpet!

Steph has been nominated at BTC One Shot Awards three years in a row and Taylor, Natalie and Krista have been nominated two years in a row  - all in the Top 25. This year, Steph got seven nominations, Taylor got thirteen, and Natalie and Krista both got two. This competition is worldwide too. It's about 120 countries and about 365,000 entries. It’s huge and these girls have been Top 25 Finalists over and over again!

Steph and Taylor are now both on the Behind The Chair Team (BTC Team), and they both have their own brand deals with various companies, with their faces on the packaging!  It's been an incredible journey to watch.

What’s a typical day at Sage Salon?

A usual day at the salon involves watching my staff repeatedly rehearsing their videos for Instagram and Tik Tok. I won’t lie, it can get tiring hearing the same phrases being quoted over and over again. I've heard "Oh my God, I messed up" countless times, but I knew I had to embrace this because it's been the key to putting my team on the map.

Even when we're out and about, people recognize them and call them out by their Instagram handles! I learned that I needed to be receptive and responsive to their ideas, which has brought the Sage team to where it is today.

Sage Salon Franklin, MA

Did COVID make a lasting impact on your salon?

The ironic part is COVID changed everything for us. At first when everything shut down I was like “oh my god, there's no money coming in. I still owe my rent. I still owe my taxes”. I was getting nervous. At first, it was going to be two weeks, then a month and ultimately, I think it was three months before I could open my doors again. I was thinking, “Am I gonna have a salon to open up?”

So back then we were trying to do everything we could to keep people engaged. We made curbside color kits. Then my skincare line said let's do a virtual skincare event. And I was like, “Are you serious?” I’d never done virtual anything! Then I had 13 people virtually talking about skin and purchasing our stuff online. Then I did skincare videos, and “This is how I blow dry my hair”. And all the girls were doing it too. People were buying our T-shirts online.

It was a crazy time, but it helped us really focus on the business. We revamped our space and I created a website for the salon.

Finally, the day came when the governor announced that we could reopen. We opened on Memorial Day weekend, and we've been incredibly busy ever since!

The girls will always say that I'm their biggest fan because I am. I want them to succeed!

Sage Salon at Behind The Chair One Shot Awards

What does leadership look like for you?

I try to be the best leader I can be for my team. I never want to give them the impression that I’m not here to support them. I’ll do everything from sweeping the floors to cleaning the bathroom. I used to work long hours from 8am to 9pm and even though I’m not there as often now, they know they can always reach me. The girls will always say that I'm their biggest fan because I am. I want them to succeed!

You spend more time at work than at home so I try to make it a fun, happy place. I always ask for their opinions and value their input. I always try to acknowledge and thank everyone. I’ve been known to be too nice at times, but I always listen and try to do the right thing whenever there’s any kind of conflict.

Having a salon environment filled with creating social media content, entering competitions, and innovating might not be for everyone. Some salons are more quiet and spa-like. But I’m 33 years into this industry and I like that we’re trendy. If you stay with the status quo, especially in the beauty industry, you’ll always be left behind.

Do you have any words of wisdom for someone thinking about salon ownership?

It’s always challenging to find the right people to hire for your team. Managing others is not for everyone. Looking back on my journey, and seeing how expensive everything is today I would definitely suggest to anyone looking into salon ownership to start with a salon suite.

That way you can experience what it’s like to run your own business without the stress of investing in a large space and trying to grow and manage a team. It can be a lot. At some point you’ll lose team members, more than once, and it always hurts, but it does make you stronger and smarter about your business.

Between our nail techs, lash techs, massage therapists, estheticians, and hairstylists, I currently have an amazing team of seventeen!  And I’m actually still looking for a couple stylists, estheticians, and another receptionist. We're always evolving. I’m not sure what the next step is for me but I’m at a point now where I’ve stopped working so much behind the chair and I can really enjoy the successes of my team!

Interviewed by: Katelyn Alberts, Founder of VERVERY

Katelyn is a master hairstylist in Boston, independent educator, and the creator of the VERVERY app. A community builder at heart, Katelyn enjoys shedding light on all the talented beauty professionals around Greater Boston.

Jill Godfrey, Owner of Sage Salon with Katelyn Alberts, Founder of VERVERY

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