Vivian Denton, Patty (Johnston) Sandbo and Lakyn Sathoff share a combined 102 years of cosmetology experience.
Denton has worked in the field for 53 years, and Sandbo has been at the job 47 years. Sathoff quickly adds that she has been “out of school two whole years.”
Ironically, it is the newcomer Sathoff who owns Hair Etc., the salon at 214 N. Park St., where the trio showcases their talents.
“I was just getting out of college in Jackson,” Sathoff recalls. “I stopped in here, and they had a conversation with me. I stopped in again a couple of weeks later, and they told me I could come work here.”
Denton remembers her business partner, Bev Korolewski, sitting at the reception desk the day two years ago when Sathoff initially stopped in.
“That’s when Bev was real sick,” she said.
Korolewski had been battling cancer.
“The day that I was moving my stuff in, that was Bev’s last day here,” Sathoff said. “When I visited her in the hospital, she asked me to help Viv take care of the shop. After Bev passed away, Vivian said there was no point in her taking ownership of the salon, and she offered to help pay with licensing if I would take ownership. It’s bittersweet. It’s not the way you want to start owning a salon.”
The cost of changing licensing and publishing the appropriate legal notices for such a change can run into hundreds of dollars.
“So we put Lakyn on as owner, and I stayed on as manager,” Denton said.
Cosmetologists must have at least 1,550 hours of education, followed by at least 2,700 hours working under the direction of a manager in order to obtain their own manager/operator license, which allows them to work independently.
“If it wasn’t for Vivian being here, I wouldn’t have been able to work here,” Sathoff said. “I could own the shop, but I couldn’t work here without a manager present.”
Patty (Johnston) Sandbo also provided managerial guidance for Sathoff during the time. Sandbo met Korolewski in 1986 when they both were working at the salon in Wallace’s Department Store. They later worked together at Michael’s in the mall and then First Choice Stylists, which was located near Gunther’s Foods, until five of the stylists from there opened Main Image on Main Street. After about 10 years at Main Image, several of the stylists were going their separate ways so Sandbo and Korolewski started Hair Etc.
“We hustled around and got some used equipment here and there, painted and got it all set up,” Sandbo said. “I went to the Cities and picked up our license. I came back, and we opened. That was in 2002.”
Denton joined Hair Etc. five years later, in 2007. After she finished cosmetology school, she worked in Windom, then with another stylist for 15 years before spending the next 30 years working in a salon at her home.
When Denton started at the shop, Sandbo had gotten married and was living in Sherburn. She works at Contemporary Styles in Sherburn but drives to Fairmont two days per week for clients at Lakeview Methodist Health Care Center and to take care of some long-time clients at Hair Etc.
While people will change their doctor or dentist for easier access, some folks, especially women, will follow their stylist regardless of the situation.
“I’ve done some ladies for over 50 years,” Denton said.
“I had a client move to Mankato, but she comes back here to get her hair done,” Sandbo said.
“I’ve had people that followed me here from college,” Sathoff said. “I have one weekly customer that I hug every time she comes in. I get so excited to see her. I just love her.”
“You get to know your customers so well, and they just can’t wait to come back and see you because they need your advice or they want to talk something over,” Sandbo said. “Overall, this profession is really rewarding. Just to put a smile on somebody’s face, like at the nursing home. That’s the highlight of their day. They’re always smiling.”
“I wanted to go to school to be a counselor,” Sathoff said.
“You kind of are one,” Sandbo said.
Sathoff said she was turned off by the amount of paperwork involved with counseling, and her secondary choice of business management also involved paperwork and a lot of sitting.
“Being a cosmetologist, I can listen to people,” she said. “I can make them feel good about themselves. What better job is there than that? To help people smile on a daily basis.”
But not all aspects of the job are enjoyable. One of the most dreaded situations occurs when a client has unreasonable expectations.
“When they bring in a picture and say make me look like this,” Denton said.
“I try to tell them that it might not be possible,” Sathoff said. “Their hair isn’t as thick. Their face is different. If they insist, I tell them that I’ll do the best that I can.”
“I put my hand over the face in the picture and have them look at the hairdo,” Sandbo said. “Then I tell them to put their face in there. I let them know that I can do a version of that, but they are not going to look like the picture.”
Like other independent small businesses, paying the bills is a constant struggle. When faced with a cost increase in rent, utilities or even hair products they use, the resulting necessary price increase in services can result in a loss of a customer.
“What we bring in here is not free and clear,” Sandbo said.
“We have to put money away to pay for our own taxes and Social Security,” Sathoff said. “We have to replace dryers. We have to replace chairs.
“And if people don’t come in the door …” Sandbo said, trailing her thought.
“You sit here, and you don’t make any money,” Denton finished.
Ongoing changes in rules and regulations governing the cosmetology industry also create budgetary strains. While they wholeheartedly support strong safety and sanitation rules, they hope for a little consistency and common sense.
“When I was coming in, there were 500 state law and rule changes,” Sathoff said.
She soon will have to remove the carpeting in the salon due to changes in safety and sanitation regulations.
When Sandbo started her career, dirty towels were required to be kept in a closed metal container, but a rule change called for a plastic container with ventilation holes.
“Now this year, they said you can’t have the holes in the container anymore,” she said. “You have to have a covered top one so we had to get new containers again for the dirty towels.”
A salon must have certain vents, and goggles and tongs are now required for some procedures.
“Sanitation is a big thing now,” Denton said.
“I get it, but some of it is ridiculous,” Sandbo said.
“They don’t have to change it back and forth, back and forth, back and forth,” Sathoff said.
In spite of it all, Denton, Sandbo and Sathoff love the versatility of their chosen career.
“You want it? We have it, or we do it,” said Sathoff, rattling off the various services the salon offers: cuts, styles, perms, colors, wigs, tanning, waxing, manicures, pedicures, hair extensions, chemical straightening.
“I can do a haircut, then a set of nails, then a color. I’m doing something different all day long. It’s so fun,” Sathoff said.