When people find their passion in life at a young age, they’re able to cultivate valuable skills in their adolescence to become masters of their craft early on. Such is the case for hair stylist Jay Rua, whose passion for hair care started as a child while playing with his favorite toys.
“They were my sister’s dolls and my horses with long hair. I always wanted to do my family and friends’ hair, and remember thinking that hair was what I wanted to do when I grow up,” Rua says.
Today Rua is known for his stylish ombres and hair extensions as the professional stylist and owner behind the 4,000-square-foot Jay Rua Glam Hair Salon in Las Vegas, Nevada. But his journey to becoming a well-known hairdresser, Instagram sensation and business owner did not happen overnight. Here, he shares a glimpse into his success story and provides his best tips for how to open a thriving salon.
YEARS IN THE MAKING
When Jay Rua began pursuing his passion for hairstyling in 2005, after attending the Marinello School of Beauty in Las Vegas for a hair design license, he started out the only way he possibly could: by making the most of what he had and working from home—out of his garage. His home business venture lasted for a few years, allowing him to build up a strong following of regular clients and gain valuable experience working with different hair types. “My neighbors noticed that my clients were taking up all the parking spaces, so I knew it was time to get my own salon with four chairs,” Rua says. “So, I sold my car to buy used salon furniture and saved the rest to buy me a decent car.”
Rua opened his first salon “before the ombre trend started” in 2011—a 1,000-square-foot space with four chairs and two employees in Las Vegas. After two years at this location, Rua attracted regular clients that would travel long distances to come visit him, and who often complained about how far his location was. So Rua decided to relocate once again to downtown Las Vegas, this time setting up shop in a 1,500-square-foot space with seven chairs and five employees.
“We got really busy in that location to the point where we were all booked for a total of one month at times. People were flying in to get their hair done by us—that was definitely an honor and a blessing,” he says. After two years at this location, it was once again time to upgrade to a larger space.
“[One] of the challenges with each expansion was making sure I could help keep everyone busy; with each move it was a bit scary, because we didn’t know if current clients would follow us to the new location,” Rua says. “It was a very stressful time when I would see our bookings and not much was going on.”
Another lesson Rua had to learn by diving head first into the beauty industry was to not let his fear of failure hold him back. He says he found the courage to expand his salons and discovered new tricks of the trade along the way.
ONWARD AND UPWARD
With business booming, Rua decided to take on more clients, more employees and a lot more responsibility. He opened a shop at a 4,000-square-foot salon with 28 stations, and now has a team of 13 stylists and growing, who he mentors at the Jay Rua Glam Hair Salon. “I thank God we did this move—it was the best decision we have ever made,” he says.
Despite constant growth since starting out as a stylist, Rua has always maintained that regardless of how large his team gets, his high standard of excellence still stands.
“For me, I’d rather have quality, talented stylists than quantity. I love getting to know my stylists on a personal level and getting to know everyone that I take in the salon. What I look for the most in an employee is humbleness, passion for hair and wanting to genuinely take care of people and their hair needs. With that in mind, growth in the hair industry is inevitable,” he says.
“For me, I’d rather have quality, talented stylists than quantity.”
GAINING INDUSTRY RECOGNITION
The road to success was paved with many obstacles that Rua has had to overcome. When he first started, Rua had regular customers, but there were days when not even one client would show up to his salon. “I thought I wouldn’t make it,” he recalls.
In an effort to get his salon noticed through a guerilla marketing campaign, Rua made flyers and, with the help of his partner and family members, walked door to door handing them out. He would also stand across the street from his salon with signs to drum up the attention of drivers by.
But the most helpful platform for building his clientele came in the form of social media. “I just knew I couldn’t stay at the salon and just wait for clients; I had to do something, and that something worked,” he says.
Using social media as a tool to draw more clients into his salon, Rua posted photos of “big hair transformations and color corrections that no one had seen before.” By making impossible hair creations seem possible, he attracted followers from around the world. Posting before and after pictures of his styles on Instagram gained him the attention he needed, he says.
“I learned that I had to make some moves and changes to our advertising to build more clientele for more stylists,” Rua says. “We quickly realized that social media advertising hadn’t really been done that much, so we tried, and it worked out great. That opened some doors for me to meet social media bloggers, and one of them was @Vegas_nay (Naomi Giannopoulos), who I greatly admire and look up to.”
Rua’s account now boasts more than 285,000 followers (at the time of publication), and people know him specifically for his unique, signature style of ombre balayages, hair extensions and color corrections.
“Now, at this point in my career, getting my salon and stylists to be established and busier is on my to-do list; and to be the best stylist I can be,” he says.
Other stylists wanting to learn Rua’s coloring techniques often contact him through Instagram, which has made his venture into education a natural progression. “I became an educator to my stylists when I realized they needed to be mentored and guided for me to have a team I could depend on. I had to teach what I learned in my struggles and mistakes to have a dependable, strong team. I feel confident that I can help any stylists that are ambitious and motivated,” he says. “Being able to give them the essential tools to help them in their careers is something I am very proud of.”
THE IMPORTANCE OF EDUCATION
Rua likes to educate his stylists and stresses the importance of keeping up with trends to ensure that his customers get the look they dream of; but his teaching doesn’t stop there. The Jay Rua Glam Salon also carries a variety of haircare and styling products, and he uses Salon Iris software to keep track of the salon’s inventory and place new orders weekly. Rua takes special care in picking out what items are sold in the store because he feels that it’s his responsibility to instruct and prescribe the right products to suit the needs of each individual client’s hair type.
“To me, it is very important for [clients] to take care of their hair—especially after coloring or lightening processes. It’s like going to the doctor and not getting medication to cure your illness. It’s a must to talk to our clients about haircare products before they leave our chair,” he says.
It’s this advocacy and dedication to hair-styling education that has taken Jay Rua so far in his career. “My advice to other salon owners is education; education for your stylists to stay [knowledgeable about] new trends and products. Also, showcase your work of before and after [looks] on social media, such as Facebook and Instagram,” he says.
“I think there is a salon environment for [every stylist], it just depends on what stage they are at in their styling career,” Rua says. He strives to maintain a family-oriented feel in his salon where employees encourage one another and can all have a steady stream of clients. He hires stylists with a wide range of experience levels, from fresh out of school to those with eight-plus years under their belt. Working closely with all his employees, Rua ensures they are equipped to handle any situation that arises in the salon.
“My advice to other salon owners is education; education for your stylists to stay [knowledgeable about] new trends and products.”
THE NEW SOCIAL MEDIA MARKETING
In recent years, the industry’s top beauty influencers have been discovered through social media. Platforms like Instagram and YouTube have allowed hair stylists and makeup artists to create visual portfolios to showcase their latest creations as well as their progression over the years to a devoted fan base. Rua feels that this movement has caused hair styling to be seen in a whole new light. Instead of a necessity, it’s now become an art form.
“The beauty industry has changed in so many ways, but the most noticeable to me was that being a hair stylist has changed from calling it ‘work,’ a way to make a living cutting hair, to an art form—a way of expression through hair color, style and haircutting. It has become a form of artistic behavior in the way that it’s done to achieve a certain look,” he says.
Rua adds, “What I have learned along the way running my own business is to have patience, to be consistent with everything I do and to be honest with yourself, employees and clients.”
Hair stylist and salon owner Jay Rua shares his top 6 tips for starting your own salon.
1. Education Comes First: Invest in education and learning as much as possible. Rua stresses the importance of also staying up-to-date with the latest trends and styles. “Coming from Marinello School of Beauty, and learning only the basics after graduating, I had to learn from my mistakes and work on getting better on my own. Though you think you’ve got something down, like a new color formula, a new technique or some product has come out, there’s always something new that just keeps you on your toes.”
2. Build a Solid Clientele: “Building a solid clientele is very important because before social media, my clients were all referrals—and without them, I wouldn't have had the confidence to open a salon of my own. Social media has been very helpful with bringing in new clients to stylists that are just starting, and it’s a great way [to increase exposure] for new salon owners as well,” he says.
3. Try, Try Again: “Don’t be scared of failure, because one thing or another is going to happen at the beginning,” Rua says. “Have that motivation to continue and never give up. [Keep in mind] that the opinion of others can be hurtful, but it didn’t affect me on my journey, which was a learning process. I always believed in myself, stood for what I believed in and didn’t let anyone change that.”
4. Hire Like-Minded People: Rua looks for employees that are as dedicated and passionate about the industry as he is, and who set goals for themselves. “[Your employees] are the backbone to your salon, and as they grow in this industry, so does your salon and its reputation,” he says.
5. Work Hard: “Whatever you decide to focus on, make sure that you put your all into it—without laziness or shortcuts, as that will only hurt you and your business. The way I work and how I decided to do ombre hair colors might not be for everyone. People might not even like my style, but by always giving it my all and being truthful to myself and my clients, I will be respected, and that’s what really matters,” he says.
6. Inspire Each Other: Rua says the best thing about owning a big salon now is that there is a group of creative people who inspire one another. Teamwork makes the business run successfully, and each team member has a unique style that helps build the reputation of the salon. Hire people who are passionate and who love what they do, which will make the job seem less like work, Rua advises.
[Photo by Michael Block]