Growing a Business, One Employee at a Time

Urban Roots
Urban Roots

“Exciting” is the word that hair stylists Lisa Millar and Deidra Cathcart use when describing their profession.

“There’s always something to learn and it’s always growing as an industry. You can expand into so many different areas and it can be financially rewarding,” says Lisa, owner of Urban Roots.

“I love all our clients,” says Deidra. “There are so many different personalities. We never know who’s going to walk through the door. A lot of our clients pop in to say hello or bring us home-baked goodies.”

Lisa opened her business over three years ago, after spending some time as a stay-at-home mom.

“I was thinking of going back to hairdressing and wondering where I’d like to work.”

She remembers wishing there were more businesses south of town, so she wouldn’t have to drive as far.

“I saw that this building was empty, and pulled in on a whim to see if it was for rent. It all snowballed from there.”

Deidra came on board in 2011. A graduate of the Hairdressing Program at Vancouver Island University in Powell River, she had done her practicum at Urban Roots, and hoped to find long-term employment there.

“Deidra phoned me while I was at a hair show in Nanaimo, and asked if I were hiring,”

Owner Lisa Millar [standing] and Diedra Cathcart take a short break in their busy day
Owner Lisa Millar [standing] and Diedra Cathcart take a short break in their busy day
Lisa remembers. “I replied, ‘I do need somebody. Let me talk to you when I get back.’”

The next step was to talk to Mark Lemna, coordinator of Wage Subsidy Services at Career Link. The Employment Program of BC pays a wage subsidy to employers who hire and provide on-the-job training to an eligible job seeker. A maternity leave several years before had given Deidra an attachment to Employment Insurance (EI), a necessary requirement for eligibility.

As a new business owner, Lisa appreciated this opportunity to cut down on her hiring costs. “The wage subsidy allowed me to slowly work into having to pay someone.”

Deidra agrees. “It provided her with the incentive to hire, and gave me the opportunity to get into the field.”

One of the service’s requirements is to provide the new employee with training. At first, Lisa was concerned how that would affect her business.

“I was worried that it might affect my time management, but it was fine. The training mostly consisted of job shadowing and answering questions, so it wasn’t like I had to physically stop working. If I was colouring someone’s hair and Deidra had a question, I could just keep working and answer her. Most clients have no problem with someone watching.”

“We went over cutting, styling, colours, chemicals—the things I had learned in school. Lisa knew I had confidence in what I was doing,” adds Deidra.

Nor did the service’s paperwork pose a problem.

“The paperwork was fairly easy,” says Lisa. “If I did have any questions, I’d just phone Mark and he was happy to help.”

“Every so often he’d pop by and ask how it was working for us,” says Deidra. “He would joke about how hard my boss was on me.”

Deidra admires Lisa’s management and supervisory skills. “We chat as really good friends…but I know when the boss kicks in. Not all employers have that skill.”

For her part, Lisa appreciates Deidra’s work ethic. “She’s self-motivated. I don’t have to always be the one finding jobs for her: she’ll find something to do.”

Each woman has her own long-term goals. “I’d really like to finish my apprenticeship here, and stay for as long as I can,” says Deidra. “Because I came in to her business when it was so new, I’ve been able to grow with her and grow with the business. I kind of feel that it’s my little baby as well.”

Lisa’s goals are to build up her clientele and offer even more services for her clients. Already, there is a massage and steam bath service, and Lisa foresees the day when there will be a nail technician on site.

And as for the Wage Subsidy Service?

“I’d use it again,” says Lisa.

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