After 20 years as a successful screenwriter in Hollywood, by all accounts, Michael Elliot had “made it.” But as he approached his 50th birthday, he worried that he hadn’t built anything that he could truly call his own. Fast forward six years, and he’s the owner of a burgeoning men’s salon franchise, Hammer & Nails. We caught up with him recently to learn how he turned an aha-moment into a thriving business.
Q: What prompted you to start your own business?
A: I’m about 50 years old now and 6 years ago I started thinking about where I wanted to be at 50, what I wanted to do, and I decided I didn’t want to be making a living as a screenwriter as I had for the last 15 years. I had to come up with a great idea and screenplay and hope that someone would want to purchase it. I didn’t want to still be dependent on a movie studio to generate revenue and take care of my family.
When I looked around at my successful friends and family, they all owned something, they all owned a business that made money every day. I decided to go into business myself and I knew I wanted an original idea, something I could be first to market with. In March of 2013, I had a lightbulb moment. I went to get a pedicure, which was something I needed but didn’t particularly like doing. Every time I would go to a women’s salon, they would look at me like what are you doing here, you’re not welcome. So this day in 2013, I was sitting in a pedicure chair, analyzing my environment and thinking about why I felt out of place. The whole place was designed by and for women. I thought, “Wouldn’t it be great if there was place for a guy to go when he needed a mani/pedi, a place where he didn’t have to feel out of place, judged or uncomfortable? That place should be called Hammer & Nails.” Even the name came to me right at that moment.
Q: What have been your biggest challenges as a small business owner?
A: First and foremost it was capital. I asked everyone I knew in the entertainment industry to invest and they all said no. A couple of them laughed in my face, one sent me a text response of LOL. Ultimately, I decided to use my own money and open the first shop. The first challenge from there was a lack of knowledge — I’m an African-American male entrepreneur, there aren’t a lot of people that look like me in the nail space. I had to figure it out myself, learning how to operate and grow a business like this, the best way to compensate my staff, how to market for a concept like this.
I had to make a lot of mistakes early on and I had to be open to criticism and and ask for feedback from nail techs, customers, friends and family. I also really had to trust myself and not be persuaded by my naysayers. Five weeks after I opened my first salon, I was invited on Shark Tank, and I received a lot of criticism from very successful business-people who did not believe in my business. Kevin O’Leary’s parting words to me were: “It’ll never work.” It was good motivation.
Q: How have you grown your business since then?
A: I had a great conversation with Magic Johnson and his advice to me was to hire a team that knows more about the business than you, to surround myself with smart people and pay them well. So that’s what I did. In January of 2016, I opened a corporate office and hired a staff of really experienced franchise pros and we quickly sold our first franchise license. As of today we have sold 232 licenses, have two locations open and multiple shops in construction. One of the things that I think helped with our expansion goals is that we added two things to our business model that weren’t a part of the original plan: barbering and memberships. Those things have really helped us grow.
Q: How does Booker help you run your business?
A: I’m a guy who knew nothing about the salon space, so I needed a platform that even I could manage and understand, and out of all the options out there it was the best for me. Not only does it take care of the basics like online appointments, but it grows with me as I grow my business. When I needed to expand and do different things, I was happily surprised to learn that all the things I needed to do to grow my business were already there.
When I added memberships, being able to do that within the existing system and being able to create them on my own with a really simple process was great. I also love the fact that Booker added Frederick, so we now have a marketing component within the system to do everything from e-blasts to Facebook integration. I love that it continues to better itself, which is why I’m with Booker.
Q: What advice would you give to other people looking to make the jump to entrepreneurship?
A: You don’t have to have it all figured out before you jump. So many people wait for the perfect moment and aren’t prepared to move unless they have all the ducks in a row. You’ll be waiting forever. You have to be fearless, and just take that first step, second and third. Getting to that third step requires taking steps one and two.
When I went on Shark Tank and got a no, I ended up receiving 800 requests from people who wanted franchise information after my episode aired. In that list were people who became my angel investors — I raised 200k from viewers who saw me on the show. Imagine if I had never taken the risk to open that first shop, to go on Shark Tank. I never would have gotten to where I am now.