Ask small business owners and you will quickly learn that what drives them to succeed goes far beyond the products or services they provide. For most, factors such as community pride, relationships and social and cultural considerations help paint a clearer picture of who they serve and why they’re in business.
Nowhere is this more true than at Universal Designs Salon, LLC at 1173 Velp Ave., Green Bay. The salon has proudly served Green Bay residents seeking trendy and affordable hair products and services since 2011. Founder and owner Kimyatta Ratliff says that Universal Designs Salon serves women and men from all walks of life. However, the salon truly specializes in meeting the needs of ethnically diverse customers.
“Universal Designs Salon is the first salon in the Green Bay and Fox Valley area to primarily serve the area’s ethnically diverse population,” says Ratliff. “People often don’t understand that one’s hair is not only a statement of themselves and their idea of fashion, but is also an expression of their culture.”
And while the majority of the services provided by the salon are for people seeking to enhance their appearance, Ratliff also works with customers who need attention for health-related issues such as cancer, alopecia, diabetes, or any number of other medical conditions that contribute to hair loss.
Ultimately, Ratliff’s philosophy about people and about her work is one and the same — the love of community.
“Clients are relaxed here,” she says. “This place is meant to be fun and relaxing. And when people come here from other countries or cultures, I try to introduce them to others and help them to connect with the community.”
The face behind the success
Ratliff lived in other parts of the country before choosing Green Bay. Born in Mississippi, she grew up in Los Angeles and earned her bachelor’s degree in Business Management from Paine College in Augusta, Ga. While visiting family in Green Bay during college she identified a need for salons that would serve Green Bay’s growing ethnically diverse population. So she moved to Green Bay in 2007. Having experience in hair care and styling since she was 16, she immediately started working at King’s Barber Shop. She had studied cosmetology while still in high school and cut her teeth in the craft by watching her mother who regularly styled her and her siblings’ hair.
Only four years after arriving in Green Bay, she followed the example set by her father, a small business owner himself, and opened Universal Designs Salon in 2011.
“Even as a child I knew that I wanted to work with hair and I knew I wanted to own my own place,” says Ratliff with a broad smile. “I remember at 13 years old drawing a picture of my own mall – it was all about hair!”
Twenty years later that ambition has not slowed down. In addition to building great friendships and relationships with clients, Ratliff has found community in Green Bay. She has become active and involved in her church and in the community, serving organizations whose missions are close to her heart and to her personal and professional philosophies. She serves as president of the Northeast Wisconsin African American Association, an organization that focuses on uplift of the black community throughout the region. She also sits on the board of directors for the Green Bay Multicultural Center and serves as vice-chairperson of Transformation House, Inc., an organization that provides men with affordable shelter while nurturing their spiritual, educational and social development.
UW-Green Bay, Urban Hope / E-Hub and others lend a hand
Like most new businesses, Universal Designs Salon did not come about by itself. Building on Ratliff’s determined entrepreneurial spirit, several community organizations provided counsel and support services that helped the start-up to find its footing.
Ratliff first approached Urban Hope/E-Hub of Green Bay for assistance in turning her dreams and ideas into a business plan. A year later she received business loan funding through Nicolet Bank in Green Bay. Then, in 2010, Ratliff was introduced to Chuck Brys, business counselor with UW-Green Bay’s Small Business Development Center.
“When Kimyata came in to discuss her business it quickly became clear that she had done her homework and had truly identified her core target markets,” said Brys. “She knew what their unique needs were, and clearly understood how her core skill sets addressed those needs. She also demonstrated a strong sense of values and could clearly communicate what she was delivering to her clients today as well as her longer-range vision for her company. Entrepreneurs who take the time to think that deeply about their businesses dramatically increase their probability of success. That, combined with Kim’s strong work ethic, convinced me that Universal Designs Salon would succeed and prosper.”
As one of the community agencies supporting her efforts, the SBDC guided Ratliff through the financially technical aspects of the process.
“Chuck’s insight was valuable in helping me to organize my financials. It can be difficult to get detailed information on starting a business beyond the basics and Chuck helped me understand what I needed to know,” Ratliff said. “He also introduced me to people in legal services and has continued to work with me as I consider expansion. Chuck was very knowledgeable and direct and it was just what I needed. Even now, after four years in business, Chuck remains a mentor and a friend.”
Moving the vision forward
As Ratliff looks to the future, she is hoping to expand her products and services offered and wants to continue educating customers and stylists about ethnic hair care. This expansion would have a geograph component, as well, moving into new markets and establishing salons, schools and mini-malls in other cities. She also wants to continue working with local colleges and businesses, educating them on cultural awareness and multiculturalism, and hopes to establish her own cosmetology school one day.
“I want people graduating from my school to be ready to work in the real world,” she says. “The Green Bay area is rapidly becoming more ethnically diverse. A stylist should be equipped to serve any customer who walks through their door.”
Asked what she would say to someone in this area hoping to start a business, Ratliff grows quiet. “First, I would tell them to pray about it. Then I would ask if they really can do this and if they should do it. Finally, I would tell them to take advantage of the resources and people out there who help entrepreneurs succeed — like Chuck at UW-Green Bay’s Small Business Development Center. Once these questions are answered, the information needed is out there. If you look hard enough you will find it… But you do have to look for it.”
For more information, visit Universal Designs Salon at www.universaldesignssalon.com.
Feature by Eric Craver, Director of External Relations, UW-Green Bay Outreach and Adult Access
Photos by Dan Moore, Marketing and Data Specialist, UWGB Outreach and Adult Access