Holli Christensen may be the owner of one of the cutest salons in town, but don’t think this lovely lady is all beauty and no brains. Christensen started her professional career as a neuroscientist before deciding to pursue her true passion — opening up her own business. Now she’s the owner of Kensington Makeup Artists, a 30-person team of makeup, hair and tanning specialists; and Park Avenue Blow Dry and Beauty Bar, a Phoenix salon with hair, facial, tanning and makeup services, with a soon-to-be-launched manicure and pedicure station. Christensen talked about where her passion for her businesses comes from, as well as five reasons why she loves living in the Valley, below.
What brought you to Arizona?
My back story is always fun to laugh about because I did my undergrad at San Diego State in psychology, but I loved neuroscience, so I did a neuro-psychology emphasis. I decided to get my master’s degree because I thought I wanted to go to med school. I got accepted to King’s College London University and got my master’s degree in neuroscience. After I graduated, I moved back home to Thousand Oaks in California, and worked for a pharmaceutical company.
I got laid off and decided to go to school to become a makeup artist, because I had a lot of fun putting makeup on people and got tired of working in a cubicle and not talking to anybody. I seriously thought I lost all my social skills because of that, so I wanted to do something more interactive. I went to makeup school, and my teacher said one of the best industries to be in is the bridal industry because it can be very profitable. I thought about it and decided to start a business. I didn’t know what it was going to look like, but I thought I should start it in Arizona because there’s a really huge bridal industry here, and it’s a small large city, so it’d be easier to grow a small business.
What’s the evolution of Kensington been like?
I booked my first wedding in Arizona about 4 years ago. I knew I wanted to create something bigger than just me, because I had started to study business, and I knew I had to leverage my time somehow. I ran into a situation where I was getting too much work and couldn’t handle everything, so I started to hire on more makeup artists. One day, one of my clients said, “You’re clearly better than so-and-so. Why would I pay her the same amount as you?”
I started to split my company into three different levels of artists and priced myself out of the marketplace nearly doubling my rates, because I knew my goal was to work on my business, not in it. I actually ended up working more, and from there my company exploded.
How did Park Avenue come about?
I always wanted a brick-and-mortar, free-standing space for my services. I was looking for an opportunity to offer that to my clients, so that it’s not just for special occasions but more for everyday, or if you don’t want to spend the big bucks to have us come to your house. I saw the blow dry bars blowing up in California and New York and thought that would be a really good tie-in for my business, to offer the same quality makeup and hairstyling we do on location in-store. We opened in March of 2011.
What do you attribute to your entrepreneurial spirit?
I think it’s always been inside of me. I remember looking back at college and having thought, ‘Oh, I want to start my own business.’ It was something I daydreamed about. I think I just always had that spirit.
Do you miss the neuroscience world at all?
I don’t, really. I miss the mental challenge, but I think, in a weird sense, that my degree in neuroscience has really helped me in business. Learning something that essentially I didn’t know what I was getting into when I was getting my master’s degree taught me I can do anything. That gave me the confidence to start studying business and treat it like grad school and study.
For people who don’t have a business degree but have an interest in going into business, what would you recommend?
The first book I was told to read by a mentor was The E-Myth Revisited, by Michael Gerber. Even to this day, the messages in that book run through my head. I really think it’s the best starting point for anybody, because it really gives you perspective on what your role is as a business owner versus someone who’s a technician. I think that’s an amazing book to start with, and then I would also look at local resources, such as the Arizona Small Business Association. I went through the AAAME program, a 2-year business program that’s value is equivalent to an MBA. It’s completely free and put on by APS, and it’s their way of giving back to the community. They pick 12 small businesses every year to participate. That was an amazing program, and I birthed Park Avenue out of that. I would have never had the confidence to open a brick-and-mortar this size had I not been in that program.
What beauty trends are you seeing right now?
Ombre hair has been all the rage (along with nails, clothes, and even wedding cakes.) However, we are starting to see a softer and more sophistocated side to ombre, where the color gradient is not as drastic in the hair.
What’s your favorite beauty tip?
Mascara booboos easily fixed: when accidentally applying mascara to anywhere other than your lashes, just let the mascara completely dry on the skin and buff off the skin with a dry q-tip or eyeshadow brush. You will be surprised by how easily it comes off without smudging your foundation or eyeshadow.
What’s your favorite makeup brand?
What’s the biggest mistake people make when it comes to their hair or makeup?
Age-appropriate makeup. At a certain age, we need to stray away from crazy colors and shimmer. As we age, our skin loses the warm color to it, so by sticking to shadows that have warm undertones — brick reds, mauves and browns, not blues and greens — you can actually create a more youthful look. As we age, we unfortunately have to battle with wrinkles and added texture to our skin. Stay away from anything with shimmer in it, as shimmer bounces light and enhances these problems. Instead, go more for matte products.
What have been the most rewarding and challenging aspects to being a business owner?
I think one of the most rewarding and challenging aspects to my business is creating a team and working with people. With Kensington, it’s more of a contractor situation where I don’t see people everyday. That was easy, but when I created a space where people had to come to work everyday, that was the biggest challenge for me, having to manage and create a team of people. Finding the right people and putting them in the right position, and getting people who understand me and value the same things, was probably my biggest challenge from the past year.
What was the biggest lesson you learned from that process?
Staying true to myself and trusting my gut. Your first fire is really hard, especially when it’s a close friend, and I’ve had to do that. I know that I have to think about what’s best for the team, and that person, no matter how great they are, if they aren’t a good fit, it’s not going to work, and they’re going to have a better opportunity elsewhere.
What are your goals for Park Avenue?
When I first started, I was going more along with the blow dry bar trend, but my space is twice the size at 2,200 square feet. I knew I had to figure out how I was going to grow into and maximize the space. About a year ago, we created a more full-service salon, adding cut, color and skin services. It is now time to add the final piece and give our clients what they have been asking for. By the end of this month, we aim to maximize our space by opening a full nail bar. As far as future goals, maybe another Park Avenue location?
Do you have any other career aspirations?
I have so many ideas. And of course, I think they are all so great, I want to do all of them now — serial entrepreneur. Staying focused is difficult for me. I think staying in the same industry long enough will allow me to see new opportunities to expand easily without missing a beat.
What stands out to you about the Arizona beauty scene?
I think people are really craving things they can get in LA and New York. I like to make make my clients feel like they’re getting the ultimate celebrity experience.
What advice would you give to aspiring female entrepreneurs?
I think women in business actually have a better edge, because there’s very few women and a lot of resources for women. I think women tend to band together and form their own business community more so than I think men do, and I think women in business is a growing thing, and I’m excited to see more women get into it.
What do you think makes a great entrepreneur?
Listening to the heart beat of your business — the customers. Finding out what they want and how to better serve them. Also, being flexible and agile to make swift changes if need be. And finally, someone who is a problem solver.