As the door opens at the Southern Exposure Salon, the first thing to reach its visitor is at least one friendly "hello," often followed by several others. The next are the rich smells of shampoo, lotion and other pampering products. A cozy spot tucked into the Red Mountain Plaza in Dillon, Southern Exposure Salon is full of faces familiar to locals and friendly to new clients, or those just passing through.
Recently, the salon has come under new ownership. In March, Valerie Connelly purchased the salon from previous owners Kim Pytel and Deanna Sheehan. Sheehan is continuing on as a hair stylist at the salon, while Pytel is retiring. Prior to purchasing the salon, Connelly had been doing some marketing for the business. She was also a loyal customer.
"I laugh, I call myself 'The Mascot,'" Connelly said. "I always got my nails done up there; I got my hair done up there for years."
She said she is excited to be a part of the business that she describes "like another family." Customers won't see her out on the floor - she plans to work from the business side, drawing on her background in sales and marketing.
Finding the right step
Connelly is a true-blood, fifth-generation Summit County native and proud of it. She recalls her first job, working at a T-shirt shop, when she was 14 years old. That was her first experience with sales and she's been doing it ever since. Many people know her from her eight-year stint as "the cellphone goddess," a nickname earned while working at the Computer Store.
"This is the place where I'll stay," Connelly said of Summit County. "I've been lucky ... to find something that can keep me happy hopefully for a lot of years to come."
This isn't the first time that Connelly has pondered starting or buying a business, it's just that before now, the timing was never quite right. It's not as if she hasn't been busy recently, however. She just gave birth to her second son, Holton, in January. But she's not one to let anything slow her down. In fact, she welcomed the challenge.
"I needed to have something that I could step into and have something that was ready for me," she said.
It turns out that Southern Exposure Salon was what happened to be ready when she needed it.
"I'm an entrepreneur at heart," Connelly explained, "and it's important to me to have something that ... I can mold and shape and be a part of."
The business has been going well so far, Connelly said. Although she couldn't have predicted exactly how everything would go until she was fully in her new role, she felt she had a pretty good idea and experience hasn't changed any of that too much.
"Now, I'm just trying to learn and listen and keep my eyes and ears open," she said. "I fully believe that you can't sell something if you don't know the product, and in any business you're selling something."
Connelly is adamant that the staff is the main reason that everything has gone smoothly and successfully so far.
"They have an extremely loyal following. Those stylists, those girls make it what it is. Without them it would be nothing," she said. "They're very talented and they all have years and years of experience."
The camaraderie between Connelly, the employees and the customers is easily felt upon entering the salon. Hair stylists chat while they smooth, curl and shape their customers' hair, people walk back and forth between tanning beds, nail stations and hair hood dryers. The air is filled with sounds of conversation.
"All the locals just flock to it because they know they're not going to get a bad experience there," Connelly said. "It's a happy place."
She said she also enjoys the idea of the salon business itself.
"That was kind of my wanting to get into it," she said. "You have a place where people are happy when they leave and they look more beautiful than when they came in. They feel good and that's a great thing. It's always been an industry that I've been interested in, and I have my fair share of people that I know, so I figured, yeah, can't go wrong, right?" She laughed.
While there may be no major changes to the salon right away, Connelly is interested in seeing what she can do improve what's already there.
"You take something and you just try to help it evolve and try to make it better and make it resonate with someone," she said.
An unexpected benefit of being involved with the salon, Connelly has found, is reconnecting with people. In the familiar atmosphere of the salon, it's easy for her to meet and chat with new and old friends, some who still remember her as the cellphone goddess.
"I'm happy to be able to see all the people I know up there. There's so many people that come in that I know and it's so fun," she said. "They're great. I'm happy to be on a new team. I'm happy to be on a new adventure."