For going on 25 years, Melissa Hollingshead has provided a vital service to the women of Homer City and surrounding areas: counselor, adviser, confidante, teacher — and hairdresser.
At Melissa’s Shear Magic, Hollingshead has built a loyal clientele that sustains her fully independent salon almost 50 hours a week. It’s a business built not only on Hollingshead’s cosmetology certification and scissor wizardry, but on her knack for listening and understanding the women in her chair — a trait not necessarily taught and graded in school.
“She’s a friend,” said Stacy Weaver, of Indiana, a regular at Shear Magic every six weeks for more than five years. “A lot of beauticians are kind of counselors. She’s good at it!”
“Your clients do become your family,” Hollingshead said.
Word-of-mouth endorsement, the strongest kind of advertising money can’t buy, led Weaver to Shear Magic.
Hollingshead said hairstyling has been her lifelong ambition. She said she first got the knack when her grandmother recruited her to help wrap her home-style perms in the kitchen, back in her growing-up days in the Lawrence County town of New Bedford on the Ohio line. As the oldest of five girls, she had a ready supply of models who most often left the chair pleased with Melissa’s developing skills.
When she moved on to formal training at a cosmetology school in Sharpsville, Mercer County, she began doing all her sisters’ hair for their proms — then their weddings.
Today, she does her four nieces’ hair for prom and weddings.
But the family tie that was the strongest influence on her going into business for herself was her then-3½-year-old daughter.
As a single mom in the 1990s, working for commission in outlets of hair styling chain stores, Hollingshead was driven to take control of her own pay, her own hours, her own working conditions and her own customer base.
“I started my business because I had no family here, and this way I was able to work from home and be with her if she needed me,” Hollingshead said. “I started the shop when she was 3½.”
In November 1998, then known as Melissa Park, she launched Melissa’s Shear Magic in her home on Carson Street in Homer City. She moved the salon to a downtown storefront at the corner of Church and South Main streets in 2012, and will celebrate 25 years in business later this year.
Today, she’s married to Nevin Hollingshead, the owner of the Wildcat Consulting Services LED lighting retrofitting company in Homer City. In community service, she has been an officer on the Homer City Business Association board, an organizer of the Hoodlebug Festival and a promoter of Homer City recreation and library events.
As a startup entrepreneur, Hollingshead most importantly brought her state cosmetology license but grew her business skills as necessary.
“It comes down to self motivation,” she said. “If you don’t do it, who’s going to do it?”
With two other salons and a barber shop in Homer City, each with an established clientele, Hollingshead said she doesn’t consider Shear Magic to be competing for more customers.
“I’m established,” she said. “The business has grown every year I’ve been here. You always meet new people.”
The dedication of her customer base remained steadfast three years ago, when the COVID-19 pandemic forced the closing of society. Businesses providing the most up-close-and-personal services, such as hair styling, were among the last to be allowed to reopen.
“It was scary,” Hollingshead said.
But waves of shaggy customers flocked back to Shear Magic, many of them rocking their true gray roots and opting to shed their hair coloring routine.
“So many said, ‘yes, I’m good with that silver gray look,’” Hollingshead said. “But everyone came back.”
Hollingshead agreed she’s one of the lucky ones, among a generation who started styling the 1980s and early ‘90s era, when many other cosmetologists quit the trade because they couldn’t make a living earning only commissions.
“In this business, a lot of people come and go. Some places I worked were a revolving door,” Hollingshead said. “But nowadays they do pay hourly, and maybe plus commissions.
“But the reason you open your own place is so you know what you’re going to make. When you work for somebody else and you have a good week, you open your check and you only get half of it,” she said. “You don’t have to give half to the owner.”
Today, Hollingshead is seen as a role model for aspiring cosmetologists with their own shops, including Indiana County Technology Center students and others who have shadowed her to learn the business.
As an owner, “you have to be willing to work hard but you need to set boundaries,” she said.
Her advice to young women considering the same career path takes both a professional and personal tone.
“I would tell her you must be self motivated, driven, and determined. You are the only one that can make that happen. You must also establish a work and life balance,” Hollingshead said. “You may be your own boss, but you answer to many people every day. You must remember you’re only one person and there are only so many hours in a day. It’s all a process that takes time. After 25 years in business, I find this to be my biggest challenge.”
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