Marian Sang-Knepshield established roots and took her time in fulfilling her dream.
Sedum plants can survive for years without any watering. Although most drought-resistant plants tend to grow invasive and virtually impossible to rid from your flower beds, sedums, also known as stonecrops, tend to mind their manners. Their flat, waxy leaves store their own water, their vibrant flowers not only provide beauty, but also nutrition for visiting butterflies and birds, and their tight root systems know how to share their space. In a garden, they create harmony.
Marian Sang-Knepshield’s path to fulfilling her dream reminds us of the hearty stonecrop. This second-generation salon owner took her time to achieve her dream and believes in a business model that respects both client and employee needs.
Years ago, Marian’s mother planted the seeds. At 14, she and her family escaped North Korea to South Korea, where she and her siblings earned college degrees. Years later, she found herself in Japan in a tumultuous marriage she once again needed to flee from. Fearing separation from her children (as customary in Japan at the time, men were granted custody of the children after divorce), she immigrated to the United States where she could gain asylum from her ex-husband and keep her children in tow. After one year in Louisville, Marian’s mother had completed cosmetology school and was earning money as a hairdresser. Just one year after that, she opened her own salon.
Marian wanted to forge her own path, so when her mother was ready to retire, she sold the business to someone else. However, like the persistent sedum, Marian could not ignore the pull to become a salon owner like her mother.
“My mother always said, ‘You need to become a doctor or lawyer!’ or ‘You need to marry a doctor or lawyer!’ When neither of those things happened, she said, ‘You need to get a business degree!’ But I didn’t want those things. I really liked cutting hair,” Marian recalls, mocking her mother’s accent with a laugh. “I gave my first haircut to my dog — a Dorothy Hamill cut to my Shetland Sheepdog. But I was not interested in owning a salon. I saw all that my mother went through!”
But the roots were deep, and after 25 years in the industry, Marian knew it was time. However, in order to own the family business, she would have to buy it back from the current owner — and that is exactly what she did.
Marian began construction on Omagi Salon Spa, located in the Paddock Shops, at age 45 — just as the 2008 recession hit. Despite the economic drought of her first few years, her business concept survived. Marian wanted a salon that had a different business model. She saw what her mother went through, and after 25 years in the industry, she knew how competitive the culture inside a salon could be. So, she followed her dream to create a salon with a more traditional business model: one that pays the employees a salary instead of a commission, encourages teamwork, and forbids tipping.
“I noticed that customers who could afford to tip higher received better service, and I feel that everyone deserves great service. During the recession, budgets were tight, but women still needed to feel good about themselves. So, I took away the pressure to tip. Then, customers could afford a necessary product they needed to maintain their style without feeling pressured to leave a big tip.”
Marian believes this model has created a more positive environment for her clients and staff (all 31 of them). Unlike most salons, her employees receive a continuing education budget, a salary, and health benefits. This business model also encourages the staff to work as a team, so if you receive a service from Omagi, expect to be seen by two or three people: your hairdresser will consult with you and cut your hair, but someone else from the team might provide your complimentary head and neck massage or your lipstick or brow touch-up before you leave.
Marian believes it is the little things (a lipstick application or a hand massage) that keep her business thriving despite a recession and a resistant start. For the past nine years Omagi has been selected as one of the nation’s top 200 salons by Salon Today magazine. The hearty nature of her family’s collective dream has blossomed into a multi-generational success story.