It was the day before New Year’s Eve, and Melissa Chapman had just signed a lease for her very first business.
That’s when it hit her.
“I was walking to my car, and I was bawling my eyes out. It was like the day I’d left the hospital with my daughter,” the owner of Melissa’s Hair Therapy said. “Part of me was like, ‘Look at this amazing thing that’s mine,’ and part of me was like, ‘Oh my God, I have to keep this alive!’”
Chapman is the winner of the inaugural Southeast Business Plan Competition, a project sponsored by the Colorado Springs Business Journal, the Colorado Springs Independent and Thrive Colorado Springs.
The competition’s intent was to provide an entrepreneur with resources to start a business, with the caveat that it find a location on the southeast side of the city.
Chapman, a hairdresser for 22 years, submitted the winning plan last summer and expects to open by March at 1726 S. Circle Drive in the Spring Creek Shopping Center.
“I had it in my head for about 10 years that I wanted to start my own salon,” she said. “About four years ago, I found out I knew hair, but I didn’t know jack about business.”
That’s when Chapman began studying business at Pikes Peak Community College, where she enrolled in the Thrive Colorado Springs program, which focused on entrepreneurialism, particularly in the southeast part of town.
She heard about the competition through her Thrive involvement.
“I wasn’t going to do it. I came in late to class and heard the tail end of the presentation, and thought I would have to develop a super-detailed business plan. I thought, ‘Nope. I’m out.’ I’m a big-picture person — not so much with details.”
Chapman, though, had a change of heart and submitted a proposal at the last minute.
“I’m glad I did it. Without this support, I probably would have backed out already,” she said. “Now that I’m getting deeper into it, I’m starting to see how possible things are, and I’m getting very excited.”
As part of Chapman’s $50,000 prize package, she received access to experts across a variety of fields to help get her business off the ground. But she attributes much of her early success to someone who wasn’t part of the prize package at all — commercial real estate agent Amanda Miller Luciano of Synergy Real Estate Group.
“I don’t feel anything has been overly challenging, and a lot of that is because Amanda has been advising me and holding my hand through this entire process,” Chapman said.
Miller Luciano is even donating her commission from the lease to Chapman.
“That will probably pay for my sign,” Chapman said.
Miller Luciano, a former Business Journal reporter, was at the contest reception at the Hotel Eleganté in August when Chapman was named the winner.
“I knew, whoever won, would probably need space,” Miller Luciano said, adding now that the lease is signed, the real planning can start.
“Having space gives you something concrete, and you can begin to imagine and picture your business,” she said.
As part of the prize package, Chapman was also given legal assistance in creating an entity, as well as a business bank account, each as important as finding a physical location, Miller Luciano said.
“Those were things that someone would need to do if they’re starting a business, with a prize package or not,” she said.
Regarding locating in the southeast part of town, Miller Luciano said the area is high on potential.
“The center at Spring Creek is not the most trafficked or visible area, but it is really close to a lot of residential development,” she said.
“Business follows rooftops … so it’s a pretty good location, especially for a service like a salon.”
‘Talk to everybody’
Chapman already caters to a large client base, thanks to years of leasing space in other salons. She said she’s learned, as a nascent entrepreneur, to “talk to everybody.
“I mean everybody,” she said. “I’ve talked to so many people who aren’t even in my industry. … Be open for things to come to you. … When you open yourself to discovery, then you start discovering.”
As for counting down the days to a soft opening, Chapman said all the pressure has come from within.
“I really have this sense of responsibility because so many people have been behind me. Even if I go down in flames, I’m going to ride the process out as far as I can go,” she said — then smiled.
“But I’m not afraid of this business failing.”