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Lifelong Entrepreneur Makes the City Pretty with High-end Salon in Lincoln, NE

Jason McLaughlin, owner of Iasan & Sebastian Studio Salon, has been an entrepreneur since he was 19 and started a clothing company in his hometown of Salt Lake City, Utah with his high school best friend, selling youth-oriented T-shirts and hats. But that’s no surprise, considering his father owned a small business in the golf club manufacturing and sales business.  “I grew up being mentored by him on how to run a business and how to treat employees,” Jason says. “I started my first business right out of high school, then I started a second business doing eBay sales, and then I’ve worked for myself since I can remember.

Fast forward to 2001, when Jason relocated from a 2-year stint in Phoenix, Arizona to Lincoln, Nebraska. “I fell in love with Lincoln. My former high shcool business partner moved out here in the late 90s and opened a business, so I would come out here and visit him as much as I could. I fell in love with the people here. The “Nebraska nice” thing is very real. The people here are very genuine,” Jason says. “I saw a big need for a high-end hair salon in Lincoln. I saw a niche that wasn’t being filled. One of my good friends, also from Salt Lake City, he and I started this business, but he is no longer involved in it.  We opened it up on July 13th, 2004. I’ve always enjoyed going to hair salons, and enjoyed taking care of [my hair], so it seemed like an exciting thing to do.”

Jason has taken the lessons he learned from his father to heart. “I really enjoy growing people and helping them to do better for themselves. [My favorite part] is being able to help my employees grow. I know if I take good care of them and they are growing, then that all circles back to me, and I know I’m happy and growing too.” Jason is not a stylist by trade, so he’s “usually found in his little office. I do the day today, working with my staff, monthly meetings, lots of planning as far as forecasting. Really, every odd and end that there is outside of working the front desk and actually doing hair is on my plate. I also do all the marketing and graphic design work for the salon.”

When asked why he chose to start a hair salon, Jason states, “The kind of industry I’m in, in general, is a rewarding and fun industry. Even though I’m not a cosmetologist myself, what they’re doing is to make people feel better about themselves, to make them look beautiful. It’s really rewarding. It helps people’s confidence and self-esteem. It’s fun to be part of this particular town and making the city pretty.”

But small business ownership isn’t always fun. “COVID-19 hit us pretty substantially. We ended up closing about a week before it was mandated because people were getting really antsy and concerned about the cases showing up in Nebraska. This was at the very beginning of our busiest season in March, April and May. We started seeing a lot of cancellations in March. It really wiped out our wedding season – we had a really full schedule. We stayed closed until June.”

Jason turned to the U.S. Small Business Administration for relief during the pandemic and was able to obtain a Paycheck Protection Loan. “The PPP was a life saver. We got in touch with a really good lender – they were incredibly helpful. Once we were able to secure that, we got the funding before the mandate was lifted for cosmetology. Once we were able to open the doors we were able to pay for all the bills that were being deferred – we had a lot of great vendors who were letting us defer payments. We could catch up on everything and make sure everyone had a paycheck. I know my employees really appreciated it. When we opened, it was at about half capacity. The entire world wanted to get in so we were really busy, but we were limited on how many clients we could see in a day. The PPP loan was perfect for helping us shore up that income.”

Navigating the world of pandemic relief offered under the CARES Act of 2020 was no small feat. Jason was able to seek assistance from Craig Boesch, Center Director for the Nebraska Business Development Center in Lincoln, NE. Jason states, “There was so much legislation going on that no one really knew what was happening. I tried to stay on top of how to get help. I had been speaking to Craig at NBDC and he was really helpful throughout that process. Craig would go over the PPP process with me. He and I talked a lot about pivoting – we had a weekly Zoom call going on through a lot of this time. It was really educational for everyone because I would offer ideas that he could share with other businesses. And if he didn’t have an answer, he was really helpful with finding someone who did.”

Now that the pandemic is coming to an end, business at Iasan & Sebastian Studio Salon is getting back to normal, and Jason is able to return to his passion of helping his people grow. “We do a lot of continuing education – classes every Wednesday in the salon, we send our hair stylists to academies in New York and other places. We’re an educational salon – that aspect is huge. It’s not just growing their money, it’s growing their craft – keeping up with what’s cutting edge. This whole business is really made to be career oriented.”

When asked about plans for the future, Jason says, “I’m looking forward to learning and growing, and I think I’ve learned a lot of ways to survive [through the pandemic.] Right now, the majority of my focus is just getting everything shored back up – getting the stylists back to where they were before the pandemic. I just want to keep pushing them to be their best – I’m lucky to have them.”

Company Name: 
Iasan & Sebastian Studio Salon
Location: 
Lincoln, NE