Patrice “Sway” McKinney is the CEO and founder of Encore Salon Suites, a collection of hair salon suites for lease in three metro Atlanta locations. McKinney recently closed her first franchise deal for three units expected to be built in north Georgia.
Along with locations in Atlanta and Marietta, the Sandy Springs location is McKinney’s most recent. She signed the lease in January but due to COVID-19, has faced delays. She expects to open that location in two months.
McKinney started franchising her business right before the pandemic hit, and that is why she believes it took her a while to sign her first deal.
“But they say the first deal is the most difficult deal,” McKinney said. “So we finally closed that deal and now the goal is to keep expanding all across the world.”
She always dreamed of owning a barbershop, but working in the hair industry was not her first career choice. “When I was younger, I was a basketball star but I always said I liked the [barbershop] environment, the fact that it seemed like the stylists had freedom, and more importantly, that they truly just got to be themselves,” said McKinney.
She and her family moved to Atlanta in 2008. Five years later McKinney began pursuing her childhood passion of becoming a barber. She worked overnights at Walmart, slept for a few hours, and would go to barber school before going back to work.
After completing the nine-month program, McKinney was exposed to the concept of leasing suites.
“My first barbershop, I walked in, and it was a bunch of different rooms,” McKinney said. “So I was like ‘What’s going on here?’. She learned about leasing suites and feels grateful to have been a part of that business in the early stages, because it allowed her to see how to start leasing suites.
“I went into business with a partner and we opened one right next door [to that first barbershop],” McKinney said. “That went very well and I started the Encore brand in 2017.”
When looking for locations for the first Encore Salon Suites, the first location McKinney saw is what is now the Atlanta location which used to be an old medical office. She liked that the rooms were already built, which saved money.
Starting a new business for McKinney wasn’t exactly easy.
“I did that all by myself. It was tough in the end, I had to borrow a little money, but I was still able to pull it off,” said McKinney. “It was definitely stressful, just dealing with the contractors and it being my first experience.”
A year later, she opened the Marietta location. She hasn’t cut hair professionally in over a year now, and although she misses the client interaction, it became too hard to be a barber and run an expanding business. Her suites come unfurnished so that tenants can customize their space and truly have a business of their own.
“I treat [my tenants] like business owners because they are,” McKinney said. “They actually have a license and everything, so they don’t work for me. I love to give that opportunity to them where they can come in and customize it to reflect their style and truly feel like it’s theirs.”
McKinney also gives those who rent out her suites the opportunity to take classes on how to be a better beauty professional.
“I actually show them how to be professional, how to actually operate professionally, how to budget, how to plan for your retirement, because they don’t have those things in place for us,” McKinney said. “I really love that part about it because nobody teaches that. And a lot of people get into this industry and they get stuck. They don’t know how to retire, or you injure your hand or something and now you’re just out of luck. So I think it’s important to educate people, and more importantly, our people on that.”
McKinney plans on continuing to educate minorities on how to be successful and professional while continuing to expand the Encore brand. In the future, she wants to be as big as her competitors with locations across the country.