Gina Rivera | Crain's San Diego

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Gina Rivera


Headquartered in Encinitas, Calif., Phenix Salon Suites leases out suites to independent salon professionals at its more than 200 locations throughout the country. The franchise is looking to expand beyond the U.S., with plans for locations in Japan and China. The franchise was featured in the show "Undercover Boss" when Gina Rivera went undercover to see how the company was running.

The Mistake:

Not doing my due diligence.

In 2007, we decided to open our first suite concept, and ultimately found a piece of property that would allow us to go in and build out our very first Phenix Salon Suites. Despite not having a ton of money to lose at the time, I ended up making $150,000 worth of mistakes during the salon’s construction. For anyone starting a new business, that feels like $5 million.

I was too loose with contractors and naive to some degree, hiring the first person who came along with a good deal. That ended up burning me; two days after we opened our doors, I got handed papers saying that we were being sued by the subcontractors because our contractor decided not to pay them.

I also got talked into getting this 110-foot-long wall put in so we could turn it into a waterfall. It took a lot of time to put in, but I had always wanted water incorporated into my salon in some way, so we powered through. It worked for about two days, and was a complete nightmare for the next two-and-a-half years. I didn’t have a ton of money to have someone come in and fix it, so I had to get my husband come fix it. He almost fell through the ceiling.

It was just a giant, hot mess.

Sometimes you have to pay more to get a better product.

The Lesson:

When you’re building a business, make sure you hire the right contractors and surround yourself with good, reputable people. Don’t get desperate and work with someone just because they are the cheapest. Otherwise, you’ll get what you paid for. Sometimes you have to pay more to get a better product.

It’s hard because when you first open a business, you’re excited, stressed out, and just want to get going, so you kind rush to work with the first people who come along. But rushing into those sorts of things can end up costing you a lot more in the long run.

And it’s OK to ask for guidance. Find a good mentor who’s been through it before. Find a good team that can help you navigate these new waters, so you can avoid making as many mistakes as possible.

The construction and build-out of a new business is a huge piece of the puzzle that can make or break the bank, so it’s better to be cautious and take your time with it. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.

Phenix Salon Suites is on Twitter at @PhenixSalon

​Photo courtesy of Phenix Salon Suites

Do you have a good story you’d like to share or know someone we should feature? Email

And be sure to sign up for your local newsletter from Crain's.