'I dreamt it': Port Huron hair salon finds ways to survive and thrive in the face of a pandemic

To flourish is not just to grow but to thrive.

And in over one year’s time, that’s just what Naesa Richardson has been able to do with her Port Huron salon, Flourish Hair Gallery – global pandemic or not.

In fact, it was just six days after the celebration of the company’s one-year anniversary, March 19, 2019, that Richardson was forced to temporarily close her doors due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

But Flourish has since re-opened, abiding by the state-mandated health and safety guidelines. The salon and its products cater to people and hair of all types. Black, white. Women, men. It’s Richardson’s goal for the Flourish brand to be a universal one.

Rather than let the shutdown get her down, Richardson was able to focus on her online store, where she sells her own line of Flourish merchandise and hair care products. There are the Flourish hoodies, t-shirts, and more. And there are her Flourish-branded hair care products, including shampoo, conditioner, and beard oil. The plan is to take the brand national one day.

Celebrating her clients and lifting them up is a big part of Flourish and Richardson’s mission, too.

"With the shutdown, we tried to encourage our clients to focus on the mental health side of things. No one really talks about that," Richardson says.

"I’d promote photo shoots, daily affirmations, work-out groups. Anything to make sure that our clients' mental health is okay."

Born and raised in nearby Kimball, Richardson moved to the southside of Port Huron when she was six years old. After attending cosmetology schools like Paul Mitchell The School, Richardson would end up winning a Paul Mitchell competition. The contest flew her out to Los Angeles where she did hair for The X Factor TV show.

It was on that first trip to L.A. where she found some of her inspiration. Walking around the red carpets and movie premieres, Richardson wanted to bring a piece of that back to Port Huron. Her clients, she says, are her celebrities. And she does her best to make them feel that way, taking their photos and spotlighting them on social media in hopes to give them a confidence boost.

The remarkable thing is that there’s not much "Hollywood" to the Flourish story beyond that. Richardson bootstrapped her way to success, leasing the salon chairs until she paid them off, performing DIY renovation jobs herself.

Richardson didn’t have much in the way of savings when she started her business, nor grants or loans. She opened her business on the strength of faith, she says.

"I started Flourish with less than $1,200 in my pocket. And rent itself was $1,200. But it worked and we’re here today and I’m thankful," Richardson says.

"It happened and I dreamt that it would. I wanted to create my own atmosphere."

Naesa Richardson and the Flourish teamWhen the COVID-19 pandemic hit, a new set of challenges presented itself. Thankfully for Richardson, one of her clients was Jazmyn Thomas, Chair of the Community Foundation of St. Clair County’s Equity and Inclusion Committee.

The relatively new committee has helped Richardson navigate both COVID-19 and business in general.

The committee donated more than 200 face masks and shields, for example. Kanchan Wankhede, who works as a small business consultant for the equity and inclusion committee, has helped with introducing processes and procedures, things like profit-and-loss statements, things that no one ever taught Richardson before.

Wankhede also helped Richardson apply for a grant intended specifically for minority- and women-owned businesses. The Economic Development Alliance of St. Clair County provided the grants with funding support from the Community Foundation's Covid-19 Thumbcoast Regional Response Fund.

Flourish Hair Gallery was awarded a $2,000 grant through the program, which Richardson was able to use toward rent during the shutdown.

"Kanchan opened my eyes to what is available in the community. I think with a lot of minority businesses, it’s not like we don’t want the help, we’re just unaware that it’s out there. And also not being part of downtown, we don’t have access to the same information," Richardson says.

"I wouldn’t have known about any of this if I didn’t do Jazmyn’s hair. It just came up in conversation.

"A lot of people out here that want to be entrepreneurs, it’s not all glitz and glamour. There are sacrifices but you can do it."

Flourish Hair Gallery is located at 2125 Military St. in Port Huron.

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