There aren’t many things I liked about the ’80’s. Bad hair was prevalent then ( A Flock of Seagulls, bi-level bobs, rat-tails). It was a decade of bad fashion (braided headbands and leg warmers, Members Only jackets, pegged jeans, double-breasted suit jackets over wife-beaters a la Miami Vice, anything MC Hammer wore). And for some reason, everyone spoke “valley,” even in Maryland (“Like, gag me with a spoon!”).
But it wasn’t all bad; in fact, there was one person who singlehandedly saved the ’80’s from being the dorky decade. I’m talkin’ to you, Sylvester Stallone. Whether Stallone was starring in the “Rocky ” I-IV movies, “Tango & Cash,” or any of the many hammy movies of his career, there was an endearing similarity in all of the characters he played. While the storyline and circumstances varied in each film, Stallone always played a character with determination. Whether he was training for a fight, running up and down the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, battling the Viet Cong in “Rambo,” or even cracking jokes as a tough cabbie with a heart of gold in “Rhinestone,” we rooted for his characters because they were relatable, gutsy and determined.
Similarly, determination is what took Tamar Vezirian, founder of Goltham Glow in NYC, from the bomb shelters of Beirut, to the hills of San Francisco, to the filthy streets of New York City where she launched an air-brush tanning business that became a smashing success. It’s a story that says–like Tamar or Rocky Balboa– with enough guts, hard work and determination, we can reach our financial goals.
The Shot-Caller With Determination
For Tamar, the road to success was long, windy and filled with drag queens and trannies, late night house calls, drunk celebrities, angry cab drivers and tanning formula along the way. Growing up in San Francisco, Tamar dreamt of becoming a performer, just like her idol Cher. She studied acting and singing, and performed at local theaters before venturing on to NYC to seek theatrical fame and fortune.
In NY, Tamar started doing sketch comedy, musical theater and improv, went to tons of auditions and became heavily involved in the acting community. But while she was thrilled to be pursuing her passions, someone still had to pay the bills. While living in San Francisco, Tamar had worked as a makeup artist (that’s where she met all the drag queens!) so it was easy for her to find similar jobs in NY. Along with make-up gigs, she eventually landed a job at an air-brush spray tanning salon. Tamar quickly learned the tricks of the trade, and, with her bubbly personality, sense of humor and professionalism, clients loved her.
After a few years of tanning clients, Tamar knew she had found her calling, and she was ready to take the next step. Not only could she make clients look natural and sun-kissed, but she knew how to apply the solution in a way that enhances the appearance of her clients’ bodies. With a few strokes of her tanning gun, she can make a woman’s breasts appear larger, give a man’s gut definition and “abs,” and even reduce the appearance of cellulite around the thighs. In other words, she’s a magician!
While she was working at the salon, she also worked part-time for a high-end cosmetics line at a department store, worked several nights a week as a make-up artist at a strip club, and was also doing freelance makeup gigs on the side. “I was a Jamaican working seven days a week and had a show at the same time,” she remembers. Tamar finally saved enough money from her side jobs to quit the tanning salon, and focused on creating her own mobile airbrush tanning business. After months of fear and agonizing over starting her own venture, Gotham Glow was born (www.GothamGlow.com).
The early days of Gotham Glow were tough. Since it was primarily a mobile service, Tamar would take subways, buses, taxis and would hoof it all over town to meet clients with her pop-up tent and tanning machine in tow. When she started building her business, she took any and all appointments–whether it was a house-call for an Upper East Side socialite at 6 am, a D-List celebrity coming back from the club at 3:00 am or a busy executive returning home from a trip just to unpack, repack, get a spray tan and get back on the road. When she wasn’t traveling to and from her tanning appointments or spraying clients, Tamar did everything else: from the bookings, to the correspondences (apparently many New York women need A LOT of hand-holding) to the accounting to marketing to her own PR. When she could get away from all of the paperwork, Tamar would hit the public library for free business courses or just spend time doing online research on competitors and ideas.
After a few years, Tamar had built up a list of solid clients and had earned a reputation as one of the best air-brush tanners in the city. She worked around the clock, day and night, heading to appointments in sleet, snow, wind, hail, scorching sun and dark of night. She would leave parties, events with friends, and dates with her boyfriend just so she can make a scheduled appointment, and she rarely took a vacation.
Eventually, her services were so in-demand that she began offering in-studio tans and had men and women ringing her doorbell at all hours of the day and night. By that point, Gotham Glow was being written up in all the major beauty and health publications, including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Details, Allure, Glamour, Time Out Magazine and many more. The press was great for business but since her business was in her home, it was difficult to get any peace or privacy. In 2011, Tamar finally opened the first Gotham Glow salon in the Flatiron District.
As a successful business owner, Tamar can now breathe a little easy, but she still maintains that hard-core work ethic. Still, she laughs when recalling some of her kookier clients and some of the antics she had to deal with in the early days of Gotham Glow. She recalls one client who was addicted to iced coffee and would always have several half-filled cups of iced coffee scattered throughout her apartment. This same client would keep her Bluetooth headset in her ear and would continue her conference calls while Tamar tanned her, despite having to talk over the hum of the tanning machine.
Another client had taken too many ‘muscle relaxers’ when Tamar tanned her. She fell asleep standing up under the tent, and when it was time for payment, she wrote Tamar a check for $14,000 (Tamar charges $125-175 for house calls). Still another client was naked in the tent, dancing by herself to no music while Tamar patiently tried to tan her.
Tips for Starting a Business or Reaching Your Financial Goal
Tamar shared some serious tips that helped her build her business from the ground-up:
– “I’m always one of those people who worries about money,” she admits. For that reason, Tamar thought long and hard before quitting her job at the salon and starting her own business. She also made sure to save a substantial amount of money so that she has emergency funds for living expenses. And even after she started Gotham Glow, she still held on to several gigs to make sure she was making money to cover her rent and living expenses and staying debt-free.
– Even before she started her business, Tamar made sure to keep her living expenses low. When she moved to NYC, she rented a room from a fellow Armenian woman who was 75 years old. The situation wasn’t exactly ideal for a 23-year-old woman newly arrived in NYC, but she knew that by keeping her rent payment low, she could save money.
– She kept her expenses to a minimum in her business as well. For many years, she was the only employee–giving the tans, doing the bookkeeping, using her apartment as a studio and anything in between. If she could do the work, she did it rather than hire someone. Eventually she got so busy that had to hire a few people but she was very careful about all the moves she made.
– Tamar is an expert negotiator. Whether she is at a flea market, in the flower district, at a hair salon or getting coffee, Tamar will negotiate the price. Sure, sometimes a vendor will say no to a discount, but very often they are charmed and say yes. It never hurts to ask.
– Because she is in the beauty industry, Tamar relies on bartering and swapping services. She will swap makeup and makeup applications, products and tans in exchange for haircuts, highlights, laser, facials, massages, legal services, PR, SEO services and more.
– Tamar even used her supreme negotiating tactics when she planned her wedding last year. Working within a specific budget, she and her husband planned a beautiful rustic wedding with a lot of attention to details. They relied on friends’ time and talents, their own skills and good old determination to plan and pay for the wedding of their dreams. While it required a lot of footwork (Tamar even went to the flower district herself to buy flowers, vases, table covers, etc), she insists it was all worth it. “Just because you’re spending a lot for your wedding doesn’t mean it will be special. It’s the personal touches and details that make it special.”
We all know the phrase, “when the going gets tough, the tough get going.” Sometimes it’s the road we have to travel that provides the most valuable life lessons. Whether your goal is to start a business, get out of debt or save for a wedding or home, with a little determination, smarts and hustle, you can reach your goals and learn some valuable lessons along the way. Like how to tactfully return a $14,000 check to a customer.