Hair Nails And Real Estate

October 14, 2005
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GRAND RAPIDS — Not long ago, Jeremiah White Jr. began noticing former high school classmate Les Allen on various lists of honorees. Allen has been named as one of the Business Journal's Top Minority Business Leaders and as one of Forty Business Leaders Under 40, along with appearing on similar lists in Grand Rapids Magazine and other publications.

"I was like, 'Wow, we're so young! How could someone our age be receiving awards?'" White recalled.

In short time, White discovered how award winners are made.

Upon opening his first salon, the Reflections 5001 location at 1200 Hall St. SE, he was awarded Business of the Year: Best Signing and Awning 2002 from the Grand Rapids Neighborhood Business Alliance.

Now, The Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce has named him its 2005 Minority Entrepreneur of the Year.

"It shows you that people are always watching," White said. "You think you're just going to work and doing what you have to do to get by, but really, there are eyes on you everywhere. … If you do good work and treat people right, people notice."

After attending Eastern Michigan University and Chic University of Cosmetology, White worked as a stylist for seven years before realizing that, essentially, everyone in the cosmetology field is self-employed. The only difference is the real estate.

In 2001, he opened his first Reflections 5001 location on Hall Street, taking ownership of his chair and providing a workspace for 13 others. This year, he opened his second and third locations, both eight-chair salons.

At the most recent Reflections 5001, at 1258 Madison Ave. SE, White took on a full-scale development project, converting a large, dusty pole barn into a mixed-use development of up to 12 units with his salon as the anchor.

Over the years, White has become a mildly successful landlord, with five houses currently in his portfolio. With this new development, White wanted to diversify.

Working with his longtime partner, contractor Mike Essex, White first carved a spot for his salon out of what is now C&J Plaza. Essex removed the floor joists and built a loft to separate the manicure chairs from the stylists below. He used the joists as handrails.

When bids for flooring came back at over $50,000, Essex proposed carving designs into the bare concrete. To meet city regulations, a new parking lot was built.

Now, White is welcoming a half-dozen commercial tenants as neighbors to his five-month-old salon, including clothing and braid stores, a recording studio and Essex's office. Four apartments will be located in back.

The former industrial structure lends to the theme of his salon, White said.

"We wanted a look that is industrial and edgy," he said. "People come to Grand Rapids and think it's slow moving. I wanted something that pulls in a little bit of that big city feel."

White said that three salons are enough, at least in West Michigan.

"It's not good to see yourself everywhere," he said. "You have to reinvent yourself each time."

Instead, he thinks he may eventually open a Reflections 5001 in Detroit or Chicago.

"In a different city, I could repeat everything I've done," he said. "I could drop this anywhere, and it would work."

In addition to the chamber, White is a member of The Entrepreneur Exchange, Tillman Group, House of Blessing, and supporter of One Hope, Kids in the Community, Brown & Hutcherson Ministries and The Bethel Pentecostal Church.

He is married with two daughters.      

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