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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Salon Owner Helps to Cut Out Split Endings

MTExpat Salon's Lockhart-Saydkhuzhin was drawn to the idea of creating a small business that would serve as an extended family.
It was when her hair was dyed bright orange by an overzealous Latvian hairdresser that Toni Lockhart-Saydkhuzhin hit upon the idea of a hair and beauty salon for foreigners living abroad.

"They told me it was just the light and that it would look different outside. They didn't even offer to give me my money back," said Lockhart-Saydkhuzhin, who left the Riga salon in tears and $250 poorer.

It would be several years before the American would put her business idea into practice -- after nearly seven years living and working in Latvia, her marriage brought her to Moscow and she opened her Expat Salon in the city in April this year.

A native of tiny Timmonsville, South Carolina, when Lockhart-Saydkhuzhin graduated from college, she dreamed not of post-Soviet adventure, but of travel to Africa or another exotic destination. Instead, she ended up in Riga teaching a small business management course in English.

"The reason that I went to Latvia was because my dad knew some people there and was doing some business there. I went and looked for Latvia on the map. After I found it, I said: 'I don't want to go there. It's too cold.' My dad said: 'Who's paying for the trip?' So I went to Latvia," she recalled, revealing her slight southern accent.

After a stint teaching for $22 per month, Lockhart-Saydkhuzhin, who holds a bachelors degree in business administration from Presbyterian College in South Carolina, found her first real job, in the beer business.

She worked from 1994 to 2000 for the Riga-based company that held the distribution rights for Miller in Latvia and Lithuania. For the first two years, she was marketing manager and was later promoted to the post of manager of the Latvia office. She also opened the company's office in Lithuania.

Having studied French in college, Lockhart-Saydkhuzhin, started learning both Latvian and Russian while in Riga. Though she quickly became adept in both languages, she picked up Russian faster.

"Russian came easier to me. I think it was because of the people. Russians were more helpful in the language. If I made an effort to speak Russian, they were very happy. Whereas Latvians were, like, 'okay, let me just speak English with you. Your Latvian is awful,'" she said.

Like most foreigners who found jobs in the post-Soviet states in the early 1990s, Lockhart-Saydkhuzhin went through the usual headaches of adapting to the peculiarities of expat life. Over her 6 1/2 years in Riga, she had 14 different apartments, and the first time she went to get her hair cut she said she was mortified.

"I took a friend with me to translate," she said, though this did not help her avoid the disastrous hair color experience.

While in Riga, Lockhart-Saydkhuzhin met her future husband, a Russian Tatar named Tagir, who worked in the beer business in Moscow. She moved to Moscow to be with him at the end of 2000, and the couple married in Cyprus in 2001.

"We got married in Cyprus in what they now call a 'destination wedding,' because neither of us needed a visa to go there. I looked at the ZAGS here in Moscow, but I wanted something a little more romantic," she said.

Lockhart-Saydkhuzhin then had a baby, a boy named Daniel, and for a year and a half Lockhart-Saydkhuzhin stayed home looking after him. However, she kept thinking about what to do next.

"I started from the beginning because I didn't know what I wanted to do. I bought lots of books about how to choose a career and was ready to study or start over," Lockhart-Saydkhuzhin said.

After some soul-searching, she narrowed her interests down to spas, "well- being" treatments, and running a small business. She was particularly drawn to the idea of creating a small company that would serve as an extended family. That was when the Expat Salon was born.

"I like having a small company where it is sort of like a family. I know a lot of people here, but I don't have a lot of close friends, so making this small salon gave me my own little family," she said.

The salon's main language of communication is English and Lockhart-Saydkhuzhin has gone all out to try and provide the best customer service possible, even offering a money-back guarantee. A customer service manager serves as a translator and some stylists at the salon already speak English. The others are all learning English and the goal is to have a completely bilingual staff.

The salon, located on Skaterny Pereulok, turned a profit in its second month.

"I thought there was a need for the salon, but I really underestimated it," Lockhart-Saydkhuzhin said.