Slides and swings weren’t always of interest to Theresa Nelson when she and her classmates went to recess.
A future cosmetologist, Nelson often preferred to showcase her talents by styling other girls’ hair instead of enjoying play and recreation. It was a sign of things to come that she recognized a market for her skills among other children.
This summer Nelson opened Sweet Tee’s Salon & Kids Spa at 4205 Miller Road in Suite C-8. Offering manicures, pedicures, hairstyling and other services, the business is helping to fill a niche in the local landscape of personal groomers.
“I believe this is Genesee County’s first kids’ spa, so it’s new, it’s exciting,” Nelson says.
While catering to ages 2 through 16 in one section of the facility, Sweet Tee’s Salon serves adults in a separate area where they can enjoy pampering not far away from their little ones.
Nelson’s background in education, which she gained as a proctor for students with emotional and cognitive impairments, gave her experience catering to youth, who aren’t the most desirable customers at salons.
“Being in the school system and not having an educational degree, there was no room for me to grow or make any money doing that,” Nelson says. “So I decided to return to my passion, which is hair.”
Just recently she says she attended a conference in Detroit where most stylists explained why they don’t serve children. Youth get restless and can be hard to manage as clients, the stylists complained.
“I thought, ‘That’s not good,’ because kids want to get pampered, too,” Nelson says.
By providing snacks, coloring activities, and charging stations for tablets and cell phones Sweet Tee’s creates a welcoming environment for its youngest clients. While a typical conversation with adult customers might consist of details from the work day or plans for the weekend, Nelson coaches her team of five employees to get children chatting about topics like their favorite color, movie or food.
“Kids will just take off in conversation,” she says.
Along with her background in the classroom, Nelson’s previous service as a church youth minister gave her the confidence to open a shop in Flint that welcomes children.
“Just my knowledge of children is what made me feel comfortable,” she says. “My experience made me feel I could help them have a successful experience coming here.”
Along with various hairstyles that include free beads and accessories for ages 12 and younger, Nelson says facials and “age-appropriate makeup” are among services provided.
Nelson plans to use her background to delve even further into the underserved youth market by directly extending Sweet Tee’s services to include children like the students she supported at Grand Blanc Academy.
“One of the things we want to do is connect with agencies and serve children with autism and special needs,” she says.
The salon would accommodate autistic youth with special lighting and other comforts that consider their needs, Nelson says.
Support from Grand Blanc Academy and Word of Life Christian Church, where Nelson is a member, have assisted Sweet Tee’s in its fledgling months of operation. Customers including Sharon Campbell, who makes appointments for herself and her granddaughter Kiera Rushing, 6, have already become regular patrons.
“I think it’s always fun for the kids to play grown-up,” Campbell says. “One of the things (Kiera) was excited about was the little wine glass they have for the kids to drink tea.
“The facials are really cute because they have these little chocolate and yogurt mixes, and they put the cucumbers over their eyes.”
Another attraction at Sweet Tee’s is the “glitter wall” where girls like Kiera can snap “selfies” after they receive service.
“We turn the music on to what kids like to hear and just create a whole new environment, not just bringing them into an adult setting,” Nelson says.
The salon will celebrate an upcoming back-to-school promotion on National Grandparents Day Sept. 9, inviting grandparents to bring their grandchildren to receive specially packaged services.
Sweet Tee’s is also available to host special events, like the birthday party where a 4-year-old client recently made a confession to Nelson during her pedicure.
“She said, ‘I’m sorry. My Dad didn’t wash my feet very good,’” Nelson laughs.
“It’s a joy,” she adds.
Sweet Tee’s hours are Tuesday and Wednesday 12 noon to 7 p.m. and Thursday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. For more information visit the Sweet Tee’s Salon and Kids Spa Facebook page.
Lead photo by Plain Air Photography