Fairy tales come true when we write them ourselves. Throughout the years, and especially after taking a few wrong turns in my life, I’ve learned how to write my way out of a rough drama and conjure up my own fairy tale. While the story and setting of your adventure are set, you decide on your actions, you choose which path to take, and you select the characters you want by your side. You certainly can’t wait for a hero to show up, but through being open to chances, and embracing opportunities, you can walk through the labyrinth, get past the obstacles, slay the dragon, and arrive at your happily ever after. Fairy tales come true when you dream with direction, work with purpose, and invest in people, not things. Following this formula you spread a fairy dust of positivity everywhere you go. You make the magic happen and you empower others to believe in their own story.
Many years ago, in the Long Branch neighbourhood of Toronto, Pina Baldassi was learning how to cut hair at a salon. She entered the shiny gates of the hair and beauty industry as a 12-year-old girl, and has stayed in the trade ever since. Upon graduating secondary school, Pina took a job at a bank. She had only been working there for a brief period of time, when, one day, she was robbed at gunpoint! Shaken up from the incident, Pina quit working at the bank and decided to focus on what she loved doing: cutting hair. She enrolled in an Aesthetics & Cosmetology program at a private career college, and once she finished, she helped start a series of small businesses.
Through trial and error she learned what worked, and like magic, she turned little rooms into fully functioning hair and aesthetics salons, almost overnight. At 19, she was running the hair side of a salon and teaching other girls how to do facials. One day, she noticed the salon owner selling hair products out of the trunk of her car, so she suggested an expansion into wholesale. When the owner asked her whether she knew anything about the wholesale business, she said “Not particularly, but I don’t think it’s that difficult! I’m sure we could do that.” So they did, and Pina added sales rep to her job title as well.
Working in such a multi-faceted role, Pina excelled at getting new businesses up and running. However, once a place was established and had a solid client base, the owner no longer needed Pina’s help, and she was thanked and discharged. Pina had had put in a year of her time and hard work into three now-thriving businesses. Frustrated, and a little disillusioned, she decided it was time to go out on her own. Her dream was to own a salon, a spa and a school. Today she has all three, just by thinking, wanting, dreaming. This is her fairy tale.Photo by Alex Banman
Equipped with skills from her experiences at start-ups and the bank, Pina was ready to fulfill her quest. She picked up the magic bag filled with the tools, tips and tricks she had collected along the way, and bravely forged ahead into an unknown forest. She turned to others for help, but she soon realized that starting a business as a 20-year-old was not so simple. Grants for young entrepreneurs weren’t as available as they are now, and asking banks for help was tough without collateral. Even after spending $3,000 on a business proposal, the banks still said “No I’m sorry, it’s a good idea, but…” So, without assistance from the government or any financial institution, Pina moved forward with five major credit cards and $2,000 in her pocket.
“I know my limit. …I know that I can push myself to this physical limit, this emotional limit, and this mental limit all together at the same time. …If you know [your limits], then you can do anything. Anything.”
Along with a friend, Pina built a small salon with her own two hands. In 1987, the two of them transformed a Becker’s convenience store at 3439 Lake Shore Blvd. W into Pina B’s Salon. A true lioness, she was full of courage, eagerness to learn, and readiness to do whatever necessary to make her dream a reality. “I’m full of tenacity, don’t tell me I can’t do it. Because I will just do it. And I’ll show you I’ll do it!” she exclaims. “I just changed a sub pump the other day before I went to Italy, and put in a toilet downstairs! I have built this from the ground up, myself, physically, [I] put these ceramic tiles in, did all those walls over there,” she gestures. Pina had already mastered the art of cutting and styling hair, and she figured out the rest on the way. In the midst of growing the business, Pina had a son and she raised him with the extra challenge of being a single mom. Nevertheless, she used her powers and learned how to do it all: manage finances, employees, accounting, marketing, etc. If she didn’t know how to do something, she found out how and where she could learn, and then taught herself.Photo by Alex Banman
Advertising on a coupon card and a few centre pages in the Etobicoke Guardian during the first year was enough to get Pina B’s Salon a buzz. Since then, the only marketing she has needed is word-of-mouth. Her salon has stood the test of time because clients leave satisfied with how they look and feel. That’s how I discovered Pina. I could go to any salon and leave looking good, but I choose to come to Pina’s to spend a few moments with a genuine person. Pina smiles, “I love people. If you see the good in everybody, then you can’t go wrong.” And when people do something that displeases her she simply asks, why did you do that? “I’m very straight forward,” she laughs.
Pina kept climbing and her business grew quickly. She soon arrived at the next milestone in her fairy tale: the spa. Four years after starting the salon, when the old St. Vincent de Paul store became available next door, she bought it too and opened the spa. Renovating yet another space happened with the wave of a magic wand; she and her girl friend fixed the space in 8 months.
Despite managing multiple responsibilities and continuously growing a business, Pina radiates peace. Over the years she has learned exactly how to maintain balance in order to perform at her best. “I know my limit. …I know that I can push myself to this physical limit, this emotional limit, and this mental limit all together at the same time. …If you know [your limits], then you can do anything. Anything. Because you know when you have to step back, go to Paris, come back, and then start again,” she states.
“Your dreams do come true. It just happens…you feel it, you think it, you do it. That’s it.”
Pina’s go-getter attitude and her love of learning ensure that her empire continues to grow. “It was fun learning to get to where I am today. What more is there to learn?” she asks with an honest curiosity. Queen of her castle, Pina is constantly educating herself to keep up with changes in industry trends, regulations, technology and digital marketing. After achieving her first two goals, and thinking about her retirement plan, Pina started to take serious steps towards her next dream: opening a school for aesthetics. She did the research, submitted all the paperwork, and got her academy approved by the Ontario Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development. Next, she became a member of Career Colleges Ontario. In 2016 she got recognized as a private career college by the National Association of Career Colleges and bought their accredited curriculum. The aesthetics program will take one year for students to complete. She will be teaching herself as well as hiring other industry leaders to instruct on special services, such as eyelash extensions. A nine-year project in the making, the school is finally ready. Pina is hosting an open house for the school in January and classes at Pina B’s Academy of Aesthetics will start in 2019.
Pina’s main mission for the academy is to focus on enrolling Indigenous students. She is liaising with administrators in the First Nations community who will promote the school and help bring students in. “I want to get the sparkle back in their eye…I want to show them that it’s okay to dream. Your dreams do come true. It just happens…you feel it, you think it, you do it. That’s it,” she declares.Photo by Alex Banman
The academy is Pina’s legacy. She wants to pass on what she’s learned and help others grow and realize their full potential. “Everything I’ve learned, taught myself, I’m just going to lay it down for other people.” A fairy godmother, Pina is committed to delivering a solid program and supporting her students even once they finish. “They can come back to me after they graduate…to sit in on my course again, to ask me questions, to pick my brains, to give them connections on where to buy equipment, to help them set up their own business, to help them get a job – any of that, forever, at no charge.” Once she is ready to retire, she will pass on her crown, leaving the salon and school to a student who will continue her work.
Pina credits her life’s achievements to her attitude. She believes in paying it forward, in every moment. “You gotta breathe it, think it, live it. Every thought. When you wake up…just be thankful,” she shares. When we are truly grateful for everything we have, we open our hearts to receive more.
“If you find something that you absolutely love in life, just do it,” says Pina. Take hold of the quill and write your own story. When you dream up your narrative, surround yourself with supportive characters, and take persistent action, the fairy tale you dreamed of will become your reality, and perhaps it will be an even better story than the one you had hoped for. Pina smiles, “Write your own, just do it right…and do it with integrity, honesty, loyalty, and with no agendas.”Photo by Alex Banman
Published December 5, 2018