Top Workplaces 2022: Boss Gal Beauty Bar founder translates ER training to salon

Virginia Brown
For Columbus CEO
Boss Gal Beauty Bar owner Kathy Keeney (center) and her management team Morgan Schaaf, Madison Thiel, Molly Dougherty and Sarah Kerr photographed on Wednesday, March 16, 2022.

Five years ago, Kathy Keeney wanted a creative outlet outside of her full-time job as an emergency room nurse. She invested in a small studio and independently started providing eyebrow microblading.

After six months, using only social media to promote her work, she was so busy that she left her job in the ER to do brows full-time. “It seemed kind of radical,” Keeney says. “My family and my coworkers were like, ‘What did you do?’ But the money was good, and I enjoyed what I was doing.”

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Six months later, she ventured into aesthetic medicine—cosmetic injectables, laser treatments, dermal fillers and other treatments—and started attending related conferences and investing in education courses.

In 2019, with four employees, she opened Boss Gal Beauty Bar, a medical spa now offering three locations across Columbus with 50 employees. “I took a total leap of faith,” she says.

This year, Boss Gal Beauty Bar is the top-ranked small business on Columbus CEO’s Top Workplaces list.

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Boss Gal is one part open-concept facial bar—including efficient facials compared with more time-consuming spa experiences—and the other part cosmetic medical treatments performed by nurses or nurse practitioners.

To have that kind of practice, a physician must serve as a medical director to oversee policies and procedures. Dr. Timothy Sutton, one of two male employees at Boss Gal, serves in that role.

“Having a medical director, we get to use medical-grade skincare,” Keeney says. “So our facials are very results-driven, not just [for] relaxation.” People still relax, though, she adds, and sometimes even fall asleep in the chair.

For many businesses, opening during  COVID-19 proved too difficult, but for Boss Gal, it provided a new trend: People seeing themselves most of the day with the rise of virtual meetings.

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“People were working from home on Zoom and started to look at themselves a lot more,” she says. Her clients would come in and complain about lines, wrinkles or side profiles, among other things. “A whole Zoom phenomenon perpetuated,” she says.

Sarah Sweebe has worked at Boss Gal’s Clintonville location for a little over three years.

After graduating from Aveda in 2019, she says, “I wanted to work with corrective skincare lines and I wanted to do relaxing treatments, but also treatments that you are going to see results from.”

She started shopping around at various spas in town as a client. “I found that most of them were very uninviting and sterile,” she says. “It just wasn’t what I was looking for.”

At first, she was skeptical of the open-concept facial bar. “I’m used to being in a treatment room by myself with music, where it’s dark.” She didn’t think the open concept would work for her. “I ended up getting an interview with Kathy and I completely fell in love with her and she sold me on this idea.”

For Sweebe, the combination of the unique concept and Keeney’s leadership was the right mix.

“She takes time to listen, and that goes a long way,” Sweebe says. “Safety is always our number-one goal and treating your skin safely, so I think her [nursing] background really sets us apart.”

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Keeney says her days working in acute care at a hospital positioned her well for running a business and managing people.

“ER nurses are confident, and we’re risk takers. We’ve seen so many things, and we also know how to deal with a lot of different situations and personalities,” she says. “This business is customer service- and sales-oriented, so being an ER nurse really helps with that—being a good communicator, educator, and being able to explain things thoroughly to people.”

And every day is a learning experience. “Being a business owner is constantly pivoting and problem solving,” she says. “Managing people has to be one of the most challenging parts of the business.”

That’s why she only wants to select the best employees, ones that truly want to work at Boss Gal.

“We pick people that are passionate about what they do and constantly want to learn,” she says. “We are constantly immersing ourselves in continuing education and investing in our employees.”

Boss Gal Beauty Bar owner Kathy Keeney (center) and her management team Madison Thiel, Morgan Schaaf, Sarah Kerr and Molly Dougherty photographed on Wednesday, March 16, 2022.

Keeney earned a bachelor’s degree in nursing from Trent University and a permanent makeup certification from GLAMD of Chicago. She is also a member of the American Medical Spa Association and the American Academy of Facial Aesthetics, so continuing education is a big part of the Boss Gal business model.

The company offers classes, training opportunities, lunch-and-learns and more. And benefits include a maternity policy, a 401(k) match up to four percent of salary and flexible schedules. “The culture is so important to me,” Keeney says. “We are female-run and very proud of that.”

Once a week, Sweebe huddles with her team to discuss a new product.

“We’re constantly learning and keeping up with the new techniques and new tools and I absolutely love that,” she says. “This industry is constantly growing, so you do have to keep up with it. Boss Gal allows us to do that.”

Virginia Brown is a freelance writer.

Boss Gal Beauty Bar

Business: Medical spa and facial bar

Locations: Clintonville, Grandview and Easton

Founder: Kathy Keeney

Employees: 50

Revenue: Would not disclose.