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Owner discovered her career 'niche' at a young age

| Wednesday, Feb. 29, 2012

PERRYOPOLIS — Joan Osiol's undying flair for hair has been the spark that has kept her salon on Route 51 in Perryopolis going strong for 26 years.

"I always wanted to do it ever since I was little," the outgoing owner of Mark IV Hair Styling said. "It was always my niche. I'm lucky. Some people spend all of their lives trying to find their niche."

Osiol grew up in Elizabeth and graduated from Elizabeth Forward High School in 1978. She now lives in Rostraver Township.

Having been interested in hairstyling since the age of 10, Osiol went directly from high school to Pittsburgh Beauty Academy, where she finished learning about hairstyling in 1979.

She later earned a teacher's certification in cosmetology.

There was hardly any downtime between the end of school and the beginning of her career.

Osiol got her start at Mr. Earl's Kut and Kurl on Route 51 in Rostraver Township, where she worked for seven years for the late Earl Knight.

"I graduated (from high school) in May, went to (beauty) school and was done in March and started working for him in April," Osiol said.

After that stint, Osiol decided to go into business for herself.

Just six months after she married her husband, David, Osiol took over Mark IV, which had been operating under that name under different ownership for only a few months.

Getting the full-service salon going was difficult for Osiol because she was a newlywed having some trouble securing a loan.

But one of her customers came to the rescue.

"I had a client that worked for Gallatin Bank at the time. She did my loan," Osiol said. "I still do her hair to this day. That's one of my 33-year customers."

That break, Osiol's devotion to promoting her new business and 60- to 70-hour work weeks, set the foundation for Mark IV.

And Osiol had already developed a reputation for being a quality hairstylist when she became a salon owner.

Many of the customers she served in the early years are still with her to this day.

What has kept the job interesting is the mixture of ages that visit her salon.

"I have really, really little kids and then I have people that are like 92," Osiol said. "I have always had that kind of clientele and I like it that way. I like that constant change."

Conversation with customers is one of the best parts of the job, Osiol said.

"I do enjoy that interaction, or I wouldn't have been able to do it this long," she said.

The business owner promotes a relaxing atmosphere at her workplace and stresses punctuality.

"With our appointments, we work on time. That's an essential thing," Osiol said.

Mark IV accepts walk-in customers, but most come in by appointment.

Osiol said she occasionally makes house calls for long-time customers who cannot make it to the salon because of illness or other reasons.

The business owner said she has been blessed with devoted and knowledgeable employees that have been with her for several years.

Jamie Thompson, of Elizabeth, has been at Mark IV since Osiol became the owner.

Brenda Falki, of Perryopolis, has worked there for 25 years and Dina Kotlar, of Monessen, has been at Mark IV for the last 10 years.

"I've had girls work for me a really long time. You just treat them how you want to be treated," Osiol said. "I think being a good boss is being flexible. Not that you're always happy when they need a day off. You've got to be flexible with customers, employees, with everybody."

Osiol and her husband have one daughter Anna, 15, a freshman at Belle Vernon Area High School.

Osiol said she has an extended family of employees and customers at work, many of whom she has seen through major events in their lives.

"You've done it all, weddings and proms. You do get attached to people. They're more than just acquaintances," she said. "You make a lot of friendships over the years."

One of Osiol's former co-workers, Cathy Waligura, of West Newton, frequently stops in at Mark IV as a customer and as a friend.

While there have been many benefits to running the business, the road has not always been smooth for Mark IV.

Keeping the business in the forefront, as hairstyling chain outlets have come and gone in the Mid-Mon Valley, has been challenging, Osiol said.

"The hardest thing for small business owners is there are all those franchises now. Not to make fun of them, because they're just making a living, too, but the competition is there," she said. "In other aspects, those people make you better, because we try to be more creative and into things. Things change, but you just change with them."

The salon owner said she sees many more successful years in the horizon for Mark IV.

"Knock on wood; we have always been really lucky," Osiol said. "Since I worked so many hours (in the beginning), I had such a large clientele that we were OK. We were never the salon that just did one age bracket. When the perm business went out with all the big hair, we still had a lot of customers because we still did a lot of hair color.

"We've always been very fortunate."

Looking back on her career as an entrepreneur, Osiol said she has no regrets.

"I can still wake up every day and want to cut hair, but I don't always like being the boss," she said with a smile.

Mark IV Hair Styling is located along Route 51 in Perryopolis. It is open Tuesdays through Saturdays and can be reached at (724) 736-4664.

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