The Halo effect: Finding light in the dark

Few people know what it is to overcome adversity better than Ryann Halo, who found success as a salon owner and business mentor, despite a childhood that feels ripped straight from a made-for-television miniseries. 

But to hear her tell her story, one could be forgiven for not noticing that there was ever any adversity to overcome. She carries the weight of tragedy, family strife and a youth that was robbed out from underneath her better than if it had never happened at all. She carries it like a cudgel, one that can beat success into those seeking it through compassion, kindness and perseverance. 

Halo is the founder and CEO of Salon Halo, a thriving, luxury salon with three locations throughout the Tampa Bay region, in South Tampa, Carrollwood and Spring Hill. She also founded Halo Consulting & Education, a passion project that allows her to pass her hard-earned business savvy and strategy to others, all with the goal of helping as many people succeed as possible. 

“The method really is about giving leaders more personal freedom through teaching them that you have to empower your team,” Halo told Tampa Bay Business and Wealth of her consulting business, which emphasizes her aptly named “Grow and Glow” method. 

To understand just how spectacular it is that Halo wound up where she is — running a thriving salon and passing those skills to others through her consulting firm — it’s important to understand where Halo came from. 

A New York State of Mind

Halo grew up in Long Island, New York where she became briefly accustomed to the hustle and bustle of urban living. It didn’t last long though. Her family — her mom, dad and little brother — moved to Florida when she was just five. She went from being a short train ride from the big city to living in Spring Hill, a rural area that was even more rural in the mid-90s, when she first arrived. 

But they were a family and made the best of it. She attended school where she tested into the gifted program, allowing her to access different classes, once a week, that challenged her and offered a sort of dual existence — one where she was trying to be popular in school by fitting in, and the other as part of a studious bunch tasked with various puzzles and crafts to expand their young minds. 

She excelled early on in school and, with the gifted program, always felt that she had just one option for success: to go to college. 

In first grade, her parents divorced. For so many kids who have faced the breakdown of their parents’ marriage, that’s often the strife that sneaks in to change things, and not always for the better, but Halo did OK. 

“Mom and dad stayed very friendly and close,” she said, adding that neither of the two really dated seriously after the split and, she thinks, they might have still been “hooking up” from time to time, a memory she shares with a chuckle. 

But that sense of making the best of a difficult situation wouldn’t last. Halo began to feel a little uneasy after her mom eventually started dating someone. The relationship moved fast and got serious. Her brother liked the boyfriend, and he told their dad as much. Halo remembers her dad living in a small, unimpressive home in Hudson, a town she describes as depressing in and of itself. He didn’t do much “career-wise,” Halo explains, adding that he held down a variety of jobs from working at Good Humor to being a janitor at a local school. 

“And I got a really bad feeling around that time,” she said. 

That’s when her life, at just 11 years old, would change forever.

Tragedy Strikes

On Super Bowl Sunday, in 2002, Halo’s brother didn’t return home when expected from visiting the siblings’ dad. Worried, her mom began frantically calling hospitals, trying to figure out where her son was, and make sure that he was OK. 

Still without answers, she drove to Hudson to her ex-husband’s house. That’s where Halo’s mom discovered he had shot her son — just six years old — in the head, before turning the gun on himself, in a tragic murder-suicide. 

“It didn’t feel like the movies where you’re like, oh, you’re crying and you’re upset,” she said. “I didn’t really feel. I didn’t know what to feel.”

The family held a viewing for her brother, for seven days. During that week, Halo saw her tiny brother in a casket, lifeless. Disney music played and flowers were everywhere. To this day, she hates the smell of flowers. They remind her of death. 

The tragedy marked the beginning of a new chapter for Halo, one that would redefine her goals and expectations, one that would expand her horizons. But first, she had to learn how to navigate a life of solitude, absent the type of nurturing support a child should expect. 

Navigating Mental Health

Halo doesn’t blame her mom for the months and years that followed. Enduring such a tragedy — having a son violently ripped from your life by someone you once loved — is a path that understandably leads to challenges, Halo compassionately explains. 

But, she admits, there were failures. Those failures led to her being near-homeless at just 14 years old, on the brink of failing out of school and surrounded by nefarious characters more interested in drug and alcohol use than progress. 

Her mom leaned into her new boyfriend after the murder. He, Halo described, had a history of substance abuse. And soon, her mom too was self-medicating through drugs doctors prescribed, like Xanax.

“I blame the doctors,” she now says. 

Still, addiction was hard on Halo. And the boyfriend made her uncomfortable in her own home. Twice her mom had her Baker Acted, claiming she was a danger to herself. It’s something Halo, to this day, disputes. But it was the last straw and what prompted her to leave home. 

Her mom had been keeping her up late at night, often, so Halo would oversleep for school. Sometimes she’d get left at school with no way home. Consumed with family struggles and grief, school fell increasingly to the wayside. 

She began couch surfing at a friend’s house and, eventually landed at one friend’s house whose parents were hands off. It was a drug house of sorts and Halo found herself surrounded by the temptation to partake, though she never did. 

“I had strong internal morals and values,” she said. But even still, gripped by her own depression, there was one time when she almost gave in and considered opioids as an escape. She’s glad she didn’t. 

A Mentor Steps In

As fate would have it, one of the kids who frequented the house where Halo was staying had an aunt who was a hair stylist. That aunt had worked with Halo’s aunt, who owned her own salon in Spring Hill, but also struggled with drug use and addiction. 

She spotted Halo, amid a group of troublemakers and openly questioned why a nice girl like her was hanging with a bunch like this. She knew that Halo had, on some occasions, helped in her aunt’s salon. So, she offered her $25 a day to come help at the salon where she worked. 

Halo jumped at the opportunity. She cleaned and washed clients’ hair. She taught herself the ins and outs of salons and discovered that she really liked the customer service behind it. She was hardworking. And she was good. It didn’t go unnoticed. 

The salon owner offered her $50 a day to work for him. With tips from customers, she was regularly making $100 a day. It taught her an important lesson: hard work pays off. 

But it was all under the table. Halo was still just a teenager. She was supposed to be in school. 

As all of this was happening, Halo’s family life continued to deteriorate. Her grandparents, who she and her brother had frequently stayed with before the murder, and she alone after, were hesitant to take Halo in. Her mom was still emotionally fragile and upsetting her further seemed ill-advised. 

But they did eventually step in, offering Halo a place to stay that wasn’t a drug-addled home with an uncomfortable couch. 

A Career Presents Itself

With her experience at the Spring Hill salon growing, Halo’s grandparents agreed to take her to Tampa to tour the Paul Mitchell cosmetology and beauty school, considered one of the best around, at the time. 

Halo loved it, but there were still so many obstacles in her way. She had given up on completing high school. She was too far behind, and she didn’t have reliable transportation. Getting her own license was out of the question because her mom wouldn’t sign the necessary forms. To attend Paul Mitchell, she needed a high school diploma, or a GED, but she couldn’t get a GED because she wasn’t 18. 

Instead of admitting defeat and giving up, Halo worked with an advisor at the school to break down each barrier, one challenge at a time. They brought in a private tester to administer an equivalency exam. She not only passed, but she also scored at a college level, despite only having an education through 10th grade. Then the school partnered Halo with another student, who lived reasonably close to Halo’s grandparents in Spring Hill, who agreed to drive her to and from classes, in exchange, of course, for gas money. 

So, she began learning. And working. Like her experience working at the Spring Hill salon, she threw everything she had into it. She worked early and late. She mentored newer students. Even after she graduated, she kept coming back until they told her to stop. Paul Mitchell was the beginning of a thriving career for Halo, she just didn’t know it yet. 

The Windy City Beckons

Halo wasn’t even 18 when she graduated from Paul Mitchell. She still lived with her grandparents. She still didn’t have a car. Or a license. But she was ready to begin her life. Ready to leave the scars of her childhood behind. 

Halo had learned a lot working in that Spring Hill salon, and by working extra during her time at Paul Mitchell. Spring Hill didn’t seem like the sort of place where she could become the stylist she wanted, someone who traveled and provided services for celebrities. The best of the best. 

There was a lot of talk about how she might achieve her goals and, more specifically, where she might achieve them. Halo had an uncle who lived in Chicago (more on that in a second) who was willing to take her in. It was perfect. A big city teeming with possibility. So, she went. 

It wasn’t perfect — her uncle’s Chicago home turned out to be way outside the city in an area just as rural as Spring Hill and she had to work a serving job, using a fake ID, because she wasn’t yet 21 — but she was making money and doing hair. Eventually, she even took a job as an apprentice in a high-end salon. It was a move that felt like self-demotion, Halo said, but proved to be the launching pad for the brand she would eventually build, back home in Florida. 

She Could Have Seen It Coming

Even before Halo came back to Florida, long before Salon Halo became the institution it is today, Halo might have been able to predict her future, or at least that it would be a successful one. 

It’s not surprising she didn’t, however. 

See, Halo never wanted to own her own salon. That was actually rare among aspiring beauticians and cosmetologists, back at Paul Mitchell. When asked who wanted to eventually own their own salon, Halo was often the only one not to raise her hand. 

So, when she got a call, just before her 21st birthday, about buying her aunt’s salon back in Spring Hill, Halo’s initial reaction was a resounding “hell no.” 

But again, she could have seen it coming. 

Halo already had plans to travel back to see her family, a trip she made every few months. It was a win-win that allowed her to not only visit her family, but also make some quick cash, which more than paid for the trip in the process. Halo had acquired some loyal clients back home, clients who gladly waited for her to make the trip back from Chicago to get their hair colored, a skill for which Halo excelled. So, her trips back home sent her back to Chicago, often with a cool grand to sock away. 

She was counting the days until her 21st birthday. It was June. Summer in Chicago was coming. By now she had an apartment on the 15th floor of a building, overlooking Lake Michigan. It was the perfect time of year to celebrate a milestone birthday and she had come so far. 

So, when her grandma suggested they — together — buy the Spring Hill salon, it didn’t seem like a no-brainer. It was her uncle who suggested she get it started but still come back to Chicago, for a time. So, she did. 

Halo busied herself with cleaning the salon — a deep clean that took her weeks to achieve — and handing out flyers to drum up business. As Halo describes it, she started at less than zero.

“I had to clean for a couple of months to get it up to my standard,” she said. 

For six months she was the only employee. But eventually, she hired another stylist and she sought to create something that didn’t exist in Spring Hill: a luxury salon that put customer service at the center of the experience. 

Passion for Teaching

Over the years, since launching Salon Halo, Halo has found that teaching is just as much a passion as providing quality service and growing a successful business. 

“Previously, there wasn’t a way for a stylist to be looked at as a professional,” she said. “They were looked down on and myself, I was guilty of the same thing, looking down on it as a menial job, as a settling thing, as just flaking off.” 

But she saw what was possible when she was working in Chicago. She saw how valued a good stylist could be. 

“I love to teach, and I wanted to make everybody else great, and I wanted to teach them the tools to be successful too,” she said. 

She threw herself into the cause, listening to audiobooks, watching YouTube tutorials, going to seminars. She wanted to create an environment where employees were free to learn and grow, and where clients felt valued and special, no matter who they were. 

“When I was in Chicago … I didn’t really fit in. I’m not sophisticated,” she said. “I mean, I’m myself, the same in front of everybody, but I think now it works for me.”

But before she realized that she felt like she wasn’t cool enough.

“I never want anybody to feel like that,” Halo said, adding that for her salon she wanted a sense of inclusivity. “You can be weird. You can be edgy. You don’t have to be blonde. We had a good culture of that.”

The culture Halo has passed to her employees — she now has 39 — shows. Her website includes reviews clients have left online. The very first one listed, as of June 11, is from a client who raved about her extensions. The client, turns out, has been battling cancer for 2.5 years and wanted extensions after she suffered hair loss from treatment. Other commenters tout Salon Halo for its “extraordinary customer service” and “friendly staff.” Clients love the atmosphere and, reading those reviews, they all feel respected and comfortable, just the way Halo wants them to feel. 

Looking Forward

Having found her version of success – a version that is objectively more successful than most ever achieve – Halo is now focused on continuing to teach and share her experience, largely through her consulting firm. 

That’s a passion that was reiterated early on when, about seven years ago, she helped her now-husband and his family achieve a better work-life balance in their family-owned pizza business. 

While dating, her husband would often lament how he couldn’t take a vacation. She told him, she laughs, that he either needed to do something to change it or shut up about it. So, he employed her wisdom to make changes, and, with some pushback, presented those suggestions to his parents. 

With her input, the family was able to go fairly hands-off with the business, freeing up their time to grow and enjoy life and they’ve grown, from about $1 million in revenue to more than $2 million in this time. 

That was her first consulting client and there have been plenty since. She focuses on various hospitality businesses, as well as med spas. Ironically though, beauty salons aren’t a focus. The profit margins are too small, Halo notes. Though, she says she’s happy to help those who want it, and she has – for free. 

In the future, Halo hopes to share her story on as many stages as possible, to inspire others to succeed, to find their own perseverance, as she did.

She’s in talks to author a book. And she hopes to create workshops for various organizations. 

Her future goals, she said, are best summed up by a Zig Ziglar quote:

“You can have everything in life you want, if you will just help other people get what they want.”♦

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