Flint, Michigan — The bells on the door ring and jingle as a new customer walks through the door of Sweet Tee’s Salon and Kids Spa on Miller Road. This customer is all smiles and makes friendly conversation, but once she sits down in the chair, it's all business.
She wants a ponytail and she wants it high. “I want to look like JoJo Siwa,” pipes 5-year-old Alyssa.
Her mother Tyronda Harrison looks on as Theresa Trice-Nelson, stylist and owner of Sweet Tee’s eyes pictures of kid celebrity Jojo Siwa in hopes of perfecting the look.
“I’m Jojo!” announces Alyssa before Trice-Nelson, bubbling over with laughter, guides Alyssa to the wash bowl to prep her hair for the ponytail of epic proportions.
Trice-Nelson hails as a graduate of Flint Northern high school and has been a licensed cosmetologist for 26 years. She opened Sweet Tee’s in July 2018 and launched the specialty kids spa the next month.
Her dual-mission made her a stand out contestant and winner in Fenton’s Shark Tank this past November where she took home a $1,000 prize, and she won the I-69 Thumb Region’s Catapult Business Plan Competition for Genesee County and its $2,500 prize.
At her salon and spa, Trice-Nelson combines her experience as a cosmetologist with her prior work in childhood education and youth ministries. Sweet Tee’s is the area’s first full-service spa to cater to children — and she caters to ALL children, including those with special needs.
"So I was sitting in the hair seminar in Detroit and they begin to talk about how, you know, they don’t (style) children and they really prefer for them not to be in their salon,” Nelson recounts with shock. “I was like, ‘Oh my goodness, are you serious?’”
For Nelson, the exclusion of children in salon spaces only reflected a higher need.
“I want parents to feel safe — that this is a safe place, where your child won’t be judged if they’re crying when getting their hair done or they’re clapping because that’s what autistic children do or they make a loud noise.” said Trice-Nelson. "I want them to feel that this a safe place where you can come and your child will receive a pampering service.”
Parents can fill out a questionnaire addressing their child’s specific needs, including any environmental or sensory sensitivities. Before styling begins, children are welcomed to walk around and familiarize themselves with the salon space. Sweet Tee’s also adjusts the music based on kids needs and offers weighted blankets to put them at ease.
Children 2 to 16 can come in for a day of hair, makeup, facials, pedicures, and manicures in a myriad of combo packages, such as the “I am Loved” package, which includes a manicure, pedicure, and a sticker for $35, or the “I am Unstoppable” package with a mani, pedi, facial, hairstyle, sticker, and temporary tattoo for $99.
And, while the child is getting pampered so, too, can their parents.
Joyce Sanders has two daughters one 5, soon-to-be 6, and the other 7 years old. She came to Sweet Tee’s Salon and Kids Spa in hopes that her daughters would have better salon experiences than they have had in the past.
“They have very thick, coily hair and they’re both incredibly sensitive in their scalp,” said Sanders, as she get own own hair styled also. She first came to Sweet Tee’s because her daughter was having a birthday party and she wanted a spa day. “Theresa did their hair for me and she just did such a wonderful job with them.”
Trice-Nelson’s sense of patience and ease is what made Sanders a return customer. “Even when they were uncomfortable they were able to voice that in a positive way” said Sanders.
Currently staffed by three stylists, a nail technician, and a makeup — who combined bring more than 80 years of experience to the salon — beauty opportunities are endless. Trice-Nelson hopes they will inspire other salons to adopt a new approach to build kids up from head to toe.
“I want to create this new culture … to see special needs kids acclimated into regular mainstream life. They should be able to have fashion shows just like people without special needs…that the world can get used to kids with special needs and the kids get used to the world. To see that in the salon on a regular day would just melt my heart.”
Sweet Tee’s Salon and Kids Spa is located at 4205 Miller Road. For more information, check out the salon’s Facebook page