One of my favorite things to talk to business owners and entrepreneurs about is the early days of their business. What is the reason it was started? What is the incentive…the “why?”
I began Urban Waxx for one simple reason: I wanted to create a place that was unavailable for me. I wanted to work in a chic, beautiful space where all I could do is wax. I wanted it to be very professional, but also super fun. I wanted to be able to ONLY focus on waxing because I felt like it needed a separate space from day spas, nail salons, hair salons. And, in 2007, that concept didn’t exist in Portland. I came to Portland in January of 2007 and applied at every salon and spa in town, hoping to find a place that would feel like home for me. I didn’t find it.
One day I was walking in NW Portland and I saw a store for rent. I thought: What if? What if I opened a little place…just me…and I started waxing and providing the kind of customer service that I loved and learned working in the restaurant industry. What if I built a place that I would feel joy walking into every day, and where my guests would feel joy.
So, I did. I started a little tiny one room business. Keep in mind, it was February in Portland in 2007. I knew no one. I had moved to Portland in January on a lark, and hadn’t even gotten to know the city yet. I was met with a LOT of skepticism. “Really? You are opening a wax only salon in Portland? Isn’t Portland full of hippies?” That was the type of thing I heard a lot in the beginning. But even then I knew…I knew that if there was a place that people could come and get a great wax, have some really great conversation, laugh a bunch, and maybe enjoy a mimosa and some candy on the way out…I knew we would be onto something.
Turns out, I was right! I got busy, REALLY busy, really quickly. And, at the same time, I decided I needed to have a baby RIGHT THIS SECOND! In my head, I thought, I should try to get pregnant now, and then it’ll probably take a year or so to conceive, and then by that time I could probably be ready to build out a space and hire a few people. It seemed like a great idea, theoretically. Of course, as always is the case as I have realized since then, plans change. And change they did. I got pregnant with Stella the first month we tried, which was incredible and also dramatically accelerated my plan to find a larger location.
One day I was walking by the corner of NW 18th and Marshall. There was a giant, old empty building with a small narrow, long space that served as an office in the front. I peered in the windows and I didn’t see that old, empty space. I saw the first Urban Waxx. Fortunately, the landlord Jim, (he is still my landlord today and I adore him for his patience and gentle disposition), was so easy to deal with and so patient with me. He was pretty chill even when I was 6 months pregnant and completely winging it: trying to figure out how to manage a build out, hire employees, train the same employees, and still see guests every day to fund the expansion. It was intense, and fun, and terrifying, and it seemed SO HUGE at the time that looking back now it makes me smile. How the “debt” that I incurred opening (I think it was about $40,000) seemed so immense that I would lose sleep worrying about it. How massive it felt to have 3 employees that were looking to me for answers and guidance and leadership (hello imposter syndrome, meet Shannon). But through all of the ups and downs, all the sleepless nights…I knew very early on that Urban Waxx was special. I knew that we were onto something.
I still, 12 years later, feel that exact same way. Now we have 100 employees, 8 locations (and a lot more debt), we have our own products, we have so much more brand recognition in the Portland/ Vancouver area. I feel like over the past 3 or 4 years, Urban Waxx has grown up. Our team is so strong, stronger than we have ever been. We still see guests that saw me 12 years ago! And we still focus on delivering the same unique brand of chic and accessible. Professional and fun. Polished and warm and friendly.
Urban Waxx is a home, a family, a safe space. One of the questions that I get the most as a business owner is: “Wow. Aren’t you so busy?” The answer is complicated. I AM busy but I am busy with things, now, that I LOVE. That is the beauty of having a really cohesive, really supportive team. I can focus on my “special sauce” and they can focus on theirs. One of the struggles that business owners face when they first open is that you need to be a Jack of all trades. You HAVE to be good at everything under the umbrella of your own business, because there is no one else to pick up the slack. But, you know what they say: Jack of all trades, master of none. Now, after 12 years, I get to be the Master of my own trade and focus on what I am really good at and what I am passionate about doing. And, my incredible team can focus on what they are good at. It feels like magic.
The “Why” of why I opened Urban Waxx was the same when I opened it as it is today. I wanted to feel joy when I walked through the doors. I wanted my guests to feel joy. I wanted my team to feel joy. That is the same motivation that I have today. Joy. Joy and love and happiness.
Thank you all so much for supporting us in big and small ways. It takes a village, and all of YOU make up our magical village!