Lauren Hunter & Manda Mason Of The W Nail Bar: How To Successfully Ride The Emotional Highs & Lows Of Being An Entrepreneur

by Charles Purdom
Lauren Hunter & Manda Mason Of The W Nail Bar: How To Successfully Ride The Emotional Highs & Lows Of Being An Entrepreneur

Being a founder, entrepreneur, or a business owner can have many exciting and thrilling moments. But it is also punctuated with periods of doubt, slump, and anxiety. So how does one successfully and healthily ride the highs and lows of Entrepreneurship? In this series, called “How To Successfully Ride The Emotional Highs & Lows Of Being An Entrepreneur  we are talking to successful entrepreneurs who can share stories from their experience. I had the pleasure of interviewing Manda Mason & Lauren Hunter.

Manda Mason and Lauren Hunter, two Ohio-born sisters who created and opened The W Nail Bar in 2015. As Midwest girls who grew up in a family-owned business, they always knew one day that they wanted to start one of their own. They settled on a chic and sustainable nail salon. For them, creating The W was about filling a void they saw in the market with a clean, fun, and customer service-based nail salon. Along with that, they wanted to create a safe space for nail techs to not only work but feel valued and cared for. So, that’s exactly what they did! After opening their doors, they also quickly realized product lines were not up to their standards, so they started making their own!

Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

Manda Mason: As Midwest girls who grew up in a family-owned business, we always knew one day we wanted to start one of our own. We settled on a chic and sustainable nail salon. For us, creating The W was about filling a void we saw in the market with a clean, fun and customer service-based nail salon. Along with that, we wanted to create a safe space for nail techs to not only work but feel valued and cared for. After opening our doors, we also quickly realized product lines were not up to our standards. So, we started making our own. The W Nail Bar is founded on four pillars (The 4 Cs) — cleanliness, customer service, community and culture. 

What was the “Aha Moment” that led to the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?

Lauren Hunter: Manda had decided to go back to school to get her nail license and, in the process, learned a great deal about the industry, including how dirty nail salons can be, the lack of customer service, poor treatment of employees — the list goes on! In fact, we learned that 1 in 4 guests will leave a nail salon with a bacterial or fungal infection. That’s why we only use copper tubs, which are naturally antiseptic. We knew we could create something really cool and different. We were committed to doing it a better way.

In your opinion, were you a natural born entrepreneur or did you develop that aptitude later on? Can you explain what you mean?

Manda Mason: I would say we are natural born entrepreneurs. Our Midwest hardworking values run deep, and we are organized, driven, passionate and always thinking about how to innovate something. You also have to be progressive and frankly, a bit obsessive. I would say that to be an entrepreneur, being a workaholic should be in your DNA. We started this company with no VC funds and really pulled up our bootstraps to make it happen.

Was there somebody in your life who inspired or helped you to start your journey with your business? Can you share a story with us?

Lauren Hunter: I would certainly say we inspired each other both when we started the business and every step since then. We also lean heavily on our amazingly talented board, which is filled with our mentors, including other strong, female business leaders such as Michele Love, the CEO of Sunrise Brands and Sharen Jester Turney, the former CEO of Victoria’s Secret. We are inspired every day by the female leaders and founders who came before us.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Manda Mason: We are committed to keeping our nail bars all natural. We don’t offer acrylics or dips (which is just acrylic powder) and we are known for our copper pedi bowls which are naturally antiseptic. You will never see a jetted tub in our nail bars because they are breeding grounds for bacteria.

Another unique aspect of The W Nail Bar is that we have a very inclusive and diverse staff. Creating a welcoming and safe place to work is always front of mind for us. We put our employees’ happiness and wellbeing above all else. By treating staff the right way, it helps ensure an amazing experience for our customer. Getting your nails done should be a 5-star experience from beginning to end.

You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

  1. Passion
  2. Hardworking
  3. Being kind

Often leaders are asked to share the best advice they received. But let’s reverse the question. Can you share a story about advice you’ve received that you now wish you never followed?

Manda Mason: I can’t think of a specific piece of bad advice, but I will say there is a lot of misinformation about how to run a business. None of it is real. There is no book that fits because every person and company is different. It really comes down to experience and just living it. Entrepreneurship is an education you can’t buy. I will say that we got advice early on to grow slowly and if we had listened to that, we wouldn’t be where we are today. Whether you should grow fast or slow, really depends on your ability and what works for you.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them create a work culture in which employees thrive and do not “burn out” or get overwhelmed?

-Protect their time off/personal time

-Be open to feedback from your team of what they need to feel successful

-Listen and then take action to do something about it. Empty words won’t cut it.

What would you advise other business leaders to do in order to build trust, credibility, and Authority in their industry?

Lauren Hunter: It’s cliché but don’t just talk the talk, make sure you are walking it. You build trust by being reliable, consistent and doing the right thing, always. Value your employees first and then prove it. It sounds overly simple, but pay them on time, respect their lives, treat them with respect and kindness. We are relentless in our commitment to putting our employees first.

Can you help articulate why doing that is essential today?

Manda Mason: It’s just the right thing to do. Businesses won’t be able to survive by taking advantage of employees. People see right through it. It’s 2021 folks, the world evolved and people won’t stand for that. There are so many options in the marketplace and if you have a high turnover rate, you will most certainly fail. We are proud that The W Nail Bar’s turnover rate is very low for our industry.

What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a business? What can be done to avoid those errors?

Manda Mason: So many! The biggest mistake is surrounding yourself with the wrong people or frankly, too many people. Keep it lean and surround yourself with people who are smarter than you at what they do. Have a good legal team and know how to negotiate a lease if you have a brick-and-mortar business. Bad real estate choices can kill a company before it even gets off the ground.

Shifting to the main focus of the interview about How to Successfully Ride The Emotional Highs & Lows Of Being An Entrepreneur…the journey of an entrepreneur is never easy, and is filled with challenges, failures, setbacks, as well as joys, thrills and celebrations. Can you describe to our readers why no matter how successful you are, you will always have fairly dramatic highs and lows? Particularly, can you help explain why this is different from someone with a “regular job”?

Lauren Hunter: There is so much more risk involved when you own your own business, and you have to be comfortable living in that space. You will have the highest highs and the lowest lows as an entrepreneur. You have to be okay with being afraid all the time and being able to function and lead through it.

Manda Mason: There is a misconception that you have to know it all when you own a business, but there is a vulnerability to it. There is so much we have to think about that makes a business run and function. It’s harder than anyone realizes and when you add scaling, it’s a whole different ballgame. We honestly don’t know how solo CEOs do it. It can be lonely to be an entrepreneur.

That’s why we are so grateful to have each other to lean on.

Do you feel comfortable sharing a story from your own experience about how you felt unusually high and excited as a result of your business? We would love to hear it.

Lauren Hunter: One of the biggest accomplishments was being able to offer health insurance for our employees. It’s a rarity in the beauty industry and it was a really proud moment for us to be able to do that as a small business. Another high is our new partnership with Hy-Vee, the premier Midwest grocery store chain. Growing up in the grocery industry, we had a fan girl moment when they reached out. Our values are so closely aligned, it was a perfect fit.

Do you feel comfortable sharing a story from your own experience about how you felt unusually low, and vulnerable as a result of your business? We would love to hear it.

Manda Mason: 2020 was just an emotional rollercoaster for us — wondering if the business was going to survive. We truly didn’t know if we were going to have a business after March 2020. When the world shuts down and you have to shut down and furlough employees — I never cried that hard in my life. I didn’t know if we would ever open again. Entrepreneurs are control freaks by nature. COVID took away our control and it felt like you were spiraling.

Based on your experience can you tell us what you did to bounce back?

Lauren Hunter: We have the most amazing team and loyal customers who were ready to come back. Thankfully, The W Nail Bar was ahead of the curve because our business was already founded on cleanliness before COVID-19 even happened. It wasn’t a new concept for us to do what is right and be focused on extensive sanitation practices. Although, like everyone, COVID-19 certainly did require us to pivot quickly, adding plexiglass, removing cash transactions and limiting capacity. The pandemic forced us to embrace flexibility, requiring us to be agile and willing to adjust at a moment’s notice.

Here is the main question of the interview. What are your “Five Things You Need To Successfully Ride The Emotional Highs & Lows Of Being An Entrepreneur”? Please share a story or an example for each.

Manda Mason:

1- Be grounded in your purpose

It comes down to why are you doing this? For us, we want to help people and empower women by creating thousands of rewarding and safe job opportunities. When you are building a business, you are creating and asking people to buy into a vision that should be meaningful.

2- Have strategic plan on how to accomplish your goals.

We have a strategy for the next 5 years for the goals we want to accomplish. This keeps you on course and prevent you from derailed by the day-to-day ups and downs. There are bigger things you have to focus on. For us the big picture is employing thousands of women and have nail bars located from coast to coast. (Lauren)

3- You have to be mentally strong.

You will be pushed and ripped apart. Resiliency is huge, but you have to be strong enough to handle the blows. 2020 is a great example. We could have cracked under the pressure, but we didn’t falter. People see the wins and the success, but what they don’t see are all of the no’s that also come with owning a business. Things don’t always pan out. Being agile and able pivot quickly when something goes wrong is key. (Manda)

4- Don’t take it personally.

It’s hard we know — it’s your business. It’s your baby. Shift your mindset of what you can learn from this and that will help. For example, if we get a critical Yelp review with someone being rude, we take a step back and realize they may be having a bad day and we can’t take it personally. Fix the problems in front of you, but don’t expect perfection. (Lauren)

5- Lean into your team.

During the pandemic, we focused on our team to make sure they were okay. We checked in even after we were closed. We had to be authentic and have real conversations about how we were all feeling. Vulnerability is a key component of entrepreneurship. The team really appreciated us being real with them. For us, it always comes down to building authentic, real relationships.

We are living during challenging times and resilience is critical during times like these. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?

Manda Mason: Being able to make decisions quickly and move on. Staying calm and knowing the world is not ending all the time. It’s hard to not get emotional sometimes when it’s a business you care so deeply about, but you must stay focused on the end goal. Resilient people are like ducks, calm on the surface but paddling like crazy under the water.

Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Would you mind sharing a story?

Lauren Hunter: We had to start working in our family’s grocery store when we were 12 and learned all parts of the business from stocking shelves, running the deli, being the cashier, etc. That was great experience because it taught us to value each role that makes a company operate. When we are in our stores, we will sweep, handle guest feedback and more. You can’t have a huge ego, or you won’t get very far. 

In your opinion, do you tend to keep a positive attitude during difficult situations? What helps you to do so?

Manda Mason: Well not always — we are human. However, we do keep the tough moments to ourselves. That’s the luxury of working with your family. I can be mad or cry and get it out to my sister and then buck up to the rest of the world. We don’t want to show negativity to our team. They don’t deserve that, and we know it has a trickledown effect that can quickly lead to a toxic work culture.

Can you help articulate why a leader’s positive attitude can have a positive impact both on their clients and their team? Please share a story or example if you can.

Lauren Hunter: You set the stage and the tone for every interaction you have. You can walk into any business and gauge the leadership based on the environment. Having a positive attitude not only benefits our team, but also enhancing the overall nail experience for customers. We are still very interactive with our customers and we want them to know we enjoy taking care of them. We are in the business of people.

What is your favorite inspirational quote that motivates you to pursue greatness?

“Leaders become great not because of their power but, because of their ability to empower others.” — John Maxwell

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with
this. We wish you continued success and good health!

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