BABE #200: SHANNON CONLEY — Founder, Urban Waxx
Shannon is the founder of Urban Waxx, a West Coast salon devoted solely to waxing services. Her love for providing unparalleled customer service and desire to create a happy workplace culture for her employees has proven both successful and rewarding. Since its inception in 2007, Urban Waxx has grown to eight locations, with future plans for even more expansion. Shannon’s team is 99% female; she understands and believes in employing, educating and empowering women — and that makes her one hell of a BWH. (P.S. - she's our 200th babe!)
Hometown: Millington, New Jersey
Current city: Portland, Oregon
Alma mater: Arizona State University
Degree: B.A., Theater
Very first job: Burger King
Hustle: Founder, Urban Waxx
Babe you admire and why?
Beyoncé, because … Beyoncé. She is the consummate artist and performer. She is a creative genius and her attention to detail is unparalleled. I once saw her in concert and during a break between songs she bent down and adjusted one of her props maybe an inch to the left. I was totally floored. The fact that she was so in touch and hyper aware of every part of her performance—enough so that she knew that one of her 100 props needed to be adjusted—brought my love for crafting an entire experience to whole new level.
How do you spend your free time?
Any free time I have, I love to spend with the fam. We are real homebodies and some of my favorite evenings are spent hanging out together, snuggling on the sofa, watching a movie. It’s also very important for my sanity and overall wellbeing that I spend time working out every day. Yoga is my go-to. I am also slightly obsessed with travel and I’m always dreaming of the next adventure.
What would you eat for your very last meal?
The biggest, best plate of nachos ever.
What’s something you want to learn or master?
I would love to be a great surfer.
If you could have coffee with anyone in the world, who would it be?
Favorite fictional female character?
Daenerys Targaryen from “Game of Thrones.” She’s brave, brilliant and compassionate, but also flawed. She is single-minded in her ambition but she’s also so human. She also realizes that to have an empire, she needs a lot of people around her to help.
Tell us about your hustle.
Today, 11 years into owning Urban Waxx, my role is very different from when I started. In the beginning I had to learn and understand absolutely everything about the business. From the financials, to the management, to the toilet being unclogged—all of it was under my purview. Now, I have an amazing team and I’m able to focus on what not only makes me really happy, but what I’m really good at. I can focus on the Urban Waxx brand, our culture and our vision. There’s a feeling as an entrepreneur that we need to be great at everything in our business, and that’s what I carried for a long time. Once I realized I only needed to be great at what my specialty is (and I could find people who were spectacular at their specialties to be a part of my team) things became a lot more fun—and pretty magical.
What does your typical workday look like?
There is no typical workday. There are days I’m collaborating on marketing. There are days I’m focusing on education and spending time waxing. There are days I’m focused on creating a new product or working on our current retail line. I spend time in the salons, I will sit in on interviews, I always spend time connecting with my managers, I address guest feedback, I pick up shifts, I will scrub the floors—there are so many things that go on every day at Urban Waxx. I feel like I could use six extra hours every day. I am always excited about Urban Waxx and my brain is always on.
How long have you been working in beauty services and hair care?
I became an esthetician when I was 25. Before that I was always in food and beverage, working in every role from fast food to high-end fine dining. I was always passionate about customer service. After college I decided to go to esthetician school. At that time Bliss Spa and its owner Marcia Kilgore was getting real attention and I loved the direction of where spas were going. I thought maybe I would love it—and I did. I fell in love with the industry, and it has grown ever since.
What inspired Urban Waxx?
I worked in spas and salons for about nine years before opening Urban Waxx. I soaked up every experience and I always had an idea of creating my own business eventually. I saw a gap in the industry where I thought waxing should really be a standalone service, as opposed to being in a spa or a nail salon. When I moved to Portland in 2007, I opened the first Urban Waxx. The salon has changed significantly in the time it’s been open, but the most important part of my vision (the ability to craft and create a beautiful guest experience, as well as my dedication for creating an inclusive and dynamic team) has never wavered.
What’s the company culture like at Urban Waxx?
Our company culture, for me, is what sets us apart, from an employment perspective. We hire happy. I read years ago a quote from a CEO that said, (paraphrased): You have a happy team by hiring happy team members and firing the ones who are unhappy. That really resonated with me. As the founder, I spend a lot of time thinking about how to make people happy, most especially my team. My role is to give them everything I can to set them up for success: beautiful salons, in-depth training and education, transparent management, compassionate coaching, great benefits like 401K and health care and time-off pay—then we expect them to flourish and be happy. I have learned, however, that I cannot make someone happy. That is the individual’s choice. We look for team members who are fundamentally happy and passionate about the guest experience. To lead my team effectively, I need to encompass every value that we espouse. In times when the culture has felt shaky, I always need to look to myself first. No matter what, I am the voice and face of Urban Waxx, and I need to continue to be in service to my team. When my team understands me, our brand and our vision, that’s when the magic happens.
What’s it like leading a team of 99 percent women in a generally women-run industry?
I love it. There is an unfair reputation in our industry that a mostly female team can be catty or competitive. That is not the way it is at Urban Waxx. I love my team. I have worked with so many powerful, creative, inspiring, funny, engaging women over my time as a business owner. I love women and love women supporting other women.
How have your past academic and professional experiences prepared you for the work you do today?
I was a theater major in college. Although now, I would have loved to have a few business courses under my belt (or typing or Excel classes), being a theater major helped my love of public speaking and also my ability to read and perceive situations. My professional experience is all customer service-based. Every job I had, from fast food to dive bar to high-end hospitality helped me to understand the guest. Understanding people quickly and figuring out what they need (sometimes before they know it), is the greatest talent someone in customer service can posses.
What are some common misconceptions about your job?
Owning a business means I’m working 24/7. It never turns off. Anyone who thinks running a business means less work is kidding themselves. You can be extremely successful, but it takes real work, real sacrifice, real dedication and the understanding that nothing is permanent. The work, the challenges, the financial stress has never gone away for me, they just change and evolve. For me, it’s all so worth it because I’m so obsessed with Urban Waxx.
What’s one of the biggest obstacles you’ve faced in your work?
Letting go. It’s extremely difficult for me to delegate, and I held on to roles in the business for a long time out of fear. Once I realized I needed to delegate and allow people to flourish in their roles without me micromanaging, things got a lot more easy and fun. I still need a gentle reminder to relax every now and then, but it has gotten a lot easier.
What’s your biggest strength in your role? What’s the skill you most need to improve?
My biggest strength is my ability to see the details and understand how important every detail is to the entire experience. To me, every tiny piece of the business comes together to make magic. The skill I need to improve on (and am continuously working on), is that I need to see people as they truly are, as opposed to how I want them to be or how they could be. I spend a lot of time thinking about how I can serve the team, and that includes how they can be happy. The reality is that sometimes people won’t be happy no matter what their environment is. It’s tough for me to feel misunderstood in any circumstance, but that’s something I need to work on in my personal and professional life.
Are you involved with any community organizations or side projects?
We work with a ton of local nonprofits. Every October we choose one organization to raise awareness for. Last October we raised over $20,000 for ALS. This October we’re aligning with Door to Grace.
Who are some women in your field you look to for inspiration?
I continue to follow the success of Drybar and its founder, Alli Webb. She started her business as a one-woman shop, and today there are Drybar locations across the country. I love the brand and I love the commitment they have to their core values.
What advice would you give to a babe trying to break into your industry?
To be successful in any industry that’s so reliant on a good guest experience, you really have to love people. You have to be able to remove your ego and focus on the people around you. To be in service to another person is a privilege and the greatest gift you can give someone is your undivided attention. If you don’t love people, if your goal is to serve yourself first, I don’t think you can be successful or happy in customer service.
What’s next for you?
My goal is to have Urban Waxx locations across the country. I’m devoting the next year or so to completely solidifying our processes and procedures and streamlining our brand and culture, then we will be positioned for national exposure. It’s a very exciting time!
Career and/or life advice for other babes?
Work hard and be nice. Don’t expect things to ever be easy. Under-promise and over-deliver. Accept help when offered. Figure out what you’re really good at and focus on that one thing, then surround yourself with people who are great in their areas of expertise and understand your vision. Support them and let them know how much you value them. When you make a mistake, own it, then move on. I have a philosophy in my personal and professional life: “The first time it’s a lesson. The second time it’s a mistake.” Any time I make a mistake—or there is a mistake made on my team—I think, what can we do better next time? Looking for a way to see the lesson is always more important than placing blame.
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