Story by Gary Baribeault
Data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that 20% of first year small businesses will fail, and 50% of those surviving small businesses will fail in their fifth year. A statistic Valerie Dunn has no intention of adding to, ever. This is the attitude and persona she carries with her every waking moment, in every aspect of her life. Nowhere was that more obvious then when she stops to discuss with me her future and that of her business, Progressive Esthetics.
With confidence that can only be described as focused and humble, she starts each day as a new Mom devoted to the task at hand, but ever mindful of the business agenda waiting for her at the boutique.
“After a couple of previous articles and my time here on Main Street people know me now, they know my back story and history” she said as we sat in the living room of her Rochester home, discussing the direction and focus behind growing her almost 3-year-old business.
“I’ve managed to grow from a self-run shop in the beginning, to adding my first employee after 9 months, and then 3 more since that time”. “I’ve accomplished a lot since then, and my focus now is more on being a better business owner and mentor than just an esthetician”, she said. “My personal story is moving forward from being known as “Lou the Baker’s Daughter” she shared with a smirk. “All of that was a wonderful beginning and something to build on, but now I’ve got my own story to tell, my own legacy to build”.
Valerie or Val, as her friends know her, is one driven young lady. That’s my own personal observation gathered from a handful of previous conversation, and the meaningful stare I received while sitting across from her on Mrs. Dunn’s living room sofa.
We continued to talk and hash over why she feels the way she does about her future, about the functioning plan she’s implemented at P.E., and how she came to her philosophy and outlook on things.
“When I started my other business orientated activities outside of the shop” she began, “It was out of a desire to give back and to share what I’ve learned”. She founded the “Progressive Entrepreneurs Circle” and is a Co-Vice Chair of “The Rochester Social Club”. She talked of the unique camaraderie that’s formed there and the mutual support that’s been generated from those tight knit alliances. There’s a strength that naturally seems to surround this young lady when she speaks, something she is constantly asked to share when among her peers. “It took me ten years to develop the system and training program I now use for my estheticians” she said. “It took that many years of experience, of working in the industry, and then recognizing how I wanted to run things as opposed to the way others operated their salons”. Those insights she claims are what seem to draw people to her, something she is keenly aware of.
It was obvious during our conversation that Val understands the importance of developing both a clear mission for her business and a plan specifically built to reach those goals.
“I have a twelve-week program that each of my employees goes through before they even touch someone to perform a service”. “We’ll never use expired products, we only use American-made, cruelty-free, fragrance-free, top shelf product lines, always” she said confidently. “I’m not in the business of cutting corners, and my customers will feel and understand that from day one when they walk in”. “My plan was to set the bar higher and never compromise that standard”.
Val’s overall business goal is one specifically tailored toward continued education for herself and her employees, with the focus on always looking to stay ahead of the curve and push to the next level of performance. “Many estheticians”, she said, will leave the business within two years”. “They’ll never progress beyond that, and more often than not, they leave the profession to go looking for a quote “real job”. That is a trend she finds very troubling.
“One of my biggest desires is to be a mentor for these girls, to change that statistic” she said. As we talked, she described how she sees so much more opportunity for herself, other estheticians and the growth of her industry through a better approach once you leave your initial training. “The schools offer the “how to”, my goal is to offer my employees the “what to do” once you get out of school” she shared. “The things that I’ve been able learn I feel, will help them succeed in the practical application of a functioning business model”. And don’t mistake this confidence as arrogance, Val will be the first to tell you she is still learning each day herself.
“I am no business coach” she said, “I still have a business coach myself”. She was quick to confess she is still growing, still open to new ideas and understands it’s a work in progress to truly run a business successfully, it takes time and dedication to that end. Nothing is achieved overnight that honestly represents longevity when it comes to owning your own business. Progress is upheld in just that, always looking to the future, to the next challenge, to the next obstacle to overcome.
She continued to talk about developing a business plan that also has all the elements necessary to make success repeatable.
This young self-starter was, as she describes it, blatantly defiant as a child, and ferociously independent. She dropped out of college and left behind an 80% paid journalism scholarship to chase her present dream. Members of her family said “you’re throwing your life away, you’ll never make anything out of this”. Little did they know that those words were like adding gas to a flame and just solidified Val’s determination. So, this independent soul ignored the critics and pushed forward even harder.
The challenge and questions of a new beginning were quickly remedied when Val was the first student to sign up for Empire Beauty Schools newly minted esthetics program. She excelled in her classes and upon finishing, opted to work the day of her graduation rather than attend it. Constantly moving forward seems to be a lifelong theme for this entrepreneur, that and a strong desire to work hard at whatever she does. Staying true to herself has served this young lady well.
“I didn’t see college as meaningful, and I couldn’t bring myself to continue something that had no meaning for me” she said. So, she left Hawaii Pacific University and never looked back long enough to even admire the view.
Today the part she sees as meaningful involves teaching her staff to invest in themselves, to continue their education, learning the business end of things, as well as something she calls, “finesse”. “Thinking about how you speak to a client is important” said Val, “It’s a big part of growing your business”. Even the feel and tone you present to a customer falls under her watchful eye. “Can I offer you a beverage” as opposed to, “can I get you a drink”, provides a completely different vibe” said Val. She believes in elevating every aspect of your experience at P.E., and by her own definition, a business owners’ responsibilities don’t stop there.
“Grow and scale, giving up some control, outsource when it makes sense, look for experts where you are lacking, all play a part in your success”, she said. Like any successful business owner, she knows you need a business strategy and having no plan isn’t a plan. Creating specific systems for the day-to-day operations is just one of the many things she’s has on her plate.
A lot of what drives her can be summed up in the desire to be better, to set an example. Taking the time to analyze the whole picture that is inner growth, self-awareness, and then trying to share that with the people around her. By focusing on that with her employees, the goal is to enrich their understanding of people, how to better serve the public, but also getting something useful and meaningful that goes beyond just work or being an esthetician, it’s a tool to use in their everyday life. Excelling and enjoying your work starts with understanding and knowing yourself and how you fit into other people’s lives. What serves to make what you do meaningful to them, and how to improve on that, that brings fulfillment to your life and theirs.
She’s followed her heart and her desire to work at something she sees as meaningful. Always asks questions, bucks the status quo and is always, always moving forward. “There’s nothing glamorous about owning your own business” she said, “it just takes hard work”.
Tied to Rochester with no plans to leave, devoted to enriching her employees lives, to understanding their strengths and how to make the most of them, those are her new goals in this next phase of Progressive Esthetics evolution.
“I always knew I wanted to be somebody”, she confessed. “Perhaps when this part of my business growth ends, maybe I’ll move on to consulting”? Reflecting on the present while contemplating the future, it’s something that’s just wired into her DNA.
“A few years ago,” she said, “I was just starting out, but now I feel like I’m starting something more”.
If that doesn’t give you hope for our future, and that of Rochester, you may need to check your pulse. That’s the essence of “taking it to the next level”.
Progressive Esthetics – 107 North Main Street, Rochester NH
You can find them online at, https://www.progressiveesthetics.com/
Photography by – Denise Norden Photography
Feature By – G.A. Baribeault / 1st Crown Point Group / Jan 31, 2019