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Hidden Gems: Meet Whitney Cole of PAINT Nail Bar

Today we’d like to introduce you to Whitney Cole.

Hi Whitney, we’d love for you to start by introducing yourself.
I feel I wear a lot of different hats in life, and some, I’m still figuring out the fit. I’m 34, a mom of two and I’ve been married to my husband since 2009, though we’ve known each other since we were 15. So literally over half of our lives. I grew up in a small town in central Illinois but St. Louis was my go-to place for shopping, weekend trips and all things “big city”. I went to school and started out studying for a business degree. I soon found out as some 18-year-olds do that I literally had no idea what I wanted to do!

So after a year and a half, I took a break from the day to day schooling and went to work at Walt Disney World. It was an amazing experience to see the backstory and behind the scenes of operating such a massive place. I did that for a few months and then came back and everything felt like it clicked and I finished my college education with a degree in elementary education. We got married in May 2009, I graduated in December 2009 and we moved on to our first adventure, Hawaii in January 2010. His job has allowed us to travel and live in some really great places. And each step of the way we would leave a little piece of our heart. Growing up in the midwest and getting the chance to live in places like Hawaii, Arizona, and Texas, we were able to see some unique businesses that we kept thinking, “this would be so nice to have back home”. We knew we would eventually end up in the midwest area but out of every place, we also knew we would love to settle in St. Louis.

After a few years in Hawaii, we moved to Arizona for a few years and actually started a home decor business there, which was our first true taste of entrepreneurship. We’ve always loved to build. Well, side note, I’ve always had the ideas and my husband always figured out how to build it. We started to do a few and then I actually had people buy them! Which is obviously the point of a business, but to me it was so extremely exciting! That whole “happy dance” quote is so true as a small business. As our life would have it, a move was on the horizon and we found ourselves in Lubbock Texas! We got settled in and ramped up the home decor business in our new state. That’s when my son and I would go out during the day when my daughter was at school from shop to shop, asking them if they carried locally made products. I had so many no’s before I got the yes’s. Some yes’s I soon found should have been no’s but at the time to me it was like the more the better. We were on the brink of shutting down because we had gotten to the point we were doing more than we could handle and then those three life-saving words came out “ we need help”. It’s a game-changer in business yet one of the hardest to admit. Having that home decor business and enjoying the process that it brought, we again found ourselves on the move starting over in another new state. This time, St. Louis and as we settled down in St. Louis, our next business was born.

Enter the franchise. After a lot of ups and downs and settling in a new town again with no friends, feeling alone due to my husbands constant traveling for work. One night we just put it all on the table and created our IDEA Board. Our big whiteboard in the basement turned into our board of ideas and dreams and what we wanted our future to look like because what we were doing wasn’t working. We’ve lived in a lot of places so the cool part for us was we have seen a lot of neat things and ate at cool places we were like, let’s look into franchising. This was November 2017. All this time I was keeping myself sane, still making signs. It’s a creative outlet for me and something I would do during the night when he was traveling. That fall we decided to drive to Lubbock for a quick there and back sign delivery. When we got down there, we saw this sign that said, “coming soon, PAINT Nail Bar”.

To be honest, I thought it was one of those sign-making class places. But then I looked It up and it was the beginning of a new adventure. Fume-free, non-toxic, fun, energetic. This wasn’t even on my radar when looking into a franchise but thinking back to my own experience, I had stopped going to get my nails done! I honestly grew tired of not being able to find a place that was clean, safe, and overall friendly. Reading this, I knew I had to bring it to St. Louis! To be honest, after I came across PAINT, I loved it before even stepping foot inside. It was everything I was looking for, and then some. I knew that opening this I was opening it as the customer, as someone who was looking for a salon just like this but couldn’t find one. So when we came back from the trip, “PAINT” was put on the dream board. This was back in 2017.

After months of keeping PAINT on our dream board with no action, we finally decided to “see what happens” and put in an application in May 2018 to get more information. I knew in my heart, “I am the customer for this business,” and I knew if I could wholeheartedly believe in this, that there were other people searching for a salon-like this too. We heard back right away and signed our agreement in July 2017 and got to work. That road was also quite the adventure when you start with the construction bit of a business but after some delays and hiccups we got it done! We built a majority of the wood pieces inside of PAINT. The manicure tables, barn doors, shelving, and ceiling lights were all built by my husband. We officially opened in September 2019. Obviously, this year is quite the year to be a new business but we are blessed and excited to be here and be open and for the support, we’ve had and the amazing group of people I get to work with each day!

Would you say it’s been a smooth road, and if not what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced along the way?
This can be an interesting question. I think in any business, there’s always going to be a “problem” or “struggle” of some sort. My original biggest struggle was my own self to be honest. My own mindset. Learning to believe in myself that I can actually do what I’m doing. So before we even opened, that was a huge focus for me and one I continue to work on. Diving into podcasts has been my go-to. Getting my mindset right to be solution-focused vs problem-focused. When you can look at a problem and have your mind start focusing on how to solve it, it makes a huge difference. While I wouldn’t call it a struggle now, I would say that it is an everyday goal I try and work on.

I’d say the biggest struggle like most businesses this last year though was definitely the pandemic. March 17th. Our last day officially in business before closing. The entire closure was filled with the roller coaster of emotions that I am sure everyone felt. We’ve felt shock, love, support, fear, and kindness. We began the journey of opening this business over 2.5 years ago. I could not shake the idea of opening PAINT after I saw a coming soon sign while visiting Texas! It was everything I was looking for in a nail salon and I knew I couldn’t be the only one! This became a dream and we have been determined to bring it to life. Fast forward and we put it all on the line to get it done. September 2019 came and we officially opened our doors. Throughout the whole process we felt we had did a really great job of “preparing for the worst”. We mapped out so many different situations that could potentially be devastating to our business. Obviously, this was something no one could prepare for.

So here we are not even a year in and we close our doors. We voluntarily shut down for two weeks, and of course, we all know what happened next… two weeks became two months and then some. There was some stress. Obviously, a nail salon is part of the service industry. No service, no income. Day one of being closed, we mapped out plan after plan on that once was “IDEA/Dream Board” giant whiteboard of what we could do. Many of those ideas were erased as more restrictions and stay at home orders began to unfold. We would be finding ways to pay rent without making an income. We have a team of the most amazing and talented girls counting on us, our kids counting on us, and we were counting on ourselves to not let two years of work be over. We kept saying over and over, “We have not come this far to have this be the end”. I am sure that was a feeling rippling through so many of our fellow small businesses. While we did talk with our landlord, we also knew that they had bills to pay too. It definitely is a time where the phrase “we are in this together” could not ring more true. That honestly gave me a weird sense of peace. I knew that we were struggling but not struggling alone.

Throughout the closure, we kept hearing different times to reopen so it was a huge surprise to us when e found out the week before we could officially get going. While we were closed, we made sure to get all of our procedures and safety protocols in place as well as build dividers and shields for around the salon. As thankful as we were to be reopened, there was a lot change we were continuously navigating during this time.

We’ve been impressed with PAINT Nail Bar, but for folks who might not be as familiar, what can you share with them about what you do and what sets you apart from others?
“We are not a nail salon, although we do nails.” This could be the best description of who we are. We are not your average nail salon. At PAINT we are all about the health and integrity of the natural nail. Everything in our salon focuses on that. We only use non-toxic products, no dip or acrylics. We provide a fume-free environment with affordable, luxury services. Honestly, you would never even know it was a nail salon walking into it because you aren’t overwhelmed with the harsh smells you may associate with a typical nail salon.

We hold ourselves to the highest standards in sterilizations and use one-time files and buffers as well as using a medical grade autoclave to sterilize all of our implements. We do not use the typical whirlpool pedicure chairs because the jets in those harbor bacteria that cannot be thoroughly cleaned out between customers. I am lucky enough to get to work with the most amazing women each day. They are not only talented in their craft and creativity but create an experience unlike any other.

Contact Info:

Image Credits
Megh Christine Photography Paint Nail Bar St. Louis

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