What woman in Toronto doesn’t love a good pampering session? Natalie James considers herself one of them. She spent hours at home using YouTube tutorials learning different techniques for taming her unruly hair. It was through this ritual, that she realized this act of self-care in her day-to-day life impacted her overall confidence and mood. So she decided to bring her joy of getting beautiful to other women and her business, Vent Blow Dry Bar was born. The blow bar, located in Liberty Village, is unlike any other and James has infused many personalized touches including romantic comedies playing on the television sets to get people feeling their best self. We chat with James about what it takes to be an entrepreneur in today’s beauty industry, while also being a mom to three.
Business Name: Vent Blow Dry Bar
Location: Liberty Village, Toronto
Name & Title: Natalie James, Owner & Creator
Education: a mishmash of college certificates and half a University Degree
Edit Seven: Tell us about your business, what do you do?
Natalie James: Vent Blow Dry Bar is located in Toronto’s Liberty Village. We are a destination where women can unwind, de-stress and dedicate some much needed time back to themselves all while getting glammed up for whatever their day has in store.
Vent is not your average salon. It was designed with a focus on the smallest of details to provide customers with an outstanding experience. Clients are greeted into Vent’s beautiful space with floor-to-ceiling mirrors, perfect lighting and a styling bar that stretches all the way around the salon. Clients are seated at the bar where drinks are served from our licensed menu, romantic comedies are streaming on the TVs and their favourite Beyoncé songs are playing.
Looking to fill the gap in the full-service industry, Vent provides a convenient and professional service in between women’s regular hair maintenance appointments. We offer professional hair styling and makeup services without the high salon prices and without having to wait days or weeks for an appointment.
Providing professional blowouts, up-styling, and makeup services by highly trained and skilled stylists, Vent is the go-to place to get ready for any event. Vent offers early morning appointments for the early risers who like to get a blowout before their day begins or for those who hit the gym and then get a blowout before heading into the office. Vent’s unique design also makes it the perfect location for a meet-up with your girlfriends or a fun destination for a bachelorette or wedding.
E7: How did you start your business? What inspired you to start?
NJ: The hardest thing about starting is making the decision to start – there is no perfect time or setting when it will be easy; however, for me, a turning point was hitting 40, which is when I realized it was now or never.
I was inspired to change my life. I was tired of the predictability of my life, my job, and my future. My husband and I knew for the most part what our lives would look like for the remainder of our careers and life thereafter. I was seeking excitement, change, an opportunity to do more and see just what I was capable of. While I had a dream of opening my own business for much of my life, which certainly played a large role in my decision, I wanted to experience all that life had to offer.
E7: Why do you love what you do?
NJ: I love what I do because there are no limits. It was important to me to create something brand new from the ground up. It allows me the flexibility to evolve and grow into whatever we want Vent to be in the future. I get to meet amazing women every day, maybe they are getting married, or heading to a job interview or a first date. Whatever it is, we get to play a small part in the lives of our clients and enjoy their excitement all while making them look and feel their best. Working with women is an awesome feeling and I am very grateful for that.
E7: Did you have any mentors when you were first starting out?
NJ: I didn’t have a specific mentor but I was empowered by the movement of women in business and I developed an internal vision of the woman I wanted to become. It was not of one specific person, but rather the qualities of a number of women I respected. I hope to be considered a female entrepreneur who is strong, confident, philanthropic, intelligent, driven and a woman who empowers others to be their best–and if I can have great hair when I when do it, then that is a bonus!
Since starting the business I have been overwhelmed by the number of women I have met who are doing amazing things and I am encouraged and motivated when I see them set and achieve their goals. I see many of them now as mentors and really value them for what they do and the sacrifices they have made to grow their businesses.
E7: You are a wife and mom of three – what advice would you give to those just starting out?
NJ: When I first started Vent I spent every waking moment at the business working to build the brand and develop our client base. I was really concerned about the time away from my husband and kids. Knowing that I only had one opportunity to make the business successful made this difficult to spend time away from it at first as we had invested everything we had into it.
It was important that when I was home, I was home not just physically but giving my full attention to my husband and three kids. While sacrifices are necessary, you do not need to sacrifice your relationships with the most important people in your life. Set aside time in your schedule for your family, a weekly date night with your significant other and make sure that the time not only includes family as a group but one-on-one time with each of your kids. I have three kids and they grow so quickly I wanted to be there and not miss anything but it’s just not possible to be around for everything. To address this I spend time with each of them individually. I have found they really open up and we connect when we do something they love doing and my attention doesn’t get pulled away from them.
I made a special point of taking my oldest son on a trip this past summer for his 16th birthday. He decided where he wanted to go, then we found a couple of inexpensive flights and a good deal on a hotel and enjoyed three amazing days together connecting. You don’t have to spend money or go away to do this – a planned day or two together can accomplish the same thing.
There are times when it is really hard not being there for my kids, but I try to involve them in as much as I can. I think they have learned and will continue to learn a lot through the process.
E7: Is there anything you wish you’d known before starting your business?
NJ: How important it is to engage with other entrepreneurs in different businesses. I didn’t really have a network of women when I first started out, I began to meet them after we opened. I would really encourage anyone starting out to build a network early on because it will be so beneficial through the early stages and beyond.
Engaging with others provides an important learning experience that cannot be overlooked. Sharing ideas, thinking and taking new perspectives allows for personal growth, which can have real, positive benefits for your business. This is often where I learn and come up with new thinking to challenge myself to grow and improve. Connecting with other women has been so important and finding others who will help me succeed and push me to be my best has been critical.
This is important because embarking on new business can be isolating – from family and friends because they may not understand why you would take on risk, or sacrifice things for your vision. Surrounding yourself with people who understand what you are going through provides support and reassurance that what you are experiencing is normal and a part of the process.
E7: What is a challenge you’d tell future entrepreneurs to prepare for?
NJ: Every business will have its own challenges, some of which can be anticipated, some that can’t. One thing future entrepreneurs should prepare themselves for is the stress that is involved when you are responsible and accountable for all aspects of a business including employees salaries, paying bills and paying yourself (which is always last!).
To have the stamina and energy to perform at a high-level for your business to be there physically and emotionally for your family and to hold high standards for performance in all areas of your life requires you to take care of yourself and ensure your own personal wellness. This is an often overlooked aspect of being an entrepreneur but an important one. Your wellness and having healthy ways to manage your stress such as proper sleep, healthy eating and exercise will help alleviate the inevitable stress associated with being an entrepreneur and will help you to perform at a higher level and become more resilient to the inevitable stressors entrepreneurs encounter. Your business’ success is dependent on your ability to perform and manage the good with the bad–wellness is an important aspect of success. I found that these are important elements but also ones that are easy to let go of when times get busy and you’re looking for time in your schedule where you can free up time.
E7: How do you stay organized, balanced and motivated?
NJ: My fear of failure is all the self-motivation I need! In all seriousness, it is easy as an entrepreneur to get sucked into feeling exhausted or frustrated, but a negative mindset sucks up mental energy that you need to stay focused to be successful. It sounds silly but I keep my business plan at arms reach and when things get tough I try to remember why I started. I keep a vision board with pictures, affirmations and other things I need to stay the course.
No one is motivated 100 percent of the time, but when I feel like I am lacking something I go to the sources that feed me. Books, podcasts and sometimes a call to a fellow boss babe is all it takes to get refocused.
As for staying organized, I plan my weeks out the best that I can. Having priorities clearly outlined help me to then take those and break them down into daily manageable pieces. It’s all about the little victories!
E7: How do women set realistic expectations with their family and friends when it comes to work/life balance?
NJ: Being an entrepreneur isn’t for everyone, and there will be a lot of friends and family that don’t understand what you are doing, as well as those that will try to discourage you. Instead, surround yourself with highly successful and motivated people who share the same desire to succeed that you do. Nobody does it alone and having a supportive network is key especially before you have a team in place.
I don’t know that there is really such a thing as balance as that would suggest that there is an equivalent amount of time dedicated to both, however, having the support of your significant other is probably the most important as they will be going through the journey of entrepreneurship with you and will share the ups and downs of being your own boss. I recommend making it a priority to set the time aside for the things and people who are important to you and ultimately, try to be flexible, as even the best planned days can often go sideways.
(Story by Contributing Editor, Ama Scriver)