Women Of The C-Suite: “Don’t be a chameleon” With Debi Lane the CEO of LunchboxWax

“Don’t be a chameleon. Most of my life can be defined by whatever relationship I was in at the time. I was an expert at changing myself to…

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“Don’t be a chameleon. Most of my life can be defined by whatever relationship I was in at the time. I was an expert at changing myself to fit into whatever the guy I was with wanted me to be. It was exhausting, and fueled my destructive behavior for many years. There were some great men along the way, but who I was got lost. Once I realized who I was inside and embraced that, my success in business only  grew.”

I had the pleasure to interview Debi Lane. Debi is the founder and CEO of LunchboxWax, recently named a Top 100 New Franchise by Entrepreneur Magazine. A serial entrepreneur who has built businesses in the travel, recruiting, and salon industries, Lane founded LunchboxWax in 2010, opening the first salon in early 2011. The company became a franchisor in 2013 and today has 40 salons across 12 states.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I owned a successful day spa in Sun Valley, Idaho, and started to gain quite a following for my waxing. I love waxing and developed a technique to get my guests in and out quickly while still making them feel pampered. In 2009, I began conceptualizing a business model around a wax-only salon, and worked on a business plan — including the LunchboxWax brand name and logo. I showed my plan to a number of people, and in 2010, a small investor helped me open my first salon. In 2011, I opened the first LunchboxWax salon in Downtown Boise, followed by another in a nearby community. I knew I was onto something special. In 2012, I realized that I wanted to really grow the concept, but didn’t have the capital, so I decided to franchise. I worked on the franchise system for about a year and a half, and in 2013, we sold our first franchise.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

I would say the most interesting part of this journey has been the reaction to the brand. I remember when we put up our sign on our building (which took us a year because of zoning). My waxing suite was right over the sign, which looks just like our logo, so I could see people looking at it. People would stop, smile, laugh, and immediately take a picture. You could see that moment between when they read it and their reaction. It was like: I see what you did there. It was exactly what I was hoping for.

Before long, we were having people taking pictures all day, every day. Brian Posen was the first celebrity to take a picture and post on social media. It became an object of conversation, and people started writing articles about it, including Oliver Russell, which eventually became our agency partner. Overnight, Ms. Box was the new “it girl!” It was magical.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

My longtime colleague, Lumi Beian, has been with me from the beginning, and she and I were always trying new things to make our concept different and help distinguish our brand on a national level (there was no one like us in Boise). One of the funniest inventions we tried is what we call “the monster”. The idea was that we would build a big machine that would dispense wax from a spigot — wax on tap, so to speak. So we contracted an engineer to build “the monster,” and then we tried like hell to make it work. It never did. It was an absolute mess from beginning to end. We spent so much time and money on this and in the end we scrapped the entire idea.

The biggest lesson from that was the importance of having a supportive team that will allow me to play with my ideas and advance the brand vision. Some, like “the monster,” are absolutely crazy, don’t work and have to be tossed out, even after months of work. But even time lost is knowledge gained, and at LunchboxWax, hopefully some fun was had. What could we do if we came at business from a sense of make-believe? I like to pretend we can have anything we want. Pretend there are no obstacles. Pretend your crazy idea will work. When you start from a place of pretending, there is only possibility.

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

Definitely our brand and culture-first approach. We are committed to creating a positive, empowering workplace. This is at the heart of everything we do. I like to say we are a purpose-driven company that just happens to do waxing. I think the most rewarding stories come from our waxologists. Culture and community are something we teach as part of our curriculum, and one story in particular stands out as a testament to this.

Within hours of last year’s mass shooting at a music festival in Las Vegas, waxologists were searching for ways to help support the victims and their families. We were moved by the desire to help and on October 9, 2017, nearly half of all of our salon locations nationwide chose to donate profits from services performed that day to the #LoveArmyLasVegasFund to help those impacted by that senseless tragedy.

More than $6,000 was raised and donated. Our four salons in Utah as well as our Henderson, Nevada salon were the most significant contributors. Some waxologists even chose to forgo their salaries and commission on that day to make a difference.

LunchboxWax Utah franchisee Teresa Hatter told me afterwards: “Our sweet Evie from Sugarhouse is the one who had the idea to do this. She normally has Mondays off and wanted to work to be a part of this. She clocked 11.67 hours on her day off. Between hourly, commission and tips, she asked that all of it be donated. There were other girls who donated time and compensation, too. We had guests crying and were so grateful.”

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

We’re working on a ‘Bare Your Heart’ campaign to benefit breast cancer and I’m working on a special project that we’ll be announcing in the future to help female veterans look and feel their best. I want to help returning vets feel pampered and soften a bit after such a difficult and at times defeminizing deployment. We’re also expanding very quickly and planning to open a salon each week beginning mid-2019.

What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?

Be real. Don’t be afraid to show your emotions and struggles. Being a leader doesn’t mean you are always right and won’t make mistakes. When you do, own it! Surround yourself with people that genuinely share your dream. Develop a culture that like-minded people want to be a part of. And, much like being a good parent — take time for yourself to recharge, and you’ll be a better leader. When you’re happy, your team is happy, and that will trickle all the way down to your customers.

What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?

Hire up! Surround yourself with people that know what you don’t. We recently added Christo Demetriades as COO, who is an operations badass. That is freeing me up from the day-to-day operations of the business. I’m excited to do more of the aspects of LunchboxWax that I love most: collaborating on programs to empower our waxologists, evolving our culture and vision, and talking about the brand as we grow.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

There’s been quite a few, but I’m particularly grateful to my Aunt Nancy.

I was in my mid-teens when she took me in after I ran away from home and had been living on the streets of Salt Lake City for about a year. I bought a bus ticket, telling her I was going to be in San Francisco and asking if I could “drop by.” She saw right through me and invited me to live with her family and go back to school there. Aunt Nancy owned a successful court reporting business, and I’d never seen anyone work so hard. I saw her working day in, day out, in her office and at home, even in bed. It stuck with me and made me realize I wanted to be like that someday. She was my first mentor.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I’m very proud of LunchboxWax’s annual ‘Bare Your Heart’ campaign. Last October, we donated $1 for each guest who received an eyebrow wax at any of our nationwide salons to victims of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria. Guests who chose to match our donation received 25% off our signature BodyWhip beauty butter. In total, we raised more than $6,500 for disaster relief.

What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

Do your healing. I wouldn’t be where I am today if I hadn’t leaned into the difficult chapters of my early life and made peace with my past. Meditation was a gift from the universe in my life, and since I’ve been sober, the world continues to shower me with opportunities and a lot of joy.

Give back. My purpose in life is to give back to everyone who works for LunchboxWax, especially our waxologists. I want to empower them with the economic tools they need to feel confident and lead successful lives where they can control their future and fulfill their potential.

Know your worth. Despite my early struggles and many difficult chapters in my life, I never doubted that I would do something great. Growing up, I barely knew what a five-star hotel was, but I knew I wanted to stay in them, as often as possible. So, at age 19, I started my first business, a travel agency, in part because I knew travel agents got free trips in really nice places. When you come from my background and have no real education or practical work experience you have to create your own opportunity. And that’s what I’ve done and continued to do in business.

Don’t be a chameleon. Most of my life can be defined by whatever relationship I was in at the time. I was an expert at changing myself to fit into whatever the guy I was with wanted me to be. It was exhausting, and fueled my destructive behavior for many years. There were some great men along the way, but who I was got lost. Once I realized who I was inside and embraced that, my success in business only grew.

Learn what you don’t know. You don’t have to be an expert to start a business. I knew nothing about starting a franchise; I just knew I had to do it. When we went through our first capital raise recently, I didn’t know how to build a pitch deck or model our financials. I basically got an MBA on the job in less than a year. I’m smarter for it, and so is our business. What I learned gives me confidence and makes me a stronger leader for LunchboxWax.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

My heart’s work is in empowering young women. I want to be a mentor for the young waxologists we work with so that they can fulfill their potential, earn a great living, and learn the skills needed to become strong leaders or business owners themselves one day.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Align your personality with your purpose, and nobody can touch you.” — Oprah Winfrey

There’s so much overlap between the cheeky brand personality of LunchboxWax and my own. Because we are a purpose-driven company in the franchise industry, where that’s not yet common, everything comes back to our reason for being, which is empowering people. Growing up, I didn’t have a lot of choices and ended up in some dangerous situations with some not very nice people. I’ve benefited from strong, female mentors over the years, and I am passionate about mentoring the mostly young women waxologists we work with. I want them to be economically empowered so that they have confidence and independence in their lives.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Thank you so much for these inspiring insights! 

Thanks for the opportunity!

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