Billings Gazette, Mont.
Allyson Toone's business was born of tragedy.
As a 19-year-old, she developed leukemia and had to go through several treatments, including a bone marrow transplant. The treatments left her bald, and even though she finally beat cancer, her hair never grew all the way back.
"It was a challenging time," Toone said, recalling her illness. "And losing my hair was one of the challenges."
The experience of living with wigs and hair pieces inspired her to open a shop that caters to other women struggling with hair loss.
"This business is not just a retail shop, but a personal business with an approach to meet the needs of the women we help so they can have their dignity," she said.
Toone runs the Mountain West Hair Pieces and Wig Boutique at 2940 Grand Ave. in Billings. She may be reached at 406-670-9257. Her partner, Cheryl Majerus, is at 406-855-5300. Both may also be reached through the company's website, mountainwestwigs.com.
Here's what Toone said about the struggles of getting a business off the ground.
Nature of the business:
Hair enhancements that include partial hair pieces and clip-in toppers that add volume and thickness. In addition, we have a variety of synthetic and human hair wigs for people dealing with thinning hair or full hair loss.
Why start this business?
I'm so blessed to be a survivor, but never did regain my full head of hair. I have worn some type of hair enhancement for years. At the time there were not very many good options.
In recent years there have been wonderful developments in the hairpiece and wig industry. The options are so natural and give terrific options for women going through the loss of hair, or those who were born with hair that is less than satisfactory.
You can see, with this background, why this business is my passion, and why our customers are more than just a job for us. We care about their well-being and love to see them walk out feeling confident and happy with how they look and feel.
Where did startup funding come from?
I saved cash over time with a dream in mind. It was easier to save money having a business plan, and knowing exactly what I wanted to do. The rest of it was waiting for the right time, location and opportunity.
How long have you been in business?
The location and boutique at The Beauty Outlet has been in business for two years. It is a good related business to be located with because it is tailored to the wants and needs of women. It is a nice marriage of services.
Your biggest challenge?
It's a challenge in advertising to convey what sets your business apart. Patience while you grow is also part of the challenge, and the only way is to hang on and get through it.
What was done to overcome those challenges?
It has been very helpful to get out in the community and network with other businesspeople, and specific professionals that associate with women who will have need for our services, such as hospitals, cancer centers, and beauty-related businesses.
What is being done to expand the business?
We are doing some advertising and networking with other related businesses. We are also hoping that great service will help us grow. Customers are walking out happy. Their opinions spreading through word-of-mouth is very important.
Your best business decisions?
Finding a great partner who shared my vision, a great location, and putting the time in to have a business model that fits customer needs and fits my life circumstances.
Your worst business mistake?
As we have grown, we realize there are organizational things in place now that would have been nice to have at the beginning. I'm sure as we grow we will look back and see that many things came along with a learning curve.
What advice do you have for someone running a business?
To know the customers come first, be available for them, and do something you love and have passion for. One of the questions at the beginning of this article was "Why did you start this business?" That is an important question to ask yourself.
You have got to have a "why" you are doing something that is a little more than just the paycheck. If you're going to start a business, and you don't like what you do, you will not be as motivated to ride out the waves that come with growing that business.
Number of workers?
What's your five-year plan for the business?
To grow regionally to be known as a great option for women dealing with the hard realities of hair loss, and to be a place of education for them to learn their options. Additionally, we would like to grow our online presence both in a tutorial format and commerce.
A question you would ask other entrepreneurs?
How do you advertise for less, and how do you get the word out to let people know how to find you?
If you weren't doing what you are now, what would be your dream job?
Other than raising my family, helping women in any way is my passion, but especially through this process because I have been where they are. I love social and uplifting forums of any kind, so other areas of work could be exercise instruction or motivational speaking.