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Sweat Equity: Doing It Her Way With Vanity Way

Tony Norman Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) As Tony Norman reports "Vanity Way" includes a one-stop shopping vending machine which entrepreneur Jalissa Womack owns. The machine dispenses 3D Mink Eyelashes, magnetic eyelash kits, eyelash adhesives, teeth whitening kits and lip lacquers among other beauty aids.

Pittsburgh

For Jalissa Womack a vending machine dispensing beauty products in the food court of the Tanger Outlets, in Washington, Pa., is as good a place to start as any.

When Ms. Womack, 31, isn't working her day job as a "patient access specialist" for a large local company, she's the CEO of Vanity Way LLC.

The company's informal motto is nearly indistinguishable from her personal mission statement: "My goal as an entrepreneur is to make people feel beautiful without breaking the bank."

Ms. Womack describes Vanity Way as "a top quality beauty product/cosmetic line for men and women at an affordable price."

She named the company Vanity Way because of her childhood fascination with household beauty vanities with big mirrors and big lights. Her parents eventually bought her one when she was very young, and she has taken it with her wherever she's lived. Vanities are a big part of her identity.

"I enjoy when I get reviews about how someone felt like the 'prettiest girl in the room,' or I get an enthusiastic 'wow' after I apply lashes on them," she said. "My goal is to show young girls that with determination and willpower, they can achieve anything they [want]."

Although her only vending machine dispenses beauty products ranging from $5 to $30, it would be more accurate to say that Vanity Way LLC is really the sum total of hustle, what fits into the trunk of Ms. Womack's car on any given day, and the loyal customers she's cultivated throughout the region in the three years she's been in business.

"I do not have any employees at this time; it's just me," Ms. Womack said. "I usually work my 9 to 6, then go check on the vending machine after work — or before work."

The one-stop shopping vending machine she owns, which also displays her photo, is only the most recent component of a business she began in 2017. The machine dispenses 3D Mink Eyelashes, magnetic eyelash kits, eyelash adhesives, teeth whitening kits and lip lacquers among other beauty aids.

What the machine doesn't have or sells out of, Ms. Womack is likely to have in the trunk of her 2013 Acura ILX.

"I also sell those items online or in person," she said. "I get more in-person sales than anything. I'll drive around throughout the Pittsburgh area and meet people for a small fee."

Her most encouraging day as an entrepreneur came last summer when she announced on social media that Vanity Way would be selling teeth whitening kits. "I sold out the very first day," she said. "I got off work at 6 p.m. and met people throughout the Pittsburgh area until 10 p.m. that night. I love the grind. It excites me."

Asked to breakdown the pace of that day, Ms. Womack recited the following: "The first day I sold out of all the whitening kits, I clocked out at 6 p.m., got up from my desk [she's been working from home during the pandemic], immediately threw my shoes on and was out the door.

"I drove from Wilkinsburg to East Hills projects to meet a customer, then to East Liberty Bakery Square and a few more customers there. Then I drove to the Hill District and met two people there. After that drop off, I drove to the gas station on the West End and met some more customers there, then Downtown around the Point. I'm sure there were other neighborhoods in between."

Ms. Womack doesn't mind the relentless hustle required to build a business. She prides herself on her commitment to "keep grinding no matter what things look like."

She said young prospective business owners shouldn't care "if you have to work three jobs to make ends meet to start a business" adding: "It can be done."

Although committed to being a striving businesswoman, Ms. Womack is also realistic. "I definitely don't think at this time I can make a living [solely] off the vending machine," she said. "My plan is to create multiple streams of residual income. I'm currently working a full-time job, and I also have a second job I work overnights and weekends to pay for supplies and unexpected things."

Her long-term goals include branching out into the growing healthy snack food field with vending machines that cater to that market as well. She's also studying for a real estate exam.

Ms. Womack grew up in Wilkinsburg and moved to Penn Hills for middle and high school where she graduated in 2007. Her family was comfortably middle class, but she didn't feel the urge to become her own boss until a decade after leaving high school.

"I went [to Miami] for vacation and thought about how I can take a course while I was down there," she said. For Ms. Womack, working to further her prospects in life even during a vacation is no big deal. She took a one-day course with Lash Dolls Miami to become a certified eyelash technician. It was only 8 hours out of her day but worth it.

Upon returning to Pittsburgh, she worked at Ron Smith's Barbershop & Hair Salon on Fifth Avenue, Downtown, where she perfected her technique with eyelash extensions. She moved on to Prime Time Cuts on Forbes Avene and added LED teeth whitening to her skill set, along with the art of applying tooth gems.

Ms. Womack was doing all of this while juggling a day job that is very detail oriented. Time management was something she prided herself on, but she began trying to figure out a way to lessen her daily work load without impeding her progress as an entrepreneur-in-training.

That's when she came up with the idea of buying a vending machine to extend her Vanity Way brand. Why not make these beauty products accessible to customers at their convenience, she wondered. She had seen customized vending machines in other cities but not much in Pittsburgh.

She already knew what her endgame with the company would be: having a wide variety of beauty products available in major retail stores at an affordable price. She also envisioned having beauty vending machines in airports, malls and wherever crowds congregate.

It was the lockdown that spurred her to start the vending machine component of her business.

"By the grace of God, I'm happy to say that the pandemic has yet to affect my business," she said.

___ (c)2020 the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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