For lash and brow bar owner Dianne Nguyen, beauty is all about the eyes. “Having your eyes be noticeable is so important because we talk a lot with our eyes,” she says. “I think it’s one of those things where it’s so true when they say, the eyes are the window to your soul.”
Despite a considerable wealth of knowledge about beauty, Nguyen never imagined that she’d work in the industry, as she grew up in an immigrant household and was told that the path to success lay in a university education and a government job. Despite that assumption, she always knew she wanted to open her own lash and brow bar.
To create a space where everyone could have eyes that popped with colours and styles both bold and subtle, she opened her business Pretty Secrets Brow and Lash Bar to help clients look and feel their best. “Having correctly shaped brows and having your eyes enhanced, whether it’s through lashes, or whatnot [is] a huge game changer,” Nguyen says.
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How to start a successful business with less than $200 in 2021
While we may associate fleeky brows and glam lashes with the ultimate luxury, Nguyen’s journey to making it as an entrepreneur has been anything but. Before opening her brow and lash bar, the mom of three started out as a mobile technician and would drive to her clients’ houses all over the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) to make a living.
“I would travel, let’s say, an hour out to Burlington, for a touch up that was like 70 bucks, but I would be there for three hours,” she says. “And then I would travel back home, or maybe I would go to Scarborough or Markham or downtown Toronto.” She would drive all day, earning — on a good day — around $150 to $200 after 10 long hours of work.
Determined to make her dreams of opening her own beauty space come to life, Nguyen opened her business with only $200 in her bank account. She signed the lease for her space, while worrying her landlord would run a credit check and discover she had no money. During those early months, she found it difficult to stay on top of what she owed. “[I’d] exhaust my resources to make sure that I could keep the lights on,” she recalls.
The turning point came when she earned a reputation for her expertise in the industry. Through word of mouth, Nguyen was able to build up her client base, and she developed strong relationships with her clients based on trust and transparency.
“We try to customize everything to the client’s lifestyle, their behaviour, the way that they believe and feel [what] that beauty should be, versus ‘this is what everyone else is looking at’ or ‘hey, this is the latest trend, you should try it,’” she explains. “I think being honest and transparent is really important in the beauty industry.”
Balancing business alongside motherhood
In addition to everything she was undertaking to get her business off the ground, Nguyen refused to let motherhood infringe on her dreams of success. She even opened Pretty Little Secrets Lash and Brow Bar while three months pregnant with her son. When her water broke, she drove herself to the hospital and began planning out the next few months of her life, but ended up returning to work only a week after giving birth.
“I just figured it out,” she says of her time at home with a newborn during the day and her evenings at work while her husband watched the kids. “I did that for a long time, just juggling it all.”
While she admits to feeling guilty for spending a lot of time focused on her business, she says that it comes with the territory. “Being a mom and trying to do anything in life is the most difficult task a woman has,” she says.
Nguyen advises other moms trying to start a business to prioritize themselves. “Invest in yourself in many ways, whether it’s financially, emotionally, physically, it doesn’t matter, take a break,” she says. “You can’t do it all.”
Finding success and building relationships with clients
Luckily, Nguyen’s determination paid off as she found herself sought out as a go-to expert in the lash and brow industry. Now, has been featured on The Marilyn Denis Show, been recognized as Toronto’s Top Choice Lash Bar 2021, and was named Prestige Canadian Salon of the Year 2020. At one point, she had over 15 employees but due to COVID now has downsized to a team of five. And although she attributes a lot of her success to her grit, determination and putting all of her time, money and energy into her business, she knows it’s also due to her clients. “A community here really liked us and appreciated the services that we brought into the neighborhood,” she explains. “So, it just kind of snowballed over time.”
It was her clients that kept her business alive when COVID hit, as many of them continued to support her by purchasing her brow and lash kits online. Nguyen got into a serious car accident that left her unable to perform her services in 2019, and as she has continued to recover she has been met with an outpouring of love from her customers. “I had been so focused on providing the services and trying to get to everybody before that, and then I had to stop all of a sudden, it reminded me to be so grateful for the clients,” she says.
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What you need to start a business
“A lot of times people think there’s a recipe for success, but there [isn’t],” Nguyen says. “And I think money can really hinder your ability to become successful or to launch your business or to grow on your own. I think that mindset stops a lot of women [from] chasing their dream and becoming anything that they want to be.” Although her path to success has been unconventional and challenging, she still encourages women to “go for it.”
“I was always in this industry, and I understood the industry inside and out,” she says. “And that’s why making the call to open a storefront wasn’t difficult because I knew I was so good.”
Her key piece of advice? Do your homework, and learn about the space you’re trying to enter. “If you don’t do your research, then you’re going to be spending a lot of money trying to figure it out,” she says.
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