Being let go from a job can be scary, but it can also allow a life-changing opportunity to fall into one’s lap. This was the case for Kirsten DiCarlo, who was let go from Fisher-Price when the company downsized. She began to update her résumé, but she realized she didn’t want to work for another corporation.
As she considered her options, an experience she had had while working came to mind. She was giving a videotaped presentation, one of many that she had done throughout her 20-year career in marketing and product development roles. Although she typically would have scheduled a manicure in advance, because it made her feel confident about herself during her close up, on this day, she hadn’t been able to make an appointment in time. When she looked at her hands during her presentation, she saw “ragged nails” and lost her focus. She thought, “It’s too bad the manicure couldn’t come to me.”
After losing her job, DiCarlo began to give this more thought. The idea of a portable spa that would allow women to recharge and renew was appealing for several reasons, from feeling nervous going into a new place, to concerns about the cleanliness of a spa, from communication issues, to being separated from friends.
“Sometimes you feel rushed or didn’t feel like it was a good experience,” she said. “Busy women don’t have time to spend a whole day at a spa.”
Once DiCarlo decided to make her vision a reality, the Orchard Park resident took advantage of what Buffalo’s entrepreneurial ecosystem offered to learn how to run her own business, such as mentorship opportunities, classes on managing small businesses and writing business plans, pitch competitions, and area networking events.
“Anytime I could do mentoring or networking, I went. Buffalo is a fantastic place for entrepreneurs,” she said.
To finance her startup, she tapped into her Fisher-Price severance package, sold stocks she had in the company, and took out a loan from the Small Business Association.
She also faced a unique challenge: Being the first of its kind – both a service and retail vehicle – she had to meet with the Common Council, talk to different ownerships about proper operation, and educate people on the concept. “It’s hard to market something when people don’t know what it is,” she said.
Once her plan was set and funding was in place, she had to find a vehicle for her spa on wheels. Although the average RV costs somewhere in the six-figure range, DiCarlo found an affordable RV available in an auction in Minnesota. It was damaged in a fire, but she found someone who could help rebuild and design it.
DiCarlo also began searching for a team of employees to provide the services, which include manicures, pedicures, hair for weddings/events, blowouts, wash/sets, massages, and makeup.
By spring 2017, DiCarlo’s FabUBus was officially up and running.
Only a year into business, the FabUBus has played host to numerous birthday and bridal parties, was selected to do the hair and make up for Queen City Fashion Week as well as for the poster shoot for the Buffalo Bandettes’ 2018 season, and was featured in publications including 716 Magazine. Being a spa on wheels, it also can drive directly to companies to provide services, responding to the thought that initially sparked DiCarlo’s entrepreneurial idea.
“We offer an upscale treatment with the feeling of being pampered,” DiCarlo said. “We welcome anybody on the bus and want them to feel accepted and empowered. We also have the added convenience of time. We want to be where women spend their day, to go to employers on lunch breaks.”
For the most part, DiCarlo’s first year was successful. However, she did have a few minor setbacks during that time, as well.
“While I have a lot of strategic marketing and brand-building experience, I had to learn the salon business,” she said. “I bought so many things up front that could have waited. I also wish I had a little more education on RVs, such as maintenance.”
But overall, the mother of four is pleased with the chance she took to become a business owner and the teachable moments it offers her family.
“Raising a young girl, I wanted our positioning to be about recognizing that women are already beautiful,” she explained. “We want to rejuvenate women and bring out their inner fabulousness. Recharging them is what we’re here for.”
“My three sons are respectful of women and are happy to help as well,” she continued. “It’s better than seeing mom work 70 hours a week and come home tired. This has been good for us as a family.”