Michelle Walters, CEO of Island Glow, LLC, epitomizes the dynamic nature of entrepreneurship and innovation. Hers is the story of an entrepreneur who says yes, persisting and pivoting to scale her business incrementally.
Growing up in a family of entrepreneurs, Walters understood the value of hustle and determination from a young age. She spent 15 years in a corporate job in substance abuse, helping to grow a company worldwide, but soon found that she needed to shift gears. It wasn’t enough for her to help someone else build their dream. She wanted to build her own.
Since 2008, Walters’s solo makeup and hair business has evolved into Island Glow, LLC, offering mobile sunless tanning, a small brick-and-mortar in Powhatan and two more storefront locations in Farmville and Woodlake. Now with a national brand, Walters markets her own American-made, clean self-tanning line, featuring her signature vegan spray tan formula. Currently in talks with a national retailer, she is intent on bringing her products to shelves across the country. In several months Island Glow will also be home to one of America’s first hybrid tanning and skincare towers.
Through customer discovery and product development, her business has soared. The only thing Walters needs now is a bigger space.
Reflecting on her own experience, Walters emphasizes the importance of mentorship for entrepreneurs and innovators, as she herself lacked mentors when she started out. Networking with groups like RISE Collaborative or exploring programs like CO.STARTERS can help young business owners build ideas and start incrementally. Walters now takes pride in mentoring young employees of her own, 90 percent of whom are college students.
Additionally, engaging with local partners has been instrumental to Walters’ success. In Farmville, connections with Downtown Farmville and the Farmville Area Chamber of Commerce offered support and grant opportunities that helped keep Island Glow afloat during the COVID-19 pandemic. Walters’ relationship with Longwood University has supplied her salon with a number of energetic young interns and employees who bring new energy and fresh ideas.
“That’s what I love about Farmville, just locking arms together, helping each other out,” Walters said. “I love small-town feels.”
Learn more about Walters’ journey as well as the next big steps for her business in the video linked below:
Want to hear more about Walters’ experience? Read on for the tips and advice she offered entrepreneurs in Rise & Shine’s question-and-answer session:
Q: I’m curious about your product development. What advice would you give to others in our region who have product ideas?
WALTERS: It’s so interesting how products are developing. With both our chemist and our manufacturer, I’m proud that all of our products are made right in America. Our manufacturing plant is in Florida. Now, the world is going toward more clean products — chemical-free. Five years ago, we got the stamp of approval from PETA, so all of our products are now “no animal cruelty.” I think you’re looking for things like that. The next generation is looking for nice, clean products that are safe for the environment.
Now I’m taking it to a bigger scale. Every year I’ve planned to take my business to another level. With that I think you need is a different mentor, a different coach, because that person is going to take you to another level. I’ve never kept the same mentor all these years because everyone is going to be a piece of the journey to the next step. I’m meeting with my mentor Friday, and we’re making a sales pitch to one of the biggest stores in the country. I don’t know if I have a shot at it, but, you know what, I have an interview, and he’s going to coach me on how to get one of our products into the hands of a million, trillion people. So I think my advice is, Just don’t settle! Just go big. Find those mentors out there, whether it’s Instagram, Facebook or networks like this. Ask around so they can take you to that next level. You’re never going to get there if you don’t try it. You’re never going to hit the ball if you don’t swing.
Q: You mentioned a meeting on Friday with a big retailer and a manufacturer in Florida. Can your manufacturer scale the production to meet the needs of this retailer?
WALTERS: That’s a good question. I talked to my manufacturer yesterday, and they are prepared to scale it that big. I was just shopping last week, looking at some products similar to mine, and I was like, Their packaging isn’t wow. Why can’t I be on the shelf? So I started Googling where I was supposed to go. Sometimes Google points you in the right direction. And I just called and made an appointment. I filled out some paperwork, and they’re excited to meet with me. Apparently in 28 days I’ll have a decision about whether this is our time or not. And maybe it’s not the right time. Maybe it is. But I’m going to learn a lot through this first meeting.
Q: Starting and running a business can be heavy. How do you manage work-life balance and keep burnout at bay?
WALTERS: I learned a long time ago that work-life balance is the only key to success. My children are twins. They’re grown and gone. But I’ll tell you what, my staff of 15 — the biggest staff I’ve ever had among all the salons with probably 90 percent being college students — they know that I preach work-life balance. I believe that you work hard, but you should also play hard and have time off.
I listen to them and their chitter chatter. When they say, “I just want to go home. I’m ready to go home,” I cut back their hours. We pitch in. We all shuffle around to all the salons. We just make it work. I hardly ever say no to time off. I think time off is important. All of our salons are closed on Sundays, and we’re closed on Mondays because I believe that you should not work on Sunday and that on Mondays you just regroup. I’m a big stickler for that, and my time management is off the wall. Everything in my life is planned so that I have that time. I do pass those traits on to my college staff. I want them to know that you should work hard for everything but also block in that personal, private time because that’s the only way you’re going to make it.
Q: Can you talk more about your work with college kids? When you’re in college you need that kind of help and mentoring.
WALTERS: This next generation is coming up with or without a skillset, and we’ve got to teach them some of these things. It’s not the same as it was 10 years ago. It wasn’t the same five years ago. You know, I’m pretty tough on the girls. I am not the pushover. I’m the boss, and I shouldn’t be the pushover. I hold them accountable.
But you know what? These are going to be nurses from Longwood. These are going to be schoolteachers. They’re going to take something from us and they’re going to move on. I know some people laugh and say, “You’re working at a tanning salon? What are you going to learn there?” There’s a lot. It’s just life skills. It’s work skills. Don’t count us out just because we’re in the beauty industry! They’re learning a lot, and I’m grateful for that and grateful for Longwood sending us interns so we can impart those skills to them.
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