2006 Alumni

Young Entrepreneur Northwest

Brenda Cooper

Brenda CooperBrenda Cooper thought that having the full support of family, friends and clients during the process of starting her own business was a blessing.

But having a client and friend nominate her for an Influential Women of Northern Ontario award showed her how those around her see her.

"I have had my own business for four years and I've never thought of myself as a young entrepreneur," says Cooper.

Cooper is the owner of Serenity Esthetics in downtown Thunder Bay. The salon offers a full range of services, such as manicures, pedicures, facials, makeup application and waxing. She also rents space in the salon to a registered massage therapist.

In high school, Cooper had a job at the local K Mart Canada store, and loved working in the health and beauty department.

"I loved organizing the products and learning about what was out there."

However, it wasn't until she was sitting in the guidance office in high school that working with cosmetics as a career entered her mind. She heard her principal call for the secretary to look up the college esthetics program for another student in his office.

"That was it, that was what I wanted to do."

After her secondary school graduation Cooper went on to attend Seneca College in North York. Initially, she thought she would become a makeup artist and go on to produce her own line of beauty products. But once her classes started, Cooper realized that there was more to beauty than makeup. She really loved the manicures, pedicures and skin care.

After graduating from Seneca, she moved back to Thunder Bay and worked in the industry for five years in positions at Esthetician La Mirage and Electrolysis Clinic. She then decided that is was time to go off on her own and open her own salon.

She found a business partner who had a room to rent to her and used her personal savings to purchase the necessary products and equipment. She worked out of the room for a year, but clients repeatedly told her that with her growing business she should look into a larger space. So Cooper began a business plan and started to look for a shop to call her own.

The biggest challenge was getting a loan. Luckily, Cooper had been saving money and that helped her get past this hurdle.

"I had to put out my own money," says Cooper. "If I didn't have it I don't know what I would have done."

She found a place and spent three months in transition, working days at the old salon and renovating the new one in the evenings. Thankfully, she had help from her friends.

One friend in particular boosted her confidence and encouraged her along the way. It didn't hurt that he was a drywall installer by trade.

Friends also helped her lay the flooring and paint the salon. Plumbers and electricians were the only workers hired by the young business owner.

"Everyone was very supportive," says Cooper.

The thought of giving up never crossed Cooper's mind as she worked long hours and slowly watched her salon develop. Watching the progress made her happy and she loved seeing it all come together.

Running a one-woman show in the beginning, Cooper had to learn to become her own bookkeeper and accountant.

It was tough but the payoff was worth it. Knowing the work ultimately was for her clients, who trust her to take the best care of them possible. "This is a passion for me, it's a passion for life."

Esthetics is a high demand sector in Thunder Bay, Cooper says.

Every hair salon is looking for an esthetician. Despite this, Cooper insists upon hiring locally.

"I hired one girl even though I knew it was just a stepping stone for her," says Cooper. "I wanted to help her."

Cooper says hiring locally helps her as well, because she trusts her new employees and knows that they will treat her clients and neighbours with respect just as she does.

Her 15-year-old niece is showing an interest in esthetics and visits Cooper at the salon often. She loves to try out "funky" makeup and styles and show them off to her aunt. Cooper supports her 100 per cent.

"I am thinking that she might be the one to get into this," says Cooper.

She would not think twice about encouraging her niece or anyone with a love for esthetics to get into the business.

"You have to like people and I like people."

- Marie Clarke

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