Small Business Story: Valonne

Valonne Smith
Valonne Smith, Founder and CEO, Natural Do

For women of color, there aren’t a lot of options to take care of our hair without harsh treatments and chemicals. I saw the need in the community for better, healthier treatments to take care of naturally curly hair. Instead of complaining about it, I decided to open my own salon, Natural Do. 

Before starting Natural Do, I worked at several companies in the biotech, science, and broadcasting space, all in business development. When I moved to Stockton to be closer to my husband’s family, I kept a long commute to the Bay Area. I wanted to have more flexibility, to be there for our young kids. 

“The drive to be an entrepreneur”

The drive to be an entrepreneur was always in me—it was just about finding the right fit. And when I found it, I took the plunge. My sister is a licensed cosmetologist and she helped me get familiar with the salon industry, and I applied my marketing and sales knowledge. At first, we did a lot of hair for friends and family, set up booths at festivals, and advertised on Facebook. I printed a bunch of flyers that said “coming soon” and, while I wasn’t exactly sure when that would be, I knew it would happen. I met my future landlord at a business mixer. In 2016, I signed a lease on the salon space in downtown Stockton; that was the moment I knew it was real.

At Natural Do, we use natural and organic products because that’s what works best. We Californians are bougie this way—we love natural products! The next step in a healthy lifestyle can include taking care of our hair. Our salon offers a membership model, which I saw was working well in other industries. Our clients can pay a flat fee for an unlimited number of appointments, and some of our clients come in every week.

A model shows off her Natural Do-styled hair

My clients say our salon is an upbeat, happy atmosphere. We probably play too much, but I wouldn’t want it any other way. Our clients love being pampered. And our salon smells good, because we’re not frying hair with chemicals! The best part of my job is seeing people happy with their actual hair, and being surprised at what their hair can do. We teach people to love and care for their hair just the way it is, without the breakage from harsh treatments.

Working for myself has given me the flexibility I was hoping for. Over the last year, I’ve been able to hire a receptionist to cover evenings and I’m sure to take off Saturdays to spend time with my family. But, as I’m sure any business owner will tell you, your business is on your mind all the time! 

The other day, I was cleaning out some old files and found a brainstorm of all the things I wanted to accomplish with Natural Do, from years before I started the salon. If you stick to it, research it, believe it—an opportunity will arise, and it did.

Working capital

I met an Opportunity Fund staff member in 2017, a couple of years after I started Natural Do. Opportunity Fund wasn’t giving assistance to start-ups, but I kept his card. In 2018, we needed working capital, so I called him and applied for a loan. The process was simple and I was able to get the working capital right away. Opportunity Fund saved the day. This spring, I received a $5,000 COVID relief grant from Accion Opportunity Fund, through Small Business Live…and the first thing I did with that was finish paying off my Opportunity Fund loan! 

The impact of COVID-19

We’re all affected by COVID and the shelter-in-place orders. Thankfully, we’ve been getting a lot of grants from the city of Stockton to help pay the bills. I communicate with my employees every week. I check in, I send them information—I forwarded them information about the $500 grants Opportunity Fund was offering. In most salons, stylists rent booths and are classified as contractors, not employees. But my two stylists are full-time employees, so as we had to close down the salon due to COVID, they were able to receive unemployment benefits.  

When the pandemic first happened, I was working but I wasn’t taking care of myself. In Stockton, we were able to open Natural Do for a few weeks in June, but had to shut down again in July. That second time we had to shut down, I knew I needed to change things. I’ve been walking every day, listening to podcasts, and reading books to come out better after COVID. When our business can open up again, we’re planning to hire a third stylist. I want to expand Natural Do into the Bay Area. We’re closed but we ain’t shutting down. We are reopening later this month!

In accordance with Stockton’s health guidelines, Natural Do reopened this September.

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