Photos by Hillary Ehlen
Featured photo: Kim and Kelly Linster, owners of Waxing the City Fargo
Whenever my late wife and I arrived at the mall, she would report having an appointment to get her eyebrows waxed at some salon. I grew up a Moler Barber College loyalist and therefore wholly naïve of this assuredly essential beautification tactic. It sounded dangerous, but was one of those “happy wife, happy life” things, so I’d just say, “OK, honey.” and claim a seat in the concourse and count people.
Meet Mark Puppe
Mark Puppe develops communication strategies and written content as owner of Master Manuscripts. He has advocated for small business professionally at the National Federation of Independent Business and Professional Insurance Agents of North Dakota, and does what he can to ensure entrepreneurs get the credit, protection and veneration they deserve.
His contributed pieces introduce, showcase and personify the real, imminent, yet often overlooked and unknown responsibilities that small business owners experience, endure and strive to overcome.
Then, one dark evening, I overhear a fellow bar patron boast about having discovered what sounded like a form of chemical warfare, “waxing the city.” This guy rambles about how easy, fun and affordable it is to get Brazilians in Fargo and that he gets a lot of them. He thinks Waxing the City is great and everyone should try it. The 9-1-1 dispatcher asks my emergency and then clarifies Waxing the City to be a new, one-of-a-kind waxing studio across from the TJ Maxx Plaza and that I, too, should try.
Motivated only by truth, I investigate and learn Waxing the City to have been founded by Kim Zwinger Linster, a born-again North Dakotan with no previous business experience, but whose intangible investments into launching and operating the business have slothfully diversified Fargo’s community and business perspective.
Kim graduated from NDSU in 1996 with a dietetics degree, her wedding to Kelly Linster already planned and interest in North Dakota limited to obligatory family funerals and a few Bison games. Little did she know that 18 years later, she’d be helping Fargo make cultural landmark leaps forward.
The Linsters loved Woodbury, Minnesota where Kelly managed insurance and Kim was committed as their two kids’ stay at home mom. They hadn’t considered starting a business until 2013 when a family friend suggested buying franchise rights to Waxing the City. Where? Fargo, North Dakota.
Sounded good, at least to Kelly. They could perform every ownership task from Woodbury because after hiring a manager in Fargo, they’d only have to open mail, pay bills and put bumper stickers on their cars.
Kim rejected the notion, but finally succumbed when Kelly agreed to give her the reins and stay out of the way. Kim’s first full-time job would begin 18 years after college and entail opening and owning a waxing studio 250 miles from home.
Eight months of 14-hour workdays and bouncing back and forth to Fargo enlightened Kim to something echoed by every entrepreneur: business ownership is more complicated, difficult and expensive than most people know. Despite all the toils, uncertainties and costs, Kim says accepting that, “You don’t know what you don’t know,” as gospel truth gives her peace of mind because she answers every question according to whether the result will benefit first, her employees; second, her clients; next, this community; and finally, herself.
Corporate headquarters provided all the plans necessary for contractors to show up and build the studio. However, rather than delegate decisions from Woodbury, Kim was onsite directing the processes and modifying details herself. She knew clientele would be predominantly female and as the only female involved, only she has the feminine intuition and perspectives required to ensure the studio fulfill females’ expectations, not just comply with building codes.
As simple as Kim’s onsite efforts seem, they introduce how every single small business owners’ intangible and unseen investments contributes to a community’s economic character, climate and opportunity, and aggregate identity.
For example, her onsite decisions added another female member to the ranks of business ownership, contributed previously neglected female perspectives to the structural layout and performance, closed an onsite gender gap and increased women’s influence in corporate planning.
“Especially during construction, it was common for people to ask me, ‘Can I help you?’ when I arrived onsite or, ‘Is your husband available?’ when I answered the phone. Responding with, ‘I’m the boss, who are you?’ always felt good,” Kim said.
Kim understood how opening in Fargo meant marketing Waxing the City as not only a business owner, but as a pioneer because, truth be told, most Fargoans had either never considered getting waxed or only seen it conducted as torture on TV. She turned to online social media and made it primary.
“I was terrified because this was new territory, but I wasn’t going to waste thousands of dollars on direct mail trying to create a market or as the only way to educate the community about the benefits,” Kim said. “I had to be creative and cost effective, so Facebook quickly became my focus and top priority.”
She gave NDSU student organizations witty t-shirts and nonprofits generous donations for accumulating likes. More than 3,000 people liked Waxing the City’s Facebook page before the store’s first day and the schedule was packed the opening day. However, Kim also used online videos to charter new territory.
“I saw real opportunity in ‘The Tonight Show’s’ Wax On, Wax Off segments,” Kim said. “Jimmy Fallon invites guests for trivia to avoid or receive wax on stage during the show. Just think if Waxing the City could get Fallon to Fargo.”
However, Kim explained how a “just think” perspective threatens business. Had she only thought about rather than actually risking creating a video to recruit Jimmy Fallon to visit her Waxing the City studio, none of her employees or clients, nor her community or self would have ever received the rewards resulting from it.
“I was scared of what people would think of this video, what would happen to the business if the video didn’t work and what would happen to my ‘new’ business reputation,” she said.
Nonetheless, Kim and her Waxing the City team created the video, posted it on YouTube and asked local businesses to sponsor it. The #FallontoFargo campaign boosted online views, expanded Kim’s business network, secured special media coverage and stimulated a groundswell of public wax appeal. This arousal and support enlightened Kim to the vibrancy of Fargo’s community spirit and people.
Kim credits that support as the force behind Waxing the City’s success and the attributes permeating from that support as the reasons she and Kelly knew they wanted to live in Fargo as business owners and, most importantly, their kids to grow up in Fargo.
“The people in Fargo genuinely wanted to help. This is such a community of really wanting to see people succeed,” Kim says. “Fargo is not a GoFundMe page.” She now operates Waxing the City in the trenches as a Fargo resident.
Waxing the City, Fargo opened in April 2014 as the fifth franchise of the 100 currently operating and is esteemed as the premier studio among them all.
Every small business owner is a leader. They, like Kim, shatter corporate and industry sales records and rates by bending or breaking tradition, introducing unique products, services and ideas, creating niche markets, and remaining uncompromisingly loyal to values making them trustworthy as people and wise as business decision makers.
But Kim cautions business owners about loyalty because the biggest failure among them is thinking that success in one means automatic success in another, she says. Kim was blessed by business inexperience because she did not have to unlearn concepts that worked in another business, but might be irrelevant or counterproductive at Waxing the City, Fargo.
“People starting a business can think they’re going to be better than everyone else,” she says “but you don’t know what you don’t know until you stop thinking and trust others’ resourcefulness, talent and creativity.”
That’s why Kim considers every Waxing the City team member a powerhouse of talents, passions and ideas and a vital resource to the business itself and why her commitment to the team’s success is the best way to serve clients, she says.
Indicative of small business owners, Kim has found her passion because she focused on overcoming struggles rather than focusing on finding her passion. Any entrepreneur can relate to how Kim’s experience starting Waxing the City enabled her to discover a fearlessness and confidence she didn’t know she had until she was forced to manage the pressures and perils of small business ownership.
“It shouldn’t have worked,” she says, but it works in myriad ways for many reasons and the Fargo community deserves a lot of the credit.
The gift certificate Kim shared after our interview remains unused. It’s not that waxing still scares me, the schedule at Waxing the City is booked.
Waxing The City
4302 13th Ave. S. #15, Fargo