A 20-year beauty industry veteran, Jeni Castro is no stranger to the hustle. At 17 she became the youngest freelance makeup artist ever hired by Estee Lauder, and today she’s the founder and CEO of The Bronzed Bunny, an organic airbrush tanning and sugaring salon with locations in California and Texas. We caught up with her recently to learn how she managed to turn her own spray-tan obsession into a thriving business.
Q: What prompted you to start your own business?
A: I’ve always been a serial entrepreneur. In my early 20s, I was working as a cocktail waitress, running my own bartending business and doing lashes before they were even a thing — and I did it all out of the trunk of my car. I’ve always loved getting spray tans and would drive for an hour and a half to the only organic tanning place in the area.
On one of my visits, I started peppering the receptionist with a few questions about their business, and she told me they had 150 tans booked for that day alone. I started doing the math and went home that night to figure out how I could take this great business model and make it even more amazing. I ordered my first spray tan machine that night and started a mobile tanning business, using all organic products. Within months I was so busy that I couldn’t waste time driving around all day, so I signed a lease on my first location in Costa Mesa.
Q: What have been your biggest challenges as a small business owner?
A: Every day is a challenge. There are things that CEOs are known for: we have a different set of skills. I am the queen of pulling the trigger, I like to just do something and figure it out later, whereas someone like my CFO is very calculated and detail-oriented. I need that balance. But everything is a learning lesson — I feel like I’ve made no mistakes in my business, because I always learn something.
Employees and staff are the hardest part, they can make or break you. I consider my salons like my home, and allowing people into your home puts you at risk. The wrong person can bite you in the butt. But I truly don’t feel like I would go back and change anything, because these things have made me a stronger woman and a better business owner.
Q: How does Booker help you run your business?
A: I was super manual when I started out — I used pencil, paper and my personal cell phone for scheduling appointments and I didn’t even accept credit cards. I had no idea what was out there as far as software. I used another service for a while, but when a friend mentioned Booker to me and I looked into it, I was blown away by how perfect it was for spas and salons. The automatic emails help me stay in contact with clients and keep my appointment book full without even thinking about it, the reporting is so user-friendly, and the basics are so easy to learn that new staff knows how to use the system almost right away. It really is geared for us in this industry and now I can’t imagine using anything else.
Q: What advice would you give to your younger self?
A: Be careful. I am a very sensitive person and very giving, and I often lead too much with my heart, which isn’t always a great idea in the business world. I would encourage young Jeni and other women who are launching a business to try to find a happy medium between being an intimidating boss and letting people walk all over me. Find the balance between getting stuff done but at the same time being a compassionate boss and human.