Crystal Carmen’s motto is “to provide big city glam to America’s hometown.” She has successfully done this with her Vanity Image Studio on State Street in Media, Pennsylvania, specializing in microblading eyebrows and other long-lasting beauty and skincare solutions. Through Carmen’s experiences applying makeup for celebrities over the years, she found that often the makeup was really covering up something people didn’t like about their skin. She realized she wanted “to address the core issues so her clients can feel good about themselves without makeup on…fixing what they are trying to fix with makeup.” She went back to school, earned her esthetician certification and focused on her goal to “become the expert in skin and eyebrows.”
The Path to Success
Where you land is not always where you started in a successful small business. It was 2015 when Crystal was working on a retail business she called ‘Pink Stilletto Beauty’ that marketed makeup and cosmetics. She was considering many different market channels for her products including retail and online sales and even buying a trailer to sell from at community events. This was a competitive market, required costly inventories and the complexities of working with large national retailers. Crystal realized she was “focused too much on the product and the actual manufacturing.”
What really mattered to Crystal? She “loves beauty and working with people” and, with good business guidance, followed that passion to focus on the service side of the beauty industry. Today, with her Vanity Image Studio business, Crystal offers microblading for ideal eyebrow shapes, eyelash extensions and lifts, body waxing and more. Her services require the combination of experienced technical and artistic skills.
The business is well known for the special “Crystal Carmen Brow.” Vanity Image Studio clients tell her many inspiring stories. The result is overwhelmingly rewarding, from the “joy you can give your clients as well as the opportunity of changing someone’s day, today.”
Crystal Carmen met John Lippman, SCORE Mentor, in the Spring of 2015 when she was working on ‘Pink Stiletto Beauty’. In the early mentoring discussions, Crystal was thinking through how to grow the retail business. She was evaluating many options to grow sales including online and event selling. With John’s mentoring, Crystal could see at this point that specialized beauty service offerings were potentially more valuable to clients and more profitable than manufacturing cosmetic products. At the same time, raising enough money to fund inventory needed to fulfill large purchase orders for large national retailers* was only getting more difficult.
In her discussions with John, Crystal concluded that simplifying her retail efforts would allow her to focus on profitable services that are more aligned with her strengths. This business model enabled Crystal to make money through hosting upscale events with clients who value her services and buy larger quantities of her products at one time. SCORE also helped Crystal better understand her cash flow and funding sources for the business expansion ideas she had.
In 2018, Crystal reconnected with John Lippman at SCORE when she was growing her microblading service. Microblading is a tattooing technique in which a small handheld tool made of several tiny needles is used to add semi-permanent pigment to the skin. The effect can be like that of embroidery, feather touch or hair-like strokes. The service work had really taken off and Crystal was facing yet another set of decisions around locations and hiring. Together, they worked on a plan to move to a new location in Delaware County, more centrally located and easy to find. Additionally, Crystal worked with John to determine funding for her expansion and to find and retain new service contractors.
Crystal moved to a State Street location in Media with immediate success. She developed a team of specialized beauty consultants to provide the services her clientele requested. These contractors either rent the space from Vanity Image or are paid for the time they work in the shop. Managing contractors was initially a challenge for Crystal. With John’s support, she learned how to engage with the contractors to assure Vanity Image was offering top quality services from the top people in the area.
Crystal also attended SCORE workshops on “Meet the Lenders” and social media to gain some knowledge and skill as a business owner.
Crystal Carmen is very proud of her business and its offerings. She tells us, “I am able to not just grow the business financially but holistically,” highlighting many key areas that reflect this:
- Benefiting the community through fundraising participation
- Employing people – not just as a source of income but as a learning environment as well
- Contributing to others lives
- Spending more time with her family, based on the ability to flex her own schedule
- Helping other women owned businesses and sourcing locally when she can
And, there’s more. Crystal launched a non-profit organization, the Carmen Denominator.
The foundation works to transition women and children to life after human trafficking. The program provides transitional housing, a trauma survival program and reintegrative employment assistance to help survivors rebuild and have a chance at a better life. Crystal Carmen is one of the survivors. Her company donates 10% of its revenues to the foundation.
Vanity Image Studio is growing well as a result of word-of-mouth and social media promotion. Crystal has achieved multiple personal goals from starting only with a concept and making it into a reality. She drives by the front of her store everyday to remind herself of the physical manifestation of a dream. And, she reflects on how thankful she is for the support of her business.
Vanity Image Studio is a 2020 SCORE Business Achievement Award Winner, presented by SCORE Chester and Delaware Counties.
Paying it Forward
Carmen has a lot of advice for people considering starting a business:
- “Know your own weaknesses and strengths.”
- “Create a roadmap of what you want and your goals, if you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there. There are so many different paths, you don’t want to go in too many directions.”
- “Seek out a mentor or a coach to ask some questions that you may not ask. Others can give you another perspective and look at things from the outside in, objectively.”
- “Know when to ask for help.”
- “Don’t jump in blindly, project and evaluate before you do anything.”
- When you’re able to give, do so and do it from the heart.