Rise again

Legend has it that the Phoenix rose from its ashes, spread its wings and one again soared through the skies. The same could be said for entrepreneur and businessman Paul Vaughn Wiggins.

Once the proud owner of one of the most prestigious hair salons in the Midwest and a talented hair stylist, Wiggins’ career suddenly crashed and burned. Over the last four years, he has again found his wings and is ready to regain his place in the sun.

Entrepreneurs and visionaries find it difficult to consistently stay at the apex of the pyramid. In many cases they rapidly build a successful business and then find themselves at the wrong end of the bell curve. Was it ego, lack of experience in managing a business or some other factor that caused their fall? In many cases it is all of the above.

In my research I have come upon many entrepreneurs who have built a successful business only to find that they lost their way and eventually lost their business. These serial entrepreneurs, like Steve Jobs, went back to the drawing board and started new and successful enterprises.

Jobs went to Next and then was involved in Pixar, which was eventually sold to the Disney Corporation. Until his untimely death, Jobs had another bite at the Apple Corporation and was instrumental in the development of the iPhone, iPod and the iPad. What changed, that made his second stint at Apple so successful? He found his “niche.” He spent his time like Bill Gates challenging his staff to develop the next generation of products for his loyal customers.

The same could be said of Wiggins. He got caught up in his success and lost his way, but now he has regained his internal compass and is on his way back up the pyramid.

Six years ago, Wiggins had an idea for a new styling iron. The irons that stylists were using at that time were either round or straight, which caused the operator to twist their wrist in order to create a curl or wave. Wiggins went about designing an iron with an angle that would permit the operator to curl or style the hair without putting stress on their wrist, thus avoiding fatigue and potential injury. The Kwof Angle Iron took flight and initially was sold to salons using cold calling and the Internet, particularly Facebook.

Wiggins networked with stylists, distributors and salons all over the United States. Initially there were some design and manufacturing challenges, but those were eventually overcome with experience and feedback from customers. An instructional video was created to assist the stylist in maximizing the potential of the iron. In the first years over 3,000 irons were sold, but because of undercapitalization and manufacturing issues, inventory could not be maintained at the proper levels, and sales were lost.

Now the iron has been redesigned with a temperature setting, on/off switch and new packaging. Currently the iron is being sold over the Internet, through distributors and directly to salons. Wiggins has a new salon in Mequon and is rising out of the ashes to fly again, propelled by his experience, quiet confidence, maturity and a newfound confidence in his ability to be successful.

It is that spirit of “I know I can do it again” that motivates the serial entrepreneur to take on the next challenge. Their egos are fed by their successes, and their confidence that no challenge is too big to conquer. That ego drive also has a downside: the serial entrepreneur tends to bite off more than they can chew.

As I summarized in my earlier articles on entrepreneurship, not all entrepreneurs have the necessary skill sets to be successful. It is not unusual after the enterprise reaches a certain size; the ability of the entrepreneur to manage the business is diminished. At this point the need for a number two or the assistance of a seasoned business professional is required. Too many entrepreneurs realize this deficiency only after they crash and burn.

In Wiggins’ journey from success to failure, this point occurred when he renovated his Mequon salon. He soon found himself in a severe cash crunch when sales declined after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Eventually he was bought out and had to purchase another salon in Whitefish Bay to retain his clients. Unfortunately, he repeated some of the same mistakes and crashed again during the Great Recession.

How after two failures does one rise from the ashes? The answer lies in the ability to accept failure, learn from it and to put your ego aside and listen to experienced professionals. They say that, “failure either kills you or makes you stronger.” In this case, it made Wiggins stronger, more mature and open to accepting counsel from other business professionals.

What lessons do we take away from Wiggins’ journey?

  • Engage a consultant who specializes in small business and has experience working with entrepreneurs.
  • Develop a business plan/road map that includes cash flows and profit and loss statements.
  • Acquire short-term financing in order to fund your business during an unexpected downturn and maintain your inventories.
  • Listen to the voice of your customer, be open to constructive criticism.
  • Understand it takes more than one person to run a successful enterprise.
  • Keep you focus on growing the business in small increments over time. Uncontrolled rapid growth can destroy a business because of poor quality, long delivery times and poor customer service.
  • Build on your success by continually improving your product and service.
  • Be humble and grateful for your success and keep your ego in check. n

Cary Silverstein, MBA is the President and CEO of SMA, LLC & The Negotiating Edge. Cary heads a group of consultants that provide services in the areas of strategic planning, negotiations, and conflict resolution with offices in Fox Point. He can be reached at (414) 352-5140 or at Csilve1013@aol.com.

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