The ink had barely dried on the documents creating a new business when the coronavirus pandemic swept across the state.
The newly formed Utopia Wellness in Charleston combined the health, esthetic and business talents of Courtney Tackett and Olivia Hairston.
“We merged February 5 of 2020. On March 19, 2020, we were shut down for 73 days,” said co-owner and Chief Financial Officer Hairston.
“It was terrifying,” said co-owner and Chief Communications Officer Tackett. “There was nothing that we could do to prepare because no one has experienced anything like this in the last 100 years.”
Unable to provide face-to-face services to clients during the mandatory shutdown, the company was spending down its cash reserves. Despite the formidable challenges, the partners were not about to give up on their new endeavor.
Startup dream business gets ready
Hairston met Tackett at quarterly event of Glo Getters WV, a networking group for women located in Charleston. At the time, Tackett was owner of Boho Spa in South Charleston. Hairston had her own growing business making candles and organic health products.
“We quickly realized that we shared the same vision,” Tackett said. “Olivia proposed a merger, to which I wholeheartedly agreed.”
Hairston introduced her to Will Miller, a business coach with the West Virginia Small Business Development Center (WV SBDC). Miller is a Certified Business Advisor, having completed the graduate-level e-learning course through the accredited Kent State University. The courses cover subjects such as strategic planning, pricing, breakeven analysis, finance sources, employee recruiting and performance management.
“Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, I was able to help them with business strategy and marketing assistance,” Miller said. “We were able to help increase their web presence and boost their search engine optimization.”
Tackett and Hairston officially merged Feb. 5, 2020. They changed the business name to Utopia Wellness in January 2021.
“Utopia Wellness is everything I had hoped it would be,” Hairston said. “It is a combination of different people who bring their specific talents to one place.”
Tackett, who is Utopia’s lead esthetician, graduated from WVSU with a BA in Psychology and from the Huntington School of Beauty Culture. She is a certified Reiki Practitioner—Level II, Skin Sheek. She went on to receive her Reiki certification in 2017.
Hairston, Natural Wellness Practitioner, received her Professional Herbalist and Nutritional Advisor certificates in May of 2020. In 2021, she received her Natural Health Professional certification and her designation as a Board-Certified Natural Wellness Practitioner.
Keeping the dream alive in a nightmare economy
Responding to the pandemic required major shifts in their business plans.
“Challenges that we faced were restructuring, rebranding, and trying to find a way to communicate our existence and the quality services that we provided to our community,” Tackett said.
“Will knew that both of us were ‘go getters’ and that we would relentlessly pursue our vision,” Hairston said. “He became our biggest cheerleader and helped to develop the skills that we already possessed.”
Utopia converted its business model from in-person services to online product sales.
“We quickly moved to product manufacturing and distribution only,” she said. “Marketing was online only, and this gave us the opportunity to stay connected to our clients using social media. We used this opportunity to better define our niche market and decide what we wanted our business to look like in the future.”
Among the top concerns for Utopia Wellness, as well as many small businesses coping with the pandemic restrictions, was financial resources.
WV SBDC Business Coach Miller helped the co-owners find and apply for relief funding.
“With Will’s help, we applied for every financial resource available to us,” said Tackett. “As a result, we received the Small Business Administration Economic Injury Disaster Loan Advance, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Save Small Business Grant, The State of West Virginia Cares Act Grant, Facebook Small Business Grant and the Paycheck Protection Program Loan.”
After the state allowed businesses to reopen, Utopia Wellness resumed offering in-person services, including facials, massages, lash and brow enhancements and aromatherapy.
Utopia Wellness opens to the public April 29 – May 1
Utopia Wellness prepares to welcome patrons to its new location at 5314 MacCorkle Avenue SE, Suite B, Charleston. The grand opening event takes place 11 a.m. April 29 through 5 p.m. May 1.
“Things are always changing and you have to be willing to adjust and change with the business climate if you want to grow and succeed,” said Miller. “It shows what kind of grit and determination you need to make a small business successful. Both of these business owners certainly have those qualities.”
The partners have said the pandemic experience taught them two key business lessons.
Slow down. “This time showed how important it is to balance your work/home life,” the partners said. “It literally saved both of us from being workaholics.”
“No matter what life may throw at you, NEVER. GIVE. UP.”
Small business owners in West Virginia can take advantage of WV SBDC business coach expertise at no cost. Business owners can get connected with a business coach through the Ask Me! Line: