Welcome to another episode of The Female Founder Show with Bridget Fitzpatrick, Co-Founder of ASBN and the CBT Automotive Network. This show is all about helping women grow their businesses and reach their full potential. Each episode will highlight inspiring stories and advice from female entrepreneurs to help you build and grow your business. This show is designed to inspire and motivate other female founders to be the best entrepreneurs they can be.
Today’s guest is a proven disruptor in an often overlooked field: piercing. Louisa Schneider is the founder and CEO of Rowan, a company taking the industry by storm by making piercing fun, safe and celebratory.
Schneider was inspired to start Rowan by her daughter, Fiona. When she initially began to search for places to get her daughter pierced, she was frustrated to discover that her options were extremely limited. The businesses which offered piercings, such as tattoo parlors, were often geared towards adults, and none of the companies she checked offered the level of expertise and healthcare that she wanted for her daughter. Schneider did not want her daughter to have the same bad experience she had getting her first piercing at the age of 12, so she began to research the field and develop a business plan.
When Rowan started, it began as a concierge-style business operating primarily out of Schneider’s attic. Clients were quickly smitten by the company’s emphasis on proper care and providing a quality experience. “What we discovered is that people really wanted a nurse or a medical professional to do the piercing,” she explains. Since no other companies were able to provide the same level of service in this already niche industry, Rowan soon began to expand.
Today, the piercing company operates 30 retail locations, with a new storefront opening at the Tribute Tower on Michigan Avenue later this year. Rowan serves a diverse, multigenerational customer base, including grandmothers, mothers and daughters. However, the road to success presented many challenges for Schneider, both as a business owner and a woman.
“What I love about women is that we really love to help each other, but it is hard for us often time to find the courage to go and do this…” she explains. The most challenging obstacle proved to be finding investors. “The general consensus, initially, was that it wasn’t a big enough area to build a business in…” The constant rejection from prospective financiers became frustrating for Schneider since she knew Rowan was profitable, sustainable and providing a meaningful, unmet service. “I was pretty mad, actually, at the fact that there was nowhere to take my daughter…I have two older sons, and I felt like, if this were something the boys were gonna do, I think there would already be a better option for them.” Thankfully, her efforts finally paid off. “Ultimately, our largest investor was a woman,” she adds.
Although Rowan successfully secured the funds it needed to grow, this story reflects an unfortunate reality for many American entrepreneurs: female business owners often have a much more difficult time accessing capital than men. To make the process easier, Schneider urges women to be patient and open to learning new things. “As soon as I could get over the ego [aspect] of they didn’t want to invest right away, then it was wow: what are they telling me? How can I change the way I’m approaching this to make it more interesting or to answer any of their concerns?” The fact is that many investors do want to fund good ideas and work with female founders. Plenty are even willing to support niche or “risky” businesses. The primary challenges are finding them, which takes perseverance, and making the right pitch, which takes an understanding of what venture capitalists look for.
Once their business is up and running, Schneider recommends finding the organization’s North Star: a core element that can offer guidance in difficult times. “We had a very large partnership with Target,” she remarks. “Ultimately, the partnership, at the size that we were and at the size that Target is, proved to be challenging, and we were not in a place to really support that business…” Eventually, Rowan was forced to make the difficult decision to exit the arrangement. However, the core of the business was a mother’s determination to provide an enjoyable and safe piercing experience for her daughter. By focusing on this, Schneider explains, she was able to navigate this complicated transition with a positive mindset and soon discovered that better opportunities were just on the horizon. “What we realized is that building a service out of someone else’s store is harder than running your own,” she continues. “Our employees were happier, and our customers appreciated our brand in a way they couldn’t when we were in [Target].” In many ways, the separation helped Rowan improve its branding and become the nationally recognized business it is today.
As a mother, Schneider understands the difficulty of juggling a family and business. She urges other working moms to forgive themselves for any mistakes and remember that perfection is not a requirement for success. The reward, she adds, is worth the effort. “My daughter and her friends have drafted out this dog-walking business plan, and she and her friends have taken a lot of inspiration from the work that I’ve done,” she explains. “I do think that what I’m doing is giving her and her friends the belief that they can do whatever they want, and that’s awesome.”