District Boss Interview: Varnish Lane

Meet Carrie and Lauren Dunne, the mother-daughter duo behind Varnish Lane, a boutique waterless nail salon in Friendship heights and soon to be West End DC! 

If there's one thing every DC boss-lady needs, it's a quality manicure and there's nothing worse than walking into a new salon that you can't trust. If you've been searching for a local place to get your nails done then look no further than Varnish Lane. The philosophy behind their waterless services has both environmentally friendly and hygienic roots. Not only is their manicure more safe, but it's a luxurious experience from start to finish. And chic new nail art is always a plus. Check out their Instagram page here for nail art inspo and read on to hear about how Varnish Lane came to be. Follow along to hear when their new salon will open in the West End!

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1. Tell us about your company!

Varnish Lane is a waterless nail shop that is dedicated to redefining nail care. We offer waterless manicures and pedicures in a beautiful and relaxing environment with no risk of infection using natural polishes and 100% chemical free products. We currently have one location in Friendship Heights and our second location is opening this spring/early-summer in West End!

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2. What lead you to where you are today? 

My mom, three sisters and I have always loved getting our nails done together but we would always say to each other “Why isn’t there a place we can go that is clean, safe, relaxing & beautiful but still reasonably priced.” That kind of place has never existed before, so my Mom and I decided to create it ourselves. I have a background in the high-end catering and events industry so I have always had a focus on creating exceptional client experiences. To me, when a client comes to Varnish Lane, they are not just paying to get their nails done but they are paying for the way they feel when they are at the salon and after they leave.

3. What brings you the most joy when developing your company? 

Our employees and clients! We have created a sanctuary and a safe place for women. Our incredible nail stylists are provided a fair and safe work environment (which is not the norm in this industry) and our clients come to Varnish Lane to take a break from everyday life. Whether they are preparing for a big meeting, having time away from their kids for an hour or just practicing healthy self-care – nothing brings me more joy than seeing a client leave Varnish Lane feeling rejuvenated.
 

4. What’s the most difficult part of being an entrepreneur? The best part?

The most difficult part of being an entrepreneur for me has been employees and HR. As much as I created Varnish Lane for the consumer, I also created it to be a safe and empowering work environment for nail stylists and our management. I am hyper-focused on making sure that everyone feels respected and happy when they come to work – which can be difficult! When you put so much energy and time trying to ensure everyone’s happiness, it can be disappointing when situations arise when you don’t feel a level of respect in return. Fortunately, we have reached a point where we have the most amazing staff and I feel so grateful to work with them every day.

The best part of my entrepreneurship journey is that I am doing this with my Mom. People ask me constantly, “How do you work with your Mom? Don’t you drive each other crazy?” It is the opposite for me, I couldn’t imagine doing this without her. Going to work every day knowing that my #1 supporter is going to be there is a pretty cool feeling.

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5. How do you stay motivated and continue to grow, personally and professionally?

I stay motivated by putting myself in situations where I am surrounded by other entrepreneurs. Whether it is a networking event, investor presentation or small gathering of girlfriends, I need to stay connected to others who understand what it takes to run a business. Networking does not come naturally to me, so I really have to hold myself accountable and make sure I am staying social!


6. What’s your nighttime routine?

I usually step away from my computer or get home from meetings around 7:30pm to cook dinner and watch a show. Being in the beauty industry, I have become obsessed with natural skincare and nighttime is my favorite time to test new products. I am an early to bed kind of girl so I am usually in bed by 9pm to read and snuggle with my pup, Rosie, for a bit. Lights out by 9:45!

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7. What’s one piece of advice you would give to other entrepreneurs? 

Try not to compare yourself to other entrepreneurs or spend too much time focusing on the competition. It can be extremely daunting (and a waste of energy!) to feel you are constantly trying to keep up with others. Focus on yourself, your business and what makes you unique. One more thing, manage your finances extremely carefully from the get-go and make sure you have a trusted financial advisor to help guide your decisions. This will help you avoid pitfalls along the way and set you up for success.

Join lauren on April 12th for our grit in the district panel event all about self-care! Learn more and save your spot here.


Katrina Kagan