The Anatomy of an Entrepreneur
Being an entrepreneur might not be for everyone, but for Paola, it’s in her blood. As a Girotti from St. Catharines, Ontario, she comes from a long line of entrepreneurs.
Maybe that’s why I knew I could do it on my own.
When Paola almost walked away from everything that she had created, it was a chance encounter with a Dragon’s Den star that changed her life.
Paola’s story is one of brains and vision, the guts to continue through devastating times, and the feet to keep moving. And for those who know Paola, they know of her heart.
When your skin is the largest organ of your body, Paola feels that you should feed it with the best food possible; maybe that’s why her lotions and scrubs smell so good that you want to eat them. Sweet Orange. Lavender Lime. Vanilla Bean. She has hydrating masks, savoury lip balms, sugaring kits, and decadent bath melts that will leave your tub filled with dried flower petals. She invests the time and research into bringing quality products to the floor. It has built Paola’s reputation and has attracted celebrity clientele to her salons.
Whether it’s a skin line from Italy or a product that’s Canadian, she chooses only the best. At Sugarmoon, all of the skin care lines are eco-certified (which is a difficult certification to get) and she also works with a chemist out of Mississauga to create her own products. Just within the last few weeks, Sugarmoon has expanded to include Babymoon (products for baby) and Sweetmoon (skin products for teens).
Growing up in Thorold, Ontario, Paola had sugaring done as a child. She had light skin and dark facial hair on her chin and upper lip. Paola was thankful that her mom got on it quickly and took her to see someone which helped with her confidence.
Later in her life, when Paola was working in Toronto in the film industry, she couldn’t believe that she had to drive all the way back to St. Catharines just to be sugared. There was nothing in the city and Paola saw an opportunity.
Sugarmoon Salon became a brand built around the process of sugaring and was one of the first salons in the city when it started 15 years ago. Sugaring is a hair removal approach that’s more gentle on your skin. The sugar is made from natural products (sugar, lemon, and water) and when cooked to a particular consistency, almost mimics the feel of wax. You could actually eat it if you wanted to. It is cool to the touch and does not adhere to live cells, so unlike waxing, your skin is not burned or removed in the process.
We are the organic strawberry. The Whole Foods of hair removal.
Paola studied science in college and university but didn’t love it. With a cousin who was a film director, she decided to get into the industry as a production assistant. Nine years later, she was a production coordinator and also produced her own short film. She loved story and being able to see it come to life on set, but she didn’t love the long hours. Paola and a friend (also in film) decided to reinvent themselves in their late 20s.
After going to esthetics school, they opened their first sugaring business in an apartment on the second floor of what used to be Michael’s Meats (just down from where today’s Local 1794 is). It was the only place where they could afford rent on the Danforth. Paola’s mom gave them a $10,000 loan to buy the materials and equipment they needed to get started. It didn’t take long before her loan was paid back.
We can look at a business and think about how beautiful it is or how successful, but we often don’t know what it cost in order to get there.
Paola and her partner went from a super lucrative wage in film to making very little. Her son, Elias, was born two months premature and they had just expanded their business. Paola had to go back to work when Elias was 8 weeks old. What did I do? Why didn’t I stay in film? I just want to be home with my baby. She remembers it as a dark time.
After two years, her partner left the business and Paola decided to go out on her own. Their storefront, at that time, was in the TD plaza at Woodington and Danforth; she was doing well until the building flooded. Paola then moved her business to its current location at 1509 Danforth Avenue (right across the street from BOMB Fitness). By this time, Paola had her second baby, Sofia. She was building her business in a new location, she had a newborn, and Elias had Aspbergers. Her plate was full.
Paola hired her best friend, who also became a nanny for Sofia. Sofia would come into work with Paola; a peek at her schedule would have shown: appointment. appointment. appointment. breastfeed. appointment. appointment. breastfeed… She decided to scale down the business and refocus.
Being a mom was number one for me. I’m not sure if I did that role well. I felt guilty all the time. Now I’m the mom I wish I could have been back then. I wish I could have taken time. You can’t get those years back.
Paola grew her staff to 12. She expanded to a second location to College. She was taking care of everyone in her business and doing everything she could to protect it and keep it going. Meanwhile at home, things were not what they seemed.
Paola’s life blew up when her marriage ended. I don’t think we nurtured our marriage. We were so busy. She chose to stay in St. Catharines with her kids to be near friends and family.
Then she met Arlene Dickinson from Dragon’s Den.
She had written Arlene a note after reading some of her books during the time of her divorce. She was surprised to receive an invitation to meet her. In Arlene’s board room, Paola and Cailey (her general manager), gave a presentation. It was a crazy time in Paola’s life. She was doing her best and didn’t know if she should continue with Sugarmoon or walk away from it. After asking Paola to share her story, Arlene’s response was, “Don’t worry, honey. I’ve been married a few times. You’ll be just fine.” The visit didn’t result in a deal, but it was Arlene’s words of encouragement and reassurance that Paola needed to hear at that exact moment in time.
It was a life changing moment for me.
Paola not only continued with Sugarmoon salon but has since built it into a brand with three locations, a product line, and has a distribution company. The gift of Arlene’s time and the understanding of someone who had also been there, made a difference.
Paola has chosen to pay it forward. She has developed an employee program where she pays staff to work offsite and volunteer at The Red Door Family Shelter. Women who have been battered or are seeking a safe place to stay, are given complimentary massages and sugaring. It’s a way to care for them in some small way.
Paola does what she can to protect family time for her employees. Sugarmoon closes at 5 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. They are closed on Sundays. For Paola, families need a day to be together and employees need time to decompress. Although some may question the hours she keeps, she has 22 employees and 11 of them are mothers. From her own experience, she knows how important it is for them to have time with loved ones.
Paola and her children still live in St. Catharines. She’s been on her own now for five years and she’s raising her kids the way that she’s always wanted to. She drives them to school and picks them up afterwards. She’s in the city to work three times a week and has hired staff to manage her three locations (Danforth, Bloor, and College). Elias is in grade 8 and is getting ready for high school; Sofia is in grade 3. According to Paola, she has learned to manage work and her family life more efficiently.
Being an entrepreneur can mean financially tough times and difficult decisions. It also comes with the pride of seeing dreams come to life, which is what keeps Paola going.
You can visit one of Paola’s three Sugarmoon locations in Toronto, one of which is right in our own neighbourhood at 1509 Danforth Avenue. She is proud to share the same philosophy that she started with 15 years ago – bringing eco-focused, organic hair removal to the industry.
Visit her website to learn more about her specialty services and product lines.
Additional posts from The Humans of Danforth East series: