by Marissa Lorenz
Jen Hooks, owner of Strands Salon in Kremmling, demonstrates that entrepreneurship and business leadership can be about more than owning a business; they can also provide business opportunities for others and/or inspire others to entrepreneurship.
Hooks first moved to Grand County as a teenager and later graduated from Middle Park High School in Granby. She went on to study cosmetology in Denver while also pursuing a business degree from Mesa State University.
Circumstances really guided those decisions, Hooks observes. She says that she always wanted to be a teacher and thought cosmetology would enable her to pay for college. She found herself drawn to business, however, as a practical degree in a field she had some exposure to, having taken some business classes in high school, participated in FBLA, and watched her parents run a tax business at one time.
Hooks moved back to Grand County, becoming an apprentice at Shear Design in Granby and completing her educational hours on-the-job. Soon after, circumstance would intervene again when the then-owners of Shear Design decided to sell. They offered to work with Hooks to enable her to buy the business in 2013 at just 21 years of age.
“I really loved being there,” notes Hooks. “I loved my co-workers. I loved my clientele. And I didn’t want to see that change.”
In 2014, she opened a second business in partnership with another cosmetologist in Kremmling, naming it Strands Salon. Hooks settled in Kremmling, eventually marrying and creating a home for her family.
In 2016, Hooks sold Shear Design and acquired full ownership of Strands. In 2018, Hooks and her husband, Merritt, bought the historic Masonic Lodge building on the Kremmling Town Square. Strands also made the building its new home, providing a prime location to multiple businesses.
Hooks explains that she operates Strands as a “booth rental” salon, as she had done at Shear Design.
“It means other individuals can rent space in Strands but are then able to run their own business and clientele how they choose.”
Strands is currently providing space for and facilitating the entrepreneurship of five other businesses in Kremmling, including two hairstylists, an esthetician, and a massage therapist. It also provides space for a mental health/counseling business that has its own private entrance into its offices in the former Lodge.
“The model is great for a small town,” Hooks says. “It not only provides needed services but means we can offer services that often don’t typically exist in small towns, such as lash extensions, massage, and facials. And we all work together to build relationships and support the community.”
Hooks has also carried forward the learning opportunity that she was once given, hosting an apprentice at Strands in 2017 and continuing to welcome students from West Grand through internship or work-study options. “I wanted to extend the opportunity I had to others, helping them get their education too.”
That entrepreneurial path has brought Hooks full circle back to her early goal of teaching/working with youth.
Hooks took a job at West Grand School District and, realizing she had useful skills and knowledge to share, she got her teaching certificate in business and marketing, after which she began teaching those skills at the high school.
She discovered that her largest passion, as in the salon, is still people and supporting them in whatever way she can. “An area in which I especially want to help and see people thrive is their mental health and their future.”
So true to form, Hooks went back to school again to receive her counseling degree and now serves as counselor at West Grand High School.
“I think the best way to support our community is through our youth,” explains Hooks, whose position now allows her to work with other educators and community leaders to inspire and give valuable real-life work experiences to local youth exploring their own possible career paths.
Hooks has helped to initiate the West Grand Community Outreach program, in partnership with the Kremmling Area Chamber of Commerce, working to “pair students with meaningful community service opportunities in the community.”
She is helping to build the Homegrown Talent Initiative at West Grand, whose goal is to “align kids into pathways to help them find their best place in the career world while also helping to bolster the economic needs and aspirations of the Kremmling economy, through opportunities in ag, trade, retail, etc.”
Thus, even as she moves farther away from entrepreneurship herself, Hooks continues to encourage it in others, especially youth.
“Entrepreneurship offers so much personal growth; it is very rewarding,” offers Hooks. “I’d encourage anyone interested in entrepreneurship to push out of your comfort zone, pour your heart and energy into what you want to grow in your life and what you want to believe in, even if it makes you uncomfortable or vulnerable–amazing things will come out of it.
“You have to be willing to take the opportunities presented to you, even if they’re not perfect and even if they seem more challenging than you want. You can always turn it into something great with work and effort.
“And most importantly, each failure offers a critical teaching/learning moment. Being a successful entrepreneur doesn’t always mean having huge financial success,” she concludes. “Sometimes, being a successful entrepreneur just means you’ve found a way to be happy in what you’re doing and why you’re doing it.”
In her own life, Hooks has found that business ownership has provided flexibility and the chance to pursue her other interests. “I’d be a life-long student if I could,” she notes. But also points out challenges in finding a good work-life balance when one works for oneself. “I’m really bad at free time. I’d just always be learning something new.”
But she is working toward that balance, learning to harmonize entrepreneurship with personal growth and family fun.
Jen and Merritt, with their 9-year-old daughter and 19-month-old son, await a new family member, due in April. Their daughter just started 4-H, and they are excited to become involved in those activities. And when she isn’t using her free time for valuable growth and learning, they enjoy being outside, spending time with family and friends, and cultivating their place in Kremmling.
“It is the people in my life that are my home,” says Jen about rooting and expanding in Kremmling, “so it’s not necessarily a place. The relationships in the community are what make it my home
by Marissa Lorenz