How this couple runs a mobile spa while raising six kids

Welcome to Money Talks, a series in which we interview people about their relationship with money, their relationship with each other, and how those relationships inform each other.

Nia Brown is the 30-year-old founder of PrincessMe, a black woman-owned small business that offers parties and services like spa packages for kids. Her husband, Brandy, is a 34-year-old self-employed accountant who uses his skills to co-manage the family business.

Along with running and growing a six-figure spa business, Nia and Brandy are also homeschooling their six children, ages 2 to 14. How do these business owners do all of this – and what do they hope to do next?

This conversation has been edited and condensed.

Nia: I decided to become a small business owner in 2016. Before PrincessMe, I was an event planner. I have always been passionate about organizing children’s birthday parties and baby showers. After a few very successful parties and showers, word started spreading from a small, inner circle to people I had never met. This experience is what initially sparked my idea of ​​starting a business.

The other reason was my daughter. She was only a year old at the time, but she loved playing at the spa. Every time I did her makeup, I saw her self-esteem grow. I wanted to give that effect to other girls in the community, so I decided to stop doing personal events in order to just focus on starting and growing the PrincessMe brand.

In order to reduce the costs of starting a business, as we know that small businesses can be expensive, we have implemented a mobile bus. It was my husband’s idea.

Brandy: Everything was going mobile back then. They had the hair salons, they had the food trucks, there were a bunch of different moving things. We looked at a showcase, but it was overpriced. We could have a used school bus for $4,000, so we got it.

We bought our bus from a lady who owned a gym. She had gutted the school bus and was using it to store her extra gym equipment. We were very lucky, we found it on Craigslist, it was two blocks from our house, and it was completely empty. All we had to do was put some seats on and some paint and stuff like that.

Nia: He grew very, very quickly. Within a year we were able to settle into our brick and mortar [storefront]. We had five children at the time, I was pregnant with number six – what can I say? It was very tricky at first. When we opened our physical store, we struggled with zoning licenses because they didn’t have a label for a store like mine. We are not a spa and cannot be considered an event or venue so we had a hard time getting zoned in. We ended up having to create a new category for our physical location. Also, we were the only small business in our mall. We were next to Target, Old Navy, David’s Bridal so we had a lot of pressure on us.

Things were a bit difficult for the first two months as we were still investing in marketing and getting the message out. Then Covid hit.

Brandy: During Covid they categorized us as lounge, when we wanted to be categorized as event space. This meant that we had to close for the first four months. Then they allowed us to open with minimal people, but it was not good. Our parties are designed for 10 children and at least five adults. So we still couldn’t function as we wanted. It was hard.

Nia: It was really difficult, but we understood. We made the most of it. We set up appointments for moms to come with their daughters one-on-one, and the parents loved it. We were able to give the kids personal spa dates and individual attention. It helped us grow.

After Covid, people were saying ‘I want to make up for my daughter’s birthdays. We missed two birthdays. It was then that the storefront took off. We had to learn how to run the store while keeping our house healthy. It was a great adventure.

Brandy: I was a freelance accountant, and still am – however, I only do it seasonally, so I can focus primarily on PrincessMe. When I stopped working regularly as a freelance accountant, we took a pay cut. But we decided early on that two heads are better than one and with our dedicated attention and heart to PrincessMe, we were able to make up for that pay cut. It also allows us to put our family first.

Nia: Our eldest is 14 years old and our youngest 2 years old. We balance while planning ahead. Since all six children are homeschooled, we have to have a tight schedule. When I wake up in the morning, I focus on my children’s school from 7am to 11am. Then I drop the kids off for a nap or some downtime, and we focus on work from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. We try to stop our activities at 2 p.m., so that we can spend the afternoons taking our children to sports, dancing, gymnastics. It takes a lot of teamwork!

Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday we are usually able to meet the schedule. By Thursday, I’m trying to catch up on my business work while I cook dinner. We have to go with the flow and understand that we won’t be on schedule. It doesn’t have to be exact.

Brandy: We plan our finances like we plan our schedule. I like to save for the future. If we want to open two PrincessMe locations this year, we need to save twice as much for our business as we did last year.

Nia: We keep a tight budget. Prior to this record inflation, we only budgeted about $600 a month for groceries. Currently, we are budgeting $900 per month for groceries, which is a 50% increase over what we used to spend. But eating fresh, organic foods really helps. We don’t eat junk food or go out to restaurants much, which minimizes costs and keeps our family healthy.

Brandy: We also reduced some costs. I am a driver, I have my CDL, so I drive the mobile bus. I drive the limo. This way we are able to save on payroll.

Nia: My mother also plays a huge role. She helps us with the children, especially on Saturdays. These are our biggest days at the spa. I’m usually at the spa, and he’ll be driving the limo. We are fortunate to have a great support system that helps us both with the kids and with the business.

Brandy: Our eldest daughter accompanies Nia to the store; she does the register, she does the inventory, she even helps with spa services. She can paint perfect nails! I do not know how.

Nia: Our daughters give us many good ideas. We’re about to launch a home decor line, and they helped us decide on the color scheme. My 11-year-old daughter keeps us up to date on trends—unicorns, ice cream—because she knows what kids love. This is our cheat code for success!

Brandy: Our sons help clean up and they love riding the bus with me. We have generators on the bus, and they love helping out with the generators. Anything electrical.

Nia: We give them a stipend because we want them to know how to manage money. We also want them to know what it’s like to work hard to earn money and save for the future. They see us working hard, they see us saving, they start saving on their own. When they grow up, I think they will be able to balance their money very well.

Brandy: We say, “Come spend the day with me on the bus, and we’ll give you $20.” It doesn’t exactly work, but it has the elements of the job. You wake up early. You got dressed. It’s like a job.

Nia: They get the best of both worlds. At home they learn English, science and math, but we also want them to learn how to manage their money. How to manage time. The entrepreneurial spirit they know will help them grow for the future.

Brandy: The only thing that I think could stop us from succeeding is ourselves. We pray and we try to have a positive spirit. With six kids, things can get hectic, but we bond and know how to handle it.

Nia: We often say something like, “Today, 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., we’re doing this,” and then things don’t go as planned. So we always build in times of emergency, in case we overrun. Planning ahead is the best way to keep things balanced.

I use an old school scheduler. I write everything. Since I do so much on my phone and laptop, I can forget what’s on it, but then I look at my schedule. It works very well for me.

Brandy: I use Square and Quickbooks. I’m different from Nia, in that I don’t like to write everything. I like to log in and see it!

Nia: We still have so much growth potential. Our business only operates on weekends, so we only spend Friday, Saturday and Sunday in the store. Otherwise, we do homework. We operate three days a week, and we’re capable of making six figures, and we’re so proud. We did everything ourselves, without calling in experts.

This year, we are calling on the external marketing team, the graphic designers. We are about to open our first franchise. We hope our business will skyrocket.

Brandy: Best case scenario, this time next year we buy a house in the Bahamas.

Nia: What we really want to do is buy a forever home for ourselves and our children. Something we can pass on to the family. By this time next year, I want to own a home and open 20 stores in the South. I want to help girls build their self-esteem and strengthen our community. I dream big – but I can see it happening.

Nicole Dieker is a personal finance writer whose work has appeared in Bankrate, Lifehacker, Morning Brew and Dwell. She is also the author of Larkin’s Mysteries of the Daya comedy and cozy crime series set in eastern Iowa, and WHAT IS IT AND WHAT TO DO NEXTa quarterly zine on understanding reality.