Leah Wafful

Leah knew at some point in her life she wanted to start her own business. It all started with a bad spray tan. 

Take us back to you as a kid. I am literally almost the same person I was as a kid, I've just grown 2 inches! I was a bubbly, high spirited, dancing, singing, wild child! I loved to sing and dance, make up my own songs and just be weird! My first cassette tape as a kid was Warren G. It was his newly release single,  Regulators. I had a boom box and whenever I went, I was rapping to Warren G. To this day, when I hear that song a big smile comes on my face! I wasn't super girly but I wasn't a big tom boy either. I had a dirt bike and had dolls. I chased boys but they never chased me back!  That is just a glimpse of me as a child! 

Walk us through the days leading up to starting your own tanning studio. I've always been an entrepreneur, and I knew that at some point in my life, I wanted to start my own business. I had experienced a bad spray tan and thought, this is a really good business to get into. I did a lot of research, checked the market, and worked side by side with others in the industry. I knew after 10+ years of tanning in a bed, that I couldn't afford to do that anymore. I was trained by a well known spray tan artist in the area, began really working on developing my site, press releases, Facebook ads, you name it. No day is the same for me, which is so exciting. My life kind of was BLAH a year or so ago, and Bronze515 has turned it around so much. More research is coming out about skin cancer and people really are starting to stray away from tanning beds, they just need a little push. Bronze515 is that push!

"They pushed me to be active, to be a kid, to go outside and play, to be weird, to be spontaneous, and to never give up. "

What have been the challenges? Who and what has helped? A big challenge was juggling my full-time job with owning a small business. Whoever said owning a part-time business was part-time, is clearly not doing it right. Although my hours are part-time, I am constantly working to better my brand.

My boyfriend John has really been a huge supporter of my business. My whole family supports me and sends me business constantly. Also, the community in Des Moines. I've met so many small business owners who are extremely supportive, that has helped a ton! 

Talk to us about one of your good days this week. I am honestly a very happy person! Every day is a good day but the best days are knowing you’ve changed someone’s attitude. I see a lot of clients who maybe are unhappy with the way they look. A spray tan really gives you that boost of confidence. There is something about being tan that people are fasinated with, it is amazing! I really enjoy seeing those leave with a smile. Knowing you did something to make them feel better, is really rewarding. 

What were your learnings from Facebook ads and what tips would you like to give anyone else with or thinking of starting a small business?  YouTube videos and articles about Facebook ads were life savers. If you are Facebook Savvy, there really isn’t any need to pay someone to help you figure out your ads, at least in the beginning. Sure I made mistakes and probably didn’t “reach” as many people as I could but I learned along the way. I would suggest setting aside a “Facebook” budget, use that every month. I set aside $100 per month when I started because I knew I really couldn’t afford other types of advertising. Facebook has so many different parts to it, it can seem overwhelming in the beginning but breathe, you will get through it.

"Bronze515 is a destination, it isn’t like a boutique where people just randomly stop in and look at clothes."

Someone is starting or wanting to open a studio or shop for the first time, what would you want to say to them? Do you research, don't spend a lot, branch out and meet new people. Visit local businesses who you think would be interested in your brand. Network! SAVE!

Walk us through your typical day from open to close and after hours. A typical day is working my full-time job, and then at 5pm heading over to the studio until close to 10pm! In between clients I am either watching Netflix or working on my website. When I get home, I play with my puppy Capone and hang out with my boyfriend John! 

You changed locations recently. Walk us through what was going in your head and the journey of making it happen.  I changed locations based on a personal preferance, I love the East Village, great booming spot but with my business I needed something more centralized, easier to get to. Lots of construction going on right now in the village and I didn’t want me clients to have to deal with that.

Bronze515 is a destination, it isn’t like a boutique where people just randomly stop in and look at clothes. I also was renting a small space month-to-month so it was easy for me to make the jump.  With Bronze515 people prepare to come to my studio. I work and live close to downtown, so that was a big issue for me. The drive to clive is 15 minutes out of my way but I am so glad I did. My clientele has increased A LOT! I am easier to find, the space is within my budget.

Why Des Moines? I've lived in Iowa my whole life! A short stint in Belize, but for the most part this is my home. After graduating from grad school, I knew Des Moines was where I wanted to make my home. It was close enough to home but far enough away! The 515 is my home. I grew up in Fort Dodge (AKA Dirty Dodge). I wanted to start a brand that really encompassed my roots.  

The most underrated thing in DSM is ________. Why? Ted's Coney Island on Ingersoll. I am obsessed with the Greek Feta Fries there. If you haven't tried them, you are missing out. I legit will go there and get a large diet mountain dew and a big thing of fries and just eat them in my car. Seriously GO TRY THEM! 

"Knowing you did something to make them feel better, is really rewarding."

What are you most proud of and why? I am extremely proud to be a successful small businesses owner who created a brand from the ground up. I've done majority of the work myself, learning along the way. I am proud I started a brand with a focus on educating people on the importance of taking care of their skin. Tanning beds and the sun are so harsh on your bodies, I would know, I lived in those coffins for years! I can't wait to see where Bronze515 takes me. 

What’s one thing people need to know you really care about? This is really hard. I have so many things I care about! I think if I truly were to select one thing, it would be the elderly. I would not be the person I am today without the support of my grandparents. They are the reason I am who I am today. They pushed me to be active, to be a kid, to go outside and play, to be weird, to be spontaneous, and to never give up. 


Derek Jensen