Compassionate Service, Valuable Resource: Stacey Nellen-Kolze
When women first hear, “You have breast cancer,” they are overcome with emotion. For many, one of their fears is losing their hair, so one of their first stops after diagnosis is to shop for wigs.
“We are many times their first stop after being diagnosed,”
says Stacey Nellen-Kolze, owner and cosmetologist at Nell’s Wigs & Boutique in Green Bay. “They come right from the doctor’s office and say, ‘So, I’ve learned I am going to lose my hair.’ Our first question is, ‘How can we help you today?’”
Guests often come in tears, so Nellen-Kolze created a space where women can feel comfortable, have privacy and receive personalized service. Now, along with her boutique for mastectomy guests, Nell’s is able to offer women with breast cancer a one-stop shop.
FROM ONE WIG TO A THRIVING BUSINESS
Nellen-Kolze didn’t originally set out to be a cosmetologist or to own a business. Her career began in theater.
She graduated from University of Wisconsin – Green Bay as a technical theater major. Her passion was lighting, although her focus changed shortly after falling in love with her now husband, Dean, who also happened to be a lighting designer. The couple discovered production companies rarely allowed a husband and wife in the same profession to tour together. Nellen-Kolze considered her options. She enrolled in hair school after college graduation.
With her cosmetology degree in hand, Nellen-Kolze began cutting and styling hair at JCPenney. She was offered her first production tour three months later.
After 10 years of touring, the couple was exhausted. They were ready to settle down and start a family. They decided to make Green Bay home.
Nellen-Kolze started at Transitions Family Hair Care in March 2007. It was here she sold her first wig. She took appointments, cutting and coloring clients’ hair, occasionally assisting those looking for wigs right from her salon chair.
“Every time I sold a wig I put that back into my Nell’s business until I finally had enough money that I could start paying rent,” says Nellen-
Kolze. “One thing I noticed fitting wigs out of my chair upstairs was it wasn’t private enough, so I created a 900-square-foot studio in the lower level of Transitions where women could have a private fitting.”
In 2011, her business grew large enough to demand additional space. Nell’s moved to her current location on Mason Street in Green Bay. The additional space made it the perfect time to add a boutique with mastectomy products and to add to her team.
“Every year I would double but that was easy to do when you are starting with one wig,” adds Nellen-Kolze.
CREATING A NICHE
The motivation for fitting women with wigs didn’t come from a personal experience — and the original intent wasn’t necessarily to serve individuals battling disease.
“When I came off the road, because I had worked so much hair and makeup and wigs, my thought was, ‘I know so much about wigs. There isn’t a shop in the area that knows this much or that can alter wigs in a way that I can,’ so that is when I decided I was going to open a wig shop,” says Nellen-Kolze.
Her first guest was undergoing lupus; the woman needed a hair piece for a wedding. Another guest came in after having a terrible experience at a different shop. It was then Nellen-Kolze realized wigs weren’t just a fashion piece. Nellen-Kolze says, “I realized I needed to change my focus. I listened to her story and I took her story and created the perfect space for her in my mind. I was able to emulate that a year later by designing the space in the lower level and from there being able to move that to my own space and bring on a team to help me.”
When asked if she was surprised by the need for wigs, Nellen-Kolze explains she was flabbergasted. In 2016 alone, Nell’s has had nearly 500 wig clients. Nellen-Kolze adds, “That may be one person coming in more than once, but the unique thing about our business is we are always
getting new guests in.”
Business has grown through word of mouth. Nell’s niche is offering both wigs and mastectomy wear under the same roof. With experienced cosmetologists and a certified mastectomy fitter on staff, Nellen-Kolze believes their knowledge and service is what sets them apart from other businesses.
A TYPICAL DAY
Nell’s is open throughout the week and on Saturdays by appointment. Guests are encouraged to make an appointment to ensure they receive private service; Nellen-Kolze explains they may not always have the personalized time to devote to walk-ins as they’d like.
Nellen-Kolze’s day begins at 8:15 a.m., after she drops her 8-year-old son Joey off at school. Her end time is unpredictable. Time at Nell’s is spent answering questions, making time for guests and handling business demands.
“There is always questions and we are always solving problems. Every case is unique and every guest is unique,” she adds.
While Nellen-Kolze is a tremendous resource for women battling cancer, she also supports organizations in the community with a similar mission and focus. Nellen-Kolze serves on the board for Ribbon of Hope.
“Everyone that comes through our door is like family — that is how I grew up with the theater,” says Nellen-Kolze. “We are their cheerleader when they walk in, which is why I like to share information on the support organizations in the area. If the nurses don’t cover this with our guests, we will. We have each other’s back.”
Away from Nell’s, Nellen-Kolze spends her time with husband and son. She says, “I love to see my family and catch up around the dinner table. Outside of work my focus is always on my family.”
MANAGING EMOTIONS AND FINDING A NEW SPARK
One of the most challenging parts of her job is handling the emotions that come with working so closely with guests battling cancer. Nellen-Kolze reveals one of her greater fears is emotional burnout, for both her and her team.
“There are days we all just go home crying,” she says. “Although honestly when you go home and you see your family and you love your family as much as we do you find a way to get through it. You have to distance yourself though, which is why we try to take vacations. We need it.”
When Nellen-Kolze and her husband got off the road, she explains getting involved in local theater productions was difficult. “You help for a week, you get paid and you go away. There is always that let down,” says Nellen-Kolze. The rollercoaster of emotions caused her to step away from theater life, until recently.
In 2015, Nellen-Kolze assisted Next Stage Productions at St. Norbert College. In the summer program, theater professionals teach high school students about the craft. Nellen-Kolze taught students how to apply basic stage makeup and to style hair. Last summer, she stayed to help with the entire production.
“It was the spark I needed to get back into theater. I was able to work with each of the students and teach them. The program brought back the light that I’ve always had in there — it was fun and rejuvenating,” she adds.
Nellen-Kolze tends to live in the moment. When asked to imagine her life five or 10 years from now, she hopes to have grown the business and to continue doing what she’s doing.
“My hope is to expand the business as needed to serve the community. I always have ideas but I don’t see myself wavering from who we are today.” w