In the past, China Wong was all about strict adherence to long-term plans. After dropping everything and successfully building her own business, Salon Spa W, Wong has learned that sometimes you have to roll with the punches.

“I used to set exact five- or 10-year plans, and I’ve learned that isn’t quite realistic because it is truly too far out to navigate or see things coming,” said Wong. “You can set the goal of being a successful entrepreneur, but you don’t always know how you’re going to get there. You have to live it, experience the reality of it, and adjust to that to move forward.”

The idea of adjusting to a new reality is familiar to Wong. Entering her senior year at Iowa State University, Wong was in line to complete her political science degree and move on to law school in hopes of pursuing a career in lobbying. An internship that summer, however, was enough to make her rethink her trajectory.

“I got an internship with a lobbying group, and I immediately knew that this was not what I wanted to be doing the rest of my life,” said Wong, who pivoted her studies to emphasize economics. Yet even a lucrative post-graduation job in Chicago couldn’t convince Wong that a corporate career was for her.

“I always wanted to have connections and points of contact with who I was serving, because when you remove that, you lose the purpose in a career,” said Wong. “I was doing a lot of research into growing fields, and one that was taking off was health and wellness for baby boomers, really anything that would make them look and feel younger.”

With a background helping friends with hair and makeup in college, Wong attended cosmetology school and later worked under prominent artists in Chicago and Atlanta. With field experience under her belt, Wong was faced with a decision between starting her own salon in Chicago or in her hometown of Des Moines.

“Now my parents call it ‘the recruitment weekend,’ but I was back in town for Thanksgiving, and they took me all around town showing me up-and-coming neighborhoods that I could start the salon in, and I fell in love with the East Village,” said Wong. “Des Moines is truly a cool city to be an entrepreneur in. I don’t think I would have been nearly this successful in Chicago.”

Opening at just over 1,000 square feet in 2005, Salon Spa W has since expanded twice, now sitting at 5,000 square feet. The space has been purchased outright. Wong credits the openness of the community with the growth of her business.

“Des Moines is just such an accessible city,” said Wong. “If I wanted to speak to someone in Chicago, it’d be six months before I heard back and you’d get a ‘who are you?’ kind of response. Here, just about anyone you talk to is receptive to questions, and you call any city official and they’re out at your place in a week.”

For Wong, however, it’s still a work in progress.

“You can set goals, and you can set sub-goals for that,” said Wong. “In the end, it’s not going to all happen how you think it will, and you have to be willing to adjust.”

Three Areas of Influence

  • Taking more than 500 underprivileged children to Blank Park Zoo on the annual Zoodo Campaign.
  • Participating as an inaugural member of FIN Capital and raising funding for the Iowa Center for Economic Success Micro Lending Program for Women.
  • Providing haircuts and grooming services with her team to Central Iowa Shelter and Services. They hope to provide 1,000 services to people in need in 2017.