“I think it’s empowering to own a business. In today’s society, it’s huge for a woman to own a business. We get to prove that we aren’t only housekeepers and caretakers, but rather business owners and boss babes.” – Jess Duncan
When you take the short drive through the quaint town of Ursa, Illinois, it’s easy to assume there’s not much going on. It’s a quiet town, just 10 miles northeast of Quincy. What may surprise you is that one of the area’s newest, brightest, and boldest female entrepreneurs happens to own a business there.
There is a charming white building nestled quietly on 108 North Warsaw Street in Ursa, Illinois. This building houses none other than one of the area’s premier salons, Duncan & Co. Much more than a salon, Duncan & Co. offers hair treatments, brow work, boutique style clothing, locally made jewelry, and is, of course, home to one of the best coffee shops around. At this point, you’re probably finding yourself wondering who is the mastermind behind this genius concept? That answer is Jess Duncan.
They say that people can be victims of their own surroundings, for Jess Duncan, she was encouraged by them. Out of college, Duncan began working in an accounting office, but it was never something that fulfilled the dream she knew was in her. Her heart was always set on the little white building off the main drag in Ursa, and she was reminded of it everyday when she dove to work. “We moved to Ursa, and we would drive past the building everyday. Anytime I was with my husband I would tell him ‘If I ever get the courage to go back to school, I want that building!’” recalls Duncan.
She even remembers knowing exactly what she wanted to do with the place in order to make it her own. From the picture window in the front, to the ferns outside, Jess Duncan was deep inside a dream. Little did she know that her dream would become a reality.
Fantasy soon became real for Duncan when the opportunity to buy the building came up. For her, that was the beginning of an entrepreneurial journey that she never expected. When asked about what the journey from dreamer to owner looked like, Duncan says, “It’s been nothing short of challenging, but it’s also been equally rewarding. I’ve said since the beginning that I wanted to create an atmosphere that was welcoming, and I feel like I’ve done just that.”
She also mentions the other women in her building and how they’ve impacted her journey. “I am surrounded by the most genuine, driven women, and they all keep me sane and help me tackle the entrepreneurial challenges” Jess fondly states. Duncan recalls a frequent joke between her and the other women at Duncan & Co, and that is that she is still in the learning phase of owning a business. “We frequently joke about it, but I constantly say ‘I’m learning here, too’,” Duncan jokingly recalls. “I’ve never been a business owner until now, so we’re just sort of learning alongside each other and giving each other grace as we go.”
Regardless of being a youthful business, Duncan has been able to grow her business and reach the community rapidly. She states that that is one of the most rewarding aspects of her business so far. “It’s been so rewarding to hear what our community has had to say. I love getting to hear how happy the community is to have us, how beautiful my building is, how people are loving our atmosphere and joking about wanting to work at Duncan & Co. I love that people want to be here.”
When it comes to the rewarding side of female entrepreneurship, for Duncan, the reward lies in the empowerment. “I think it’s empowering to own a business. In today’s society, it’s huge for a woman to own a business. We get to prove that we aren’t only housekeepers and caretakers, but rather business owners and boss babes.”
As rewarding and empowering as her journey has been, Jess Duncan took the time to acknowledge one very common theme in her life right now: being a working mom is no joke. She was very up front about some of the challenges she faces as not only a young, female entrepreneur, but as a young entrepreneur who recently welcomed a child. “There’s nothing easy about being a working mom,” states Jess. “There’s guilt that comes along with owning a business and being a mother that’s not always talked about.”
Duncan recalls getting guidance on navigating the pressures of motherhood and entrepreneurship from someone very close to her. “When I was first starting Duncan & Co, I was talking with my sister-in-law, and I was confiding in her about how I felt torn constantly. I didn’t understand why I was feeling this way, and she said ‘Jess, you technically have two babies. You have your baby at home, and you have this new baby that’s your business. Of course you feel torn. You have two babies who you are trying to nurture and care for, and you’re wanting so badly to be there for both of them at the same time.’ and that, to me, was eye-opening.” Through time, Duncan has learned how to successfully navigate life with two new babies.
The future is looking very bright for the young cosmetologist, and she’s very thankful for that. Duncan simply radiated pride when asked about where she saw her business in the future. “Hopefully right where I’m at!” Duncan says. “I, of course, am always looking to make improvements to the property. As for everything else, I hope it’s exactly the same. I just want to continue to inspire people in this community and help them feel their best.”
As for the near future of Duncan & Co, Jess has a lot of things lined up. The shop is host to many fun pop ups throughout the year, and she’s hoping to continue that trend. She’s also looking forward to the upcoming wedding season. This will be the first year Duncan & Co. will be open for a full wedding season, so she is excited to play host to a few brides and their bridal parties.
Giving advice to female entrepreneurs was something that Duncan had an excess of. For starters, if you’ve got a dream that you’re looking to chase, but you think your time has passed, she is here to tell you, you’re wrong. “It’s never too late to follow a dream,” states Jess. “I was terrified when I started my journey, but I prayed a lot, and I’ve never felt so happy or felt so incredibly blessed. It was the best thing I ever did.” She also says that asking for help is normal and necessary. “Running a business is a lot. We create villages as women. Lean on your village, and accept help from those that love you.”
Duncan also touched on the importance of boundaries, and how she has learned so much so quickly about how to set them for herself. When asked about what surprised her the most since opening the business, she stated that having boundaries for herself was a big lesson. “For me, my business is my phone. That’s how people contact me and I contact them. But I’ve learned that it’s okay to take time for me and for my family. It’s still hard for me to just shut it off and distance myself sometimes, but I’m learning.”
Motivation is derived from many places for entrepreneurs. For Duncan, it comes from a place of love. “My husband motivates me!” Duncan exclaimed with a smile. “He is my biggest supporter and my biggest cheerleader. He’s always pushing me to do better and do more. He just really loves me and sees the potential in me.”
Something that is very clear is that Jess Duncan is proud of what she’s built, and it has helped to give her a life that she feels fulfilled in and blessed by. Even with the success that she has seen, she still finds time to reflect on what it feels like to be where she is. “It’s humbling to be looked up to. I feel like I’ve made a genuine impact on the community, and I don’t take that lightly. I am constantly reminded just how blessed I am.” And blessed she is.
Sometimes dreams really do become a reality. What began as a dream that passed her by everyday on the way to work, has now turned into the company Jess Duncan always imagined. There’s truth in the saying if you can dream it, you can do it. Jess Duncan just happens to be living proof of that truth.
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Melissa Mann with Melissa Mann StateFarm