When visitors step inside Himalayan Hideaway, Winston-Salem’s only salt cave, Chrissy Klunder, owner, hopes guests will feel like they’ve been transported to a courtyard in Nepal. The environment, which Klunder describes as a wellness zone and relaxation station, features a cozy ambiance with an eclectic décor of salt lamps, plants, and an assortment of Nepalese art and antiques.
“When people leave, I want them to feel like they’ve had a relaxing getaway,” Klunder says. “It’s an escape, a place where you can allow yourself to reset. I think we underestimate how badly we need to unplug from the stresses of everyday life.”
Himalayan Hideaway offers 45-minute sessions in a unique salt cave, but it isn’t a cave in the traditional sense. It’s an enclosed room, a microclimate that Klunder says can alleviate conditions associated with allergies, bronchitis, COPD and arthritis through dry salt therapy, also known as halotherapy.
Klunder, a finalist in Forsyth Tech’s Small Business Center Launch Challenge, opened the establishment in June 2018 and credits the program with helping prepare her for the complexity of entrepreneurship. The Challenge, held twice a year during three-month sessions, selects participants based on the feasibility of their business ideas. Throughout the program, entrepreneurs attend weekly meetings, educational events and one-on-one sessions with mentors. Select participants are chosen to give final presentations at the Launch Challenge Showcase, and the award pool for each session is $50,000.
We recently visited Himalayan Hideaway and spoke to Klunder about her journey toward entrepreneurship. She answered our questions about the Launch Challenge and shared her thoughts on how the program helped her.
What was your motivation to open a salt cave?
At the end of 2016, I got extremely sick with something that wasn’t able to be defined by doctors. My body hurt all the time. My fatigue was so extreme that I couldn’t do anything. Nobody had an answer for me, and life as I knew it was not functional.
After visiting a salt cave, there was a noticeable relief in my pain and an uptick in my energy. So, I went again, and I had another episode of good feeling. Visiting that salt cave gave me a dose of hope.
It’s never been part of my life plan—me being a business owner—but I thought I could bring halotherapy to Winston-Salem to share the health benefits with others.
What do you wish you had known before starting your own business?
Honestly, the Forsyth Tech Small Business Center prepped me for a lot and helped tremendously, but there was so much to learn. It’s an everyday learning experience when you become an entrepreneur.
I wish I had a better understanding of processes when it comes to construction, city inspections and approval.
What was your biggest obstacle?
It was definitely getting approval and understanding from the city. This kind of business was a new concept here, so it took much longer than anticipated. As a result, my opening timeline kept shifting. I had originally hoped to open in the winter of 2017, but it took many more months than I thought.
Why did you choose to participate in the Launch Challenge?
In all honesty, it was the funding that could potentially be there. But even though I wasn’t one of the top winners, I still gained so much education.
It’s a big deal to make a jump like this. It’s a life-changing venture, but I was surrounded by like-minded people, and we could lean on each other for support. Without that support, the classes and events, I wouldn’t have had as much confidence in myself to believe I could run a business.
How did the Launch Challenge prepare you?
They have such a wide range of education at the Small Business Center. Even the mentors have different backgrounds, so you could talk to someone about legal or accounting or marketing.
It was great knowing that you’ve got somebody who has your back and is really looking out for your best interests to say, “I’ve been in your shoes before. What can I do to help you?”
For instance, there were legalities that I was completely unaware of, so to have somebody telling you those things, it was fantastic. All of the mentors and the team were so supportive. It helped me believe I could be successful because they were my personal cheerleaders. It really helped me be more prepared.
In addition to the Launch Challenge, what other resources or people helped you build your business?
Networking events such as Venture Café were certainly great because I had the opportunity to make connections with other entrepreneurs.
Every single Small Business Center class I attended was also helpful. There was always at least one really good nugget of information that I was unaware of before attending the class. That one solid piece that you leave with could make a crucial difference.
I relocated here from Myrtle Beach seven years ago, and I really grew to love the city. I enjoy what we have here, and I love the sense of community. I love the way people rally together for things, and I love that the city supports businesses and individuals.
What advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs?
Do your research. There are a lot of people who think they have a good idea, and that’s enough. That is never enough. If you don’t do your research, you are going to have a more difficult time. For example, I visited and called different salt caves all around the United States and asked questions. Some of them had really pertinent things to say that I wouldn’t have found on my own. Thinking you already know all the answers is taking yourself down a path of failure.
What has the response been?
It has been incredible. People really love the space. There are generally two responses I get when people walk through the door: “Thank goodness you brought a salt cave to Winston-Salem,” or “What the heck is a salt cave?” So, my job is educating people about the benefits and spreading the word, but once they experience it, they enjoy it.