Heather Seagraves is pictured behind the counter at The Beautique, which opened in Oneida on March 20, 2019 | Photo: Sarah Dunlap
Kellie and Dustin Walker (with daughter Shelby) are the faces behind The Beautique, Oneida's newest tanning salon.

Kellie Walker didn’t set out to open a tanning salon. 

But once Walker — who, along with her husband, Dustin, owns The Beautique Tanning & Essentials — decided to open a tanning salon, she set out to make it a one-of-a-kind experience.

A year in the making, The Beautique — located across from the entrance to Oneida City Park — opened its doors to the public for the first time on March 20. And, in one day, it turned out about 125 people. If the question was whether Scott County could and would support another tanning salon, the answer, apparently, was yes.

“My prayer all along was that the community would be receptive of it,” Walker said. “We’ve not even been open a month and that prayer has been answered.”

The Beautique opened exactly one year after Dustin and Kellie Walker began looking into the idea of a business venture and thinking about what would, as she tells it, “benefit the community.” Initially, the Walkers didn’t have their sights set on tanning. But within weeks, a salon in month closed, and the Walkers purchased their equipment.

“The salon in Knoxville was closing, and I had a friend in Cookeville with a salon who told me about it,” Walker said. “All of the pieces just kinda fell in place for us to open it.”

Eventually, The Beautique opened with six tanning beds, along with a spray-tan booth (“it’s fully automatic and private, by the way,” Walker adds). The Beautique also offers professional teeth-whitening, and a variety of activewear and summer-wear, like swimsuits, flip-flops and t-shirts.

While Walker wasn’t set on a tanning salon from the beginning, she tested the waters enough to know that she and her husband were on the right track.

“Last June, before we made the leap to purchase the equipment, I made a Facebook post and said, ‘Would anybody be interested?,’” she said. “The response I got from the community, just from that post alone, let me know that we were on to something here.”

With that decided, Walker set out to make the new shop stand out from the crowd.

“Even though there were some other great tanning places in Scott County, we just wanted to bring something unique, some outside-the-box services that you’d have to drive to Knoxville to be able to access,” she said. “We wanted to bring those services here with Scott County prices.”

It’s the little things that Walker strives to accomplish with The Beautique that makes it different.

“When people walk in, we want to strive to make every person feel like, number one, they matter as a customer,” she said. “Number two, it’s all about them for the time that they’re in there.” 

Each customer is offered complimentary water, and there are mints in every room. The beds are cleaned before and after each use.

“It’s an effort to try to just make it a place to come in for the 10-to-15 minutes that they have to squeeze into their day for ‘me time’, making it all about that person and making sure they get a pleasurable experience while they’re here.”

While The Beautique is Walker’s first experience as a business owner, she has embraced the art of small business.

“I’ve always had a heart for the small businesses in Scott County,” she said. “I’ve always tried to support the small businesses in Scott County. I love our small businesses because that’s what they do. You go into them and there’s just a feel around them that you don’t get when you go to the bigger places in Knoxville.”

Ultimately, Walker said The Beautique came to be because she and her husband trusted God, and followed their instincts.

“It was just something that was put on my heart and we just decided to do it,” she said. “I don’t really know other than that. It was just one of those God things.”

Part of the delay in The Beautique’s opening was awaiting the finish of construction on the new Gray Co. shopping center on the Paint Rock side of Oneida. In fact, the Walkers had signed a lease agreement for another location and were about to mail it in when someone suggested they check out the new shopping center going up near the entrance to the city park. 

“The day we were supposed to send in our lease, I touched base with them,” Walker said. “The idea of having something fresh and new that we could start form scratch was very appealing to us. We could go in and make it our own, and they were very accommodating. They made it exactly what we wanted it to be.”

Walker credits her husband with helping keep her on track as they went through the laborious process of preparing for the shop to open.

“Through my times of doubt, of questioning whether we were doing the right thing, Dustin was a constant support, constantly saying ‘don’t let the devil ruin this for you,’” Walker said. “He’s been incredibly supportive. He’s really the backbone of it all . . . literally, because there were some heavy tanning beds he had to move in.”

Now that The Beautique is officially open, the doors are open six days each week: 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekdays and 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturdays.

Meanwhile, Walker continues her “day job,” executive director of the Children’s Center of the Cumberlands.

“I’m not gonna lie; it’s been exhausting,” she said. “But we have an amazing staff that helps run the boutique. The girls working there have a heart behind it, as well. They do an amazing job of making people feel like they matter when they walk through the door.”

Walker, who has one daughter with another on the way, begins her days at the Children’s Center at 7 a.m. She sometimes doesn’t finish up at The Beautique until 9 p.m., running home to put her daughter, Shelby, to bed before returning to the store. But, she said, it’s worth it.

“It’s a fulfillment,” she said. “It’s a different type of gratification, doing this work and the work that I get to do at the Children’s Center. I get to please people, but in a different way. It’s a very fun job.”

This article is the April 2019 installment of Business Spotlight, presented by the Scott County Chamber of Commerce on the third week of each month as part of the Independent Herald's Back Page Features series. A print version of this article can be found on Page B10 of the April 18, 2019 edition of the Independent Herald.