Thrust into a business balancing act when her husband died, Sharon Waranka manages her hair salon and fishing charter fleet with equal aplomb
Sharon Waranka grew up loving to cut hair. Scheduling charter fishing trips, not so much.
Hence owning her own hair salon wasn’t a stretch for the Port Washington native; running a fishing boat company, however, was never the plan.
But when life handed over her husband’s business in 2009, she had a choice to make.
Selling the company started by her father-in-law and named after husband Nick Waranka was not an option after her husband was killed in a snowmobile accident.
With the help of lawyers, accountants and her four captains, Waranka gave it a go. She limited time at her salon and made sure her then 7-year-old daughter was taken care of while figuring out the charter fishing trip business.
Seven years later, she happily manages North Shore Hair Design and Nicky Boy Charters while balancing being a single mom.
“It’s a lot of work but I think the main thing is just having put it all on the girls and guys. It’s so easy when you have a team that cooperates,” she said.
Workplace atmospheres are unique. Waranka has five women at the salon and four male captains manning the boats, but the gender difference, she said, isn’t a big deal.
“A lot of people ask me which one is worse,” she said. “Once you put together a good team on both ends, you don’t have issues.”
Clientele runs the gamut as well. Waranka has booked charter fishing trips for professional athletes, musicians, politicians, corporations and families, and from as far as China and Australia. Salon customers range from children and teens to professional women and retirees, and are usually more local. She cuts three of her captains’ hair. The fourth is married to a hairdresser.
Both businesses, however, sell some of the same product: good feelings.
“You’re in the people-pleasing business. That’s what my girls want, and that’s what my guys want,” Waranka said.
Hairdressing can change someone’s entire perspective, both inside and out.
“It’s about somebody feeling good,” Waranka said. “We’ve had people have tears in their eyes. Lots of thank yous. We’ve gotten cards.”
On the charter fishing side, companies use the trips for team building or celebrations.
“Sometimes, it’s just families that want to get away from it all,” Waranka said. “Those are experiences that kids remember forever, catching a fish.”
Waranka remembers fishing with her dad in Eagle River before she got “stir crazy” and wanted to come inside.
But she’s hooked on Lake Michigan.
“There’s just something so peaceful about being on the lake,” she said.
Beyond that, there’s the thrill of the catch.
“You never know what’s on the other end of the line,” she said. “There’s just some kind of adrenaline rush when you reel in a fish.”
In her more natural habitat of the salon, Waranka serves all kinds of customers.
She once came in on a Sunday because a young girl had popular toy balls called Bunchems stuck in her hair.
Other customers have siblings who try their hands at hairdressing, or people who cut their own hair and soon realize they could use the help of a professional.
“We have people who ‘start without us,’ I call it,” Waranka said. “They usually confess they cut their own hair.”
Waranka got her manager’s license after high school and built up a clientele for 12 years before striking out on her own, with encouragement from her then-boyfriend-turned husband.
“He said that I was putting in a lot of hours and time. He said the next step was to do my own thing,” she said.
Sometimes, people know what they want. Other times, Waranka provides encouragement of her own.
“A lot of people are looking for direction. Sometimes, it’s baby steps. Some people are looking for that big change,” she said.
“My job is to do what they want.”
Waranka said she manages her salon employees much like her captains.
“It’s an artistry,” she said of hairdressing. “Every artist is different. I don’t ever want to block that creativeness.”
As far as boat captains, some are laid back and others more the salty dog type, she said. Waranka has not learned their secret lingo and does not know where to find the good fishing holes, despite being asked.
Her captains maintain the boats, fishing rods and equipment. They support each other but want to catch the most fish at the same time.
Waranka has had hairdressing customers for more than 20 years, and some fishing customers date to the 1970s. She likes to meet the customers at the dock.
“It’s their vacation. You get to know these people,” she said.
While the fishing season is heating up now, Waranka said winter is anything but slow. That’s when she updates marketing materials and scheduling spots at various sports shows.
Waranka said she it’s important that both businesses give back to the community. The salon helps breast cancer patients through Aurora Medical Center and the charter fishing business is partners with the Stars and Stripes Honor Flight. A fishing tournament benefitting the organization that takes World War II veterans to the memorial in Washington D.C. is scheduled for June 1 and 2.
Waranka’s daughter, now 14, likes to be involved in her mom’s work. She scrubs the deck of the boats, but that’s as far as her fishing career may go.
“She gets seasick,” Waranka said.
Waranka doesn’t suffer from the same affliction, and once a captain even let her drive the boat out of the marina. She asked him how she was doing as he readied the fishing rods.
The captain said she was doing well. Then he said the auto pilot had been engaged.
Regardless of industry, Waranka said she wants to set a good example for her daughter.
“I hope she takes off and sees if you put your mind to something, you can do it,” she said.
Waranka herself enjoys doing both of her jobs.
“I never wake up and regret going to work,” she said, “no matter what job it is,”
Photo Credit: Charter fishing business owner Sharon Waranka stopped to say hi to one of her captains, Brock Schmidt, posed with one of the catches of the day. Waranka balances owning the business with being a hair stylist. Photo by Bill Schanen IV