Sarah Casello-Rees didn't find out her kindergarten-aged son, Donovan, had head lice until her own head started to itch.
"He had no reaction to the louse saliva, he didn't itch," she said. "I did."
The Ann Arbor resident's journey with head lice led her to create Rapunzel's Lice Boutique, which just opened its fourth Michigan location in the Quakertown Office Center on Farmington Road in Farmington Hills.
Formerly a personal trainer, Casello-Rees was motivated to go into business after an epic struggle with lice. It turned out that Donovan, who is now 11, was "horribly infested". Casello-Rees said she felt like the worst mother in the world. But things were about to get even more ... well, icky.
"We got it out of his hair after a lot of work. I, on the other hand, had it for a year," she said, noting her long, curly hair made getting rid of the nits and lice nearly impossible. It even affected her mental health, she added.
Casello-Rees used over the counter products, but discovered some lice are resistant to the them. She stressed that having a lice infestation is "not about cleaning the environment. You do need to do some cleaning, but lice are not infesting your home the way bedbugs do. They spread from head to head contact."
The lessons Casello-Rees learned led her to open her first mobile treatment center in 2008, then an office in Ann Arbor in 2009, one in Sterling Heights in 2011 and Grand Rapids in May of 2012. The business, she says, is virtually "recession-proof".
"When I opened, unemployment was at the highest rate, and Michigan was leading the country in negative economic indicators," she said. "Despite that, I found a niche business that expanded."
Now, the company employs 15 people among its four offices, offering both health insurance and retirement benefits.
Rapunzel's has become the second leading provider in the world of an FDA-approved treatment called the LouseBuster. The company treated 1,300 clients last year with the device and will probably double that this year, Casello-Rees said. The LouseBuster kills 95 percent of lice at all stages, with nothing more than heated air.
Treatment includes a line of Rapunzel's branded products that are composed of enzymes and other natural ingredients. The company also offers preventative shampoos and conditioners and free "head checks" every Wednesday.
Casello-Rees said the company's focus is on customer service, something that gives her the same sense of satisfaction as she had as a personal trainer.
"It's really just a different way of helping people," she said.
For more information, visit rapunzelslice.com or call 248-536-2272.