Nail Spa 101
December 2, 2012 9:39 PM   Subscribe

Someday, maybe 10 years from now, I would very much like to own my own nail salon and mini day spa. Aside from saving my pennies, what can I do now to get myself prepared to make said salon a super hygienic, super chic, and hopefully successful enterprise?

Overall I'm pretty entrepreneurial, though I have no experience in owning my own business aside from being a freelance graphic designer and working on Etsy. A brick and mortar salon is obviously a different bird and I'm aware that this whole dream could tank but thinking about it is really satisfying so hope me, Mefites, and help me get my dreams all polished up! I like the approach that Drybar has taken to blowouts and have been trying to understand how they developed their business model, and I know that I want to incorporate reflexology and massage into the mix to make manis and pedis really satisfying but that's all I've got so far. I would not be doing any of the services offered but I would be committed to hiring and training personnel in customer service and hygienic practices, though as of now I have no management experience and am not sure how that works.
posted by These Birds of a Feather to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (17 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Is there anyone you can talk to about this in your area? I've heard that sometimes community colleges can help incubate small businesses. I'm sure someone else can elaborate if that's a thing (Or you could call Saul Goodman).
posted by oceanjesse at 9:53 PM on December 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

Addressing the successful enterprise part of your question: offer Botox, Restylane and other medical procedures (depending on your state, you would need at least a RN on staff, even better a LNP who can prescribe Retin-A etc.). Salons with medical services are very common in Texas, for instance, but practically don't exist in Washington State and really should. Many, many women and men would love to get their manicures, pedicures, and haircuts at the same place where they can get their monthly Botox or laser hair removal and half-yearly wrinkle fillers and are willing to pay for it.
posted by halogen at 10:17 PM on December 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

The Small Business Administration web site (and its Canadian equivalent) are loaded with suggestions about formulating a business plan, and many of the steps involved could be taken up as fantasy projects, assuming your fantasies include costing out the set up and the first six months or so of a hypothetical business, in addition to, like, coming up with a name and interior design ideas and whatnot. The ideas you've had so far fit under the headings of doing market research and creating a service catalog.

You say you won't be providing services yourself but not how much expertise you have in the area. I understand business management does not necessarily require domain-specific professional expertise, but trying to fit some kind of training and professional experience into your 10 year plan might be helpful in judging/coaching your employees, getting their respect, lowering your start up costs, or allowing you to to fill in when an employee is unavailable.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 10:28 PM on December 2, 2012

Since you have a long lead time, it may be worthwhile to get equipment and furnishings from auctions. Figure on the cost of storage for X years + transport as part of the cost of the equipment.
Also location is important, so keep up with the local politics. You may need to fight zoning changes, or it may be useful to fight for changes to allow you to open where you want.
Since hygiene is important perhaps you can find a photogenic infectious disease doctor to bring on board for advice and branding.
posted by Sophont at 12:14 AM on December 3, 2012

Please study up on low-VOC polishes and ventilation systems.
posted by amtho at 3:39 AM on December 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

Where I live, there are a number of franchised massage/mini-spa type places-- perhaps you could work part-time at a place like that, or speak with the owners, to see what they like and don't like about the basic model and kit. If your area has a good Yelp or local magazine, read the descriptions for yearly awards in spas (and the public's response) to see what people respond well to. Take business classes at a local community college; network with local business leaders and bankers; see why the business models for failed salons in your area were inadequate and what you can do to make it a more sustainable business.
posted by jetlagaddict at 4:32 AM on December 3, 2012

You should patronize ALOT of places that offer the services that you would want to offer so you can get a better idea of "whats out there" and the variaions within.

Also, i don't think it would hurt too much to take the basic cosmetology courses at your local public community college, and have your own license, mostly so you know the sanitation guidelines.
posted by WeekendJen at 5:52 AM on December 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

I would not be doing any of the services offered but I would be committed to hiring and training personnel in customer service and hygienic practices, though as of now I have no management experience and am not sure how that works.

Why? Why would you not be able to deliver basic salon services yourself? I would strongly suggest you work in a salon for at least a year before opening your own.
posted by DarlingBri at 6:04 AM on December 3, 2012 [5 favorites]

Start reading the nail/salon/spa trade magazines. Nails is one I know about. They have articles about techniques and also about the business aspects.

I agree that it's a good idea to actually work in a salon - you will have a much better idea of what's going on if you've actually been behind the scenes. And you should visit as many different salons and spas as possible.
posted by mskyle at 6:15 AM on December 3, 2012

I would absolutely, definitely make it a priority to work in the type of place you're interested in owning (some type of high end salon / mini day spa) in some capacity. It doesn't need to be doing nails yourself; perhaps some type of management type role would be more useful.

But, getting an inside view on how the business is run - so you can take or leave things, see the issues that arise, see how they are dealt with, etc - would be incredibly valuable.
posted by insectosaurus at 6:34 AM on December 3, 2012

It's not that you can't own a nail salon and not do nails, but I have to admit there's part of me that feels like that's a ... not a red flag, but maybe a yellow flag? Most people I know who own small businesses have to rely heavily on themselves, especially at first, and I'm a little worried that you're operating off of sort of a theoretical notion of yourself as day spa owner that might turn out to be quite different from the reality of being in this business.

I also think it's EXTREMELY hard to supervise people in terms of things like the quality of their work and their disputes with customers if you aren't an expert in the services yourself. I feel like you could wind up being at the mercy of employees who have expertise you don't have and therefore won't take your corrections. (You say you want to train in customer service and hygiene, but I'm concerned that "quality of work" is sort of going to slip through as something you can speak about authoritatively.)

For all these reasons, I agree with everybody who's noted that the best preparation is probably to study these services and work somewhere else where they happen. (Patronize is good, but I think work is better.) If you aren't interested in studying the processes, I'm concerned you'll get bored and discouraged when the going gets tough, you know?
posted by Linda_Holmes at 7:24 AM on December 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

It never occurred to me that I'd need to be able to fill in for an employee if they were out for a day. I don't have anything against learning the trades myself. Perhaps a business partner who is more trained in that side of things would be good to consider.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 8:09 AM on December 3, 2012

It's not just the technique of applying stuff to nails. It's how the cash flow works, which supplies must be prioritized (must have deluxe polish remover, but less-expensive cotton balls are fine -- I'm not sure about this, making it up, but this is an example of the kind of thing you can learn by working in / studying closely the industry). Also: what personal qualities are particularly important in workers? What if someone is a genius artist but doesn't speak English or relate to people well -- should you hire them? Does artistry trump personal skills, or should you instead hire friendly nice people even if they don't have very good painting skills?

What kind of advertising works? How do people decide which salon to use? Where should you spend your future advertising money?

You'll also want to study (by observing in real life, as well as reading and listening to others' ideas) how to handle situations like employees who hate each other.
posted by amtho at 8:42 AM on December 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

I would talk to other Day Spa owners, go to industry conferences etc. While it's nice to think that you can design the Best Spa EVAH, it's not an industry that has great margins and it's a boatload of work. Talk to people about what it's like day-to-day in the industry. Being a patron is one thing, being an owner is completely different.

You might want to familiarize yourself with the pay schedules for estheticians, nail techs, massage folks etc. Would it surprise you to know that a lot of salons actually rent the space to the professional rather than having each person as an employee? That's not unusual at all. It makes people super-hard to deal with because basically, you're not their boss, you're their landlord.

A lot of the asian nail salons are family businesses where everyone pitches in and they work insane hours just to make a living. I read an article (and I SO wish I could find it) where many of these ladies kick into a lottery pool, and once a year, there's a drawing and the person who wins the pot, gets to open her own salon.

Also, it's not so much the services where you make money, but the products. So you should learn a bit about merchandising, stocking, etc.

Basically, you should work in the industry for awhile to get the best idea of how to do this well. Why not get an esthetician's license, or a nail tech license and do this stuff on the side, so you can see what it's like.

My nail tech had a very specific plan. She and some friends rented space and did nails. Every year, she'd work it out where she could work one day less per week. Her goal was to open a little salon right on the beach in San Diego, where she'd do nails and sell toe rings, three days a week.

I will tell you what I tell everyone about owning his or her own business. It's the hardest thing you'll ever do. You will work more hours for less pay than you ever will in a 40 hour per week, 9-5. You'll take no vacations, you'll have few days off. You had better LOVE this kind of work because it will be your life.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:47 AM on December 3, 2012

I am going to make some assumptions based on the question you asked, the way you asked it, the fact that you are a graphic designer, and my experience with other graphic designers. Those assumptions may or may not be correct.

It sounds to me like you feel strongly about the outward manifestation of the ideal nail spa experience, or to put it another way, the user or customer experience. You talk about training people in hygenic practices and customer service. You want their manis and pedis to be *really* satisfying. You want it to be organic, and super chic. I'm putting words into your mouth, but I imagine the environment, the feeling, the impression of the experience is as important as any tangible artifact of the visit (how the customers nails and hair look).

That kind of focus is a really important aspect of running a successfully business. Here is the thing, and you've probably experienced this in your other work: If you do your job right, the customer never, ever has to consider what led to there satisfaction. Think of a movie, or a play (the show must go on), or an excellent restaurant meal. As a consumer, you aren't expected to be aware of what happens behind the scenes, indeed, your job is to accept the illusion. You don't think about the dozens of takes in the freezing cold the actors and all the crew went through for the movie scene. At the theater, you don't think about the hours of rehearsal, or the fact that the lead turned her ankle in the matinee performance. At the restaurant, you don't think about the thick callouses on the hands of the cook who checked the firmness of your organic fillet mignon before plating it and handing it to the waitress with a sick kid at home who delivers your entree moments after the busboy has cleared your salad dish. You don't think of the person who stunned the "beef," strung it up, gutted it. You don't think of the farmer who was up in the middle of the night in a muddy pasture with his or her arm half-way up a cow's birth canal, guiding out the new calf that was to become your dinner.

Ultimately, that hygenic, relaxing, satisfying experience requires a lot of messy work and planning, and the messiest part is the people. A salon requires a number of people with specialized skills, and all their human baggage, their sick kids, dying dog, boozy night out with friends, broken car, lost wallet and mommy and daddy issues. And here is the thing, they are the easy ones. You can decide who to hire, who to fire (not that either of those things is exactly easy), you can train them, and cross-train them to fill in for one another. The really hard ones are the customers, because they are just as human, but, as has been said, they are always right, even when they are complete assholes.

So, its very good that you are planning ahead, because you have much to learn. I think the idea of gaining some "industry experience" yourself is a good one, as is the idea of finding a trustworthy business partner whose skills and experience compliment yours. A few ideas on that front: When you go to nail spas and salons, talk to the people who are serving you about their work, and really listen. Talk to all of them, but take a particular interest in the ones who you think are great at their job. You do this first because it is an opportunity to learn, second, because you might start recognizing details that people who are particularly good or bad at their jobs have in common, which will help you when you are finally in a position to hire. Finally, and most importantly, you do it because you might find someone who has some ambition and is interested in moving up to managing or co-owning a salon. The other idea is that you deliberately try to cultivate nail spas and similar businesses as clients for your design businesses. First, it will give you an opportunity to gain a behind the scenes perspective, second, it may lead to a deeper business relationship. You might find someone who has the operations of a nail spa down who would really appreciate your help refining and redefining more of the customer experience, and you might find that satisfies the itch you feel to have your own business.
posted by Good Brain at 11:23 AM on December 3, 2012 [3 favorites]

Going into business with a partner is a fine idea, but in a partnership for a small business like the one you describe, you need to be able to bring one of two things to the table: business and finance experience, or industry experience. If your partner has both of those, and you have neither, you're not bringing a lot to the party. (I know, you have a vision but it's hard to quantify that against the practical in a business arrangement.) Get trained, either with beauty degrees or with business administration education.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:51 PM on December 3, 2012

If you're interested in franchises, I've had services done at about six different :10 Minute Manicure locations across the US. I can't speak to how well their franchise program works, but at the very least it should give you some structure around the business-operations side of things.
posted by evoque at 9:37 AM on December 4, 2012

« Older Help Me Clone My Cat   |   Help find the missing link between my body and my... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.