Follow Your Dreams to a Perfect 10

Gina Marsilii reached for her dreams and doubled her space, turning her nail and tanning business into a full-fledged, stress-relieving day spa.

Six years ago, Gina Marsilii was working in a nail salon and, her own words, “living a life of quiet desperation.” Like many nail technicians with ambition, she wanted very much to run her own business. While she wanted to reach her career goals in a professional manner, when she confided her dream to the salon owner, who also happened to be her cousin, Marsilii was fired immediately.

While that event might have propelled some nail technicians right out the business, it only made Marsilii more determined to achieve her dream. She had already seen a salon space she liked in a more affluent are than was 15 miles closer to her home, so her first call was to the leasing agent. By the end of the day, she had secured 640 square foot for her salon. Her second call was to Larry Gaynor, owner of Nailco Salon Marketplace in Livonia, Mich.

“I told him I needed products. I had a credit card, but no money,” says Marsilii. “Larry advised me on the basics I needed to open. With my opening order, he sent me a bottle of wine and two glasses. That was the encouragement I needed.”

After running a successful business for a little less than two years, Marsilii expanded her salon to 1,260 square feet to accommodate tanning beds. Last year, Marsilii decided to offer a complete day spa menu.


Marsilii had dreamed of expanding her salon space and began making plans in March 1993 when she discovered that the salon next door would be closing. She began working with an interior designer, a client who had assisted with her first expansion. Her reflexology and body waxing technician advised her room setup and plumbing. Again she turned to Gaynor, this time for advice on new equipment.

The plan officially kicked into gear when the salon next door owned, ironically, by the sister of the cousin who had fired Marsilii went out of business and perfect 10 acquired the space. Marsilii signed the lease in May, projecting the expanded business would be up and running by August 1. So Marsilii negotiated with the leasing company for three months fee rent on the new space and secured a bank loan for $25,000, only to have her plans go awry.


Marsilii soon learned that the $25,000 budget was unrealistic. She had planned to put $20,000 into construction and $5,000 into equipment, until she realized that one deluxe pedicure chair alone would cost her $3,000, a phone system $2,500. Her projected budget had to be reset at $40,000, and Marsilii was forced to come up with an additional of $15,000. She negotiated credit terms for the remaining equipment.

“The biggest nightmare was dealing with subcontractors,” says Marsilii.  “They didn’t live up to their promises, which lengthened the construction period from four weeks to 10. By the ninth week, I was my wit’s end.

Because the construction took longer than I had anticipated, I lost thousands of dollars and was unable to keep up with all my bills. I almost lost everything. I called all my vendor and was very honest with them and explained about the construction delays. Since they knew I was a good business person, they gave me more time.”

Unfortunately, her bad luck had only just begun. Two hours after she flunked her initial salon inspection because the bathrooms didn’t meet codes to accommodate wheelchair, her car was reposed. With her good track record, Marsilii was able to call the bank and get her car back right away.

Running a business during the mess was nearly impossible, says Marsilii. “One of the most difficult areas of the transition was getting the staff to see my vision,” she says. “I was looking at where I wanted to see Perfect 10 in five to 10 years, but the staff members had their own goals I shouldn’t have expected them to have the same vision I did. I had to motivate them to buy into my vision by emphasizing education and innovation and showing them how exciting this industry really can be.”


Now that the salon is finished, the memory of those few nightmarish months is quickly fading. “A nail and tanning salon lends itself easily to the day spa concept because it produces a relaxed atmosphere where clients already feel warm and safe,” says Marsilii. “I think it’s easier to convert a nail and tanning salon to a day spa than to convert a hair salon.”

When her staff began to grow, Marsilii divided the salon into two departments: in one, there’s nail, tanning, and waxing; the second holds a day spa offering skin care, massage, and stress-relieving treatments.

Because of her own experience, Marsilii is now adamant about following  a management system based on an open-door policy (the employees can leave or be asked to leave with no il-will), and she helps everyone set goals. Marsilii researched different methods of compensation before finalizing her system. She got feedback from a variety of salon owners, school owners, and her distributors.

The entire salon is bathed in soothing raspberry color. Track lighting illuminates the art deco atmosphere. The shampoo bowl and styling vanity are made of a marbleized tea-rose laminate. New, trendy, and unusual accessories are on display in a jewelry case in the octagonal reception are. A stepped glass-block wall that separated the day spa area from the rest of the salon rises to the top of the spacious cathedral ceiling. 

Electronic efficiency was one of Marsilii’s goals. She had a new phone system and sound system installed. She subscribed to a radio music cable service for $30 a month that offers 30 remote controlled selections from adult contemporary to salsa music 24 hours a day. “It’s a nicer atmosphere because there are no radio commercials and we can change the mood of the salon simple by changing the music,” says Marsilii. Marsilii has computerized to make client tracking and inventory control more efficient.

To promote the day spa and gift certificates sales, Marsilii reserved the number-one billboard in the city. The message was simple: “Ladies and gentleman … give the gift of luxury.” It included the telephone number and the logo of the salon. “The billboard has been great for my business. I’ve become famous because of it,” says Marsilii.


On the first day the remodeled salon opened, it did $200 in massage service, and clients weren’t even aware that masseuses had started to work!

Marsilii projects that the salon will gross between $400,000 and $500,000 in 1994, depending on how quickly the body services take off. “I have a better profit margin because my rent didn’t double when my space did,” she explains. “Because my business was already successful, I was able to negotiate a reasonable rent.”

Retail sales account for about 5% of total business, but Marsilii intends to increase that by adding more hair and skin care lines and boutique items, such as bathing suits, as soon as the dust settles and she recoups some of her initial investment. “What’s most important in the 90’s is offering good service with a good attitude at a good price,” says Marsilii. Because of this, she didn’t raise service prices when she remodeled.

Her prices are as follows: $40 for a full set; $28 for a fill; $55 for a massage (the introductory price is $50). Facials range in price from $45 to $65; waxing varies in price per service; tanning runs $30 for six sessions and $50 for 12 sessions; luxurious pedicures are $28; stress relieving scalp massage and conditioning is $18.50; manicures are $15 minute lunchtime revitalizing treatments is $20.

“The salon is so beautiful. It really motivates the staff and we’re already generating more referrals,” says Marsilii.” When clients see that an owner is constantly upgrading the services and look of salon, they know they are going somewhere that is innovative.


Marsilii is already planning her next business expansion: offering more body care services, such as mud wraps and seaweed body treatments. Her goal is to have those up and running within 18 to 24 months. Always setting her sights on the future, another space adjoining her business is now empty and Marsilii hopes to make it her own.  


Owner: Gina Marsilii

Location: Wilmington, Del.

Project: Expand 1,260 square-foot nail and tanning salon to 2,480 square-foot day spa haven.

Services: A full line of nails, tanning, body waxing, European pedicures, reflexology massage, custom facials, stress-relieving scalp massage and conditioning (everything but hair).

Staff: Increase staff from nine to 16. Current staff includes nail technicians, three receptionist (who also maintain the tanning beds), one salon manager, a spa body-waxing cosmetologist, a facialist, and two masseuses.

Employee Compensation:  Nail Technicians are paid a sliding scale commission based on weekly gross receipts. Up to $700 gross earns 50% commission; $701-$1,000 earns 55%; $1,001 and above earns 60%. Nail technicians receive 10% commission on all retail sales. Full time technicians whose gross commission income on services exceed $350 per week earn an incentive bonus of $5 per week. They accumulate $5 a week, and at the end of six months they get a $130 bonus. Bonuses are paid in June and December.

Because of the individuality of each day spa service, the compensation system is set up differently for this part of the salon. Massage therapist earn 55% commission; the facialist receives 20% commission on retail sales because products are so integral to the facial services.

Perks: The salon owner provides a shining new facility in which to offer services, a couch, stool, all supplies, back bar products, and a laundry facility, and pays the overhead and advertising.

Hours of Operation: Monday 11 a.m. – 8 p.m.; Tuesday through Thursday 9 a.m. – 9 p.m.; Friday 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.; Saturday 9 a.m. – 4 p.m.

Mission Statement: Each client should feel on top of the world at perfect 10.


  • Make sure your cost projections are realistic, which means setting aside a little extra for unplanned. A cost overrun can throw everything out of kilter.
  • Get a realistic time table from constructors in writing and hold them to it. Although they still may take more time, having a written agreement gives you greater leverage in a dispute with contractors.
  • Get plans from several designers of contractors and compare price and specification.
  • Don’t forget to plan for electrical and plumbing remodeling and for phones, music systems, and shower.
  • Don’t rely on anyone else to inform you about building codes and specification. Do the research yourself.
  • Your distributor can be ally an advisor; choose this relationship carefully.
  • When you need credit help from suppliers, don’t afraid to ask for it.
  • Use your reputation as a good businessperson to establish clout.
  •  Inspire your staff and look to them for inspiration. “Stop and realize that the whole staff may not have the same vision you do when you want to expand your business,” says Marsilii. “Set your objectives and go for it, but really help your staff understand how the decisions you are making are going to help the entire salon and everyone involve not just help the salon owner.”
  • Don’t lose sight of your dream when your plans appear to be falling apart. Sit back, take stock, and forge ahead.

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