Victorian Vision

From the beginning, home salon owner Kim Barratt has not only had the enthusiasm and talent necessary to become a successful home salon owner; but the dedication to share all she’s learned with nail students.

Some people believe that life experience is a fabulous ride and the twists and turns that come with it happen for very specific reasons. However, the wisdom or purpose behind it all may only be apparent later. So thought Kim Barratt when she and her husband purchased their 140- year-old Victorian home in Rockland, Maine, six years ago. “At the time I wondered what we would do with all that room,” she remembers. “I had no idea I would become a nail technician and this house would play an integral role in allowing me to build my career and my salon.”

Even though their home was going to need a lot of refurbishing, the couple decided to buy it and devote themselves to customizing both the interior and exterior, creating B Nails.

Natural Born Instructor

Three years after buying the Victorian, Barratt was drawn to nails and went to school. She chose one 60 miles from her home, but by the second day, she knew something was not quite right. On day three she quit. Not long after, the school was closed down by the state. Not wanting to give up the dream of a career in nails, Barratt choose another school, Head Hunters II, and started a nearly two-hour commute (each way) to Portland, Maine, to get her license.

Because of Barratt’s contagious enthusiasm for nails and her natural talent, the school kept in touch after she finished the program. A couple of years later she was asked back as an independent contractor to talk with the students about nails. “I can teach them in six hours what it takes their instructors 2-3 days to teach,” Barratt explains. “Maine doesn’t yet have a provision for nails-only instructors, so hair instructors are teaching nail classes. They can’t really tell the students the proper way to hold a file or what it is like when they get out of school and have to build a nail clientele, so the school has me come in to teach hands-on classes and talk with them about these issues.” Barratt is not allowed to discuss theory or school policies because she isn’t a licensed instructor, something that may change soon.

Because Head Hunters was so pleased nth Barratt’s classroom work and the rapport she has with students, they petitioned Maine’s state board to change he laws. At present, beauty professionals must actually work as a hairstylist in a salon for two years before becoming eligible to take the instructor’s class the state offers. “I didn’t want to get a license and do hair just so I could teach nails,” she explains. The school agreed.

In April, Maine’s Board of Barbering and Cosmetology also agreed that the practice was unfair and is currently working on an instructor program specifically for nail technicians who want to teach Once they create the educational materials for the nails-only instructor program, Barratt will be the first to complete it If she passes, she will become the state’s first nails-only instructor. “It will probably take more than a year before I can start teaching,” says Barratt, who is nevertheless thrilled with the prospect of becoming a full-fledged educator. “The board has to develop and give me the now instructor curriculum and then I may have to clock as many as 1,000 hours [which is currently required of hair instructors, but could be less for nails] of study in that program before I can become certified”

In the meantime, Barratt continues to work with students at her alma mater. “My students say they can hear me instructing them in their sleep,” says Barratt, who explains that she is very straightforward in her teaching methods. “I tell them what they’re doing wrong and then show them the right way to do a technique. Then I explain the importance of practice. I think they appreciate the fact that I get into the things I teach — that I don’t just sit and instruct them like a queen on her throne,” she says. She recounts the time when she taught reflexology and watched the students’ amazement as she sat down on the floor with them to demonstrate proper techniques.

Retailing Client Loyalty

From her salon’s opening, Barratt has had different ideas than her previous employers about how to run a nail business and serve her clients. With the exception of her acrylic systems, Barratt often combines different product lines. For example, she now uses four pedicure products from different lines, chosen after testing both low-and high-end items until she found the mix that gave her clients the desired effects.

Wednesday at B Nails is creative design day. Two of Barratt’s clients have standing appointments in the afternoon and together they come up with new airbrush designs, simply by taking the time to experiment. “The client will tell me to combine two colors that I think would never look right together, but we do it, and we come up with some of the greatest designs,” she explains. “And the design always looks good on them because it is a reflection of their taste.”

And when it comes to her retail offerings, she’s just as picky. Since she wanted to offer her customers products that are unavailable elsewhere, Barratt travels to at least one buying tradeshow per year and researches new lines through trade magazines and catalogs she receives as the result of her reader service inquiries. “If I have products that they can buy at their hair salon, another nail salon, or even the grocery store, then why should they buy here?” she asks. Since her clients can’t find her inventory anywhere else in town they shop at her salon. “I’ve had a client call to ask if she could send her father over to pick up a retail product for her even though she didn’t have an appointment,” she says.

Barratt requests the product samples and tests them on herself before passing them along to clients. “If the company balks at giving me a sample, I always tell them that if I like it, I will definitely be back for more,” she says. If the product passes muster, she will order it for use in her salon and usually for retail sales. Presently, she offers polish, nail treatments (such as cuticle oils), and unique products, such as calming herbal neck wraps.

The self-testing policy helps secure customer loyalty. “My clients know I’m not trying to make a quick buck, but offering them things that they legitimately need. How do they know? I take the time to explain how it can help solve problems they have or make them more comfortable if they use it as directed.” Barratt also points out that she doesn’t sell her clients anything they don’t want or need in order to make money. “If I press them to spend money on items that don’t show them results, I lose their trust and they won’t be back. I may have made one big sale, but I lose that client forever. Instead, I tease them that I’m after their money, but over a lifetime!”

Fulfilling the Victorian Vision

After getting her nail license, Barratt worked at other salons in the area. Her experiences and enthusiasm soon made her strike out on her own. She officially opened her home salon, B Nails, in July 1998 with the desire to do things differently. “I now know why I felt so strongly about buying this big house,” she says. As it turned out, the Victorian had all of the components needed to open a home-based salon in Maine. “It was the perfect set-up to meet the state’s requirements,” she says. The house’s design provided one good-size room and bathroom, which could be entered separately from the rest of the house. Barratt and her husband have slowly made improvements, from updating the plumbing and wiring to fit state requirements to repainting the salon space and slowly furnishing it with the ideal, hand-picked items.

The salon is made up of a 13´l4-foot salon room, hallway space used for storage, and a bathroom, which altogether totals 400 square feet. Barratt started by tearing down the wallpaper in the room (a startling bright red with black scroll designs) and ripping up the carpet to reveal beautiful cherry-wood floors that only needed refinishing.

After painting the walls and ceiling with a peach paint (which stayed in her hair longer than she’d like to remember) to bring out the richness of the wood floor, she hired a contractor to install a redwood and marble vanity sink. She asked the contractor to add an eight- inch-high baseboard that raised the sink up higher so that clients wouldn’t have to bend over to wash their hands. “The vanity was the first piece to go in the salon after we painted and because we added the extra height, it looked strange at first, but once the rest of the furnishings were in place, it turned out just as I had hoped.”

The sink leaves the bathroom down the hall free and is convenient for filling up the deluxe pedicure tub Barratt recently invested in. The tub sits in front of the four-foot-wide, blackberry leather, overstuffed chair as part of the pedicure set-up that garnered her praise from her local newspaper. She came upon the chair at a furniture store because it was custom-ordered and then abandoned. As if fete dictated it, the chair was the perfect style and the perfect colour match for the salon, and the store sold it to her for about half the price. Barratt bought several antique-style throw pillows that clients can use to make themselves even more comfortable in the big chair.

Barratt says her pedicure area and services are unlike anything her competition offers, on purpose. “I felt like clients couldn’t really relax and enjoy the service properly because they weren’t comfortable in the set-ups at my previous salons. Now they fall asleep on me during the pedicure, which is the ultimate compliment!” A plant and back lighting behind the chair help set a spa-like mood or the pedicure area, while Barratt sits on a padded antique footstool.

Another personalized touch is Baratt’s nail station, which is actually a cherry wood antique desk and a “build-it-yourself” computer credenza put together. Her computer, which she uses to seep client records and print promo­tional materials, such as her menu, fliers, and business cards, sits on the antique desk and is connected to the computer credenza to form an “L” shape. “My husband helped me customize the credenza, but I want to emphasize that anyone could have done what he did. We just didn’t attach certain pieces and added holes in the right places to make it work,” she explains.

She chose the credenza because of its large size, affording her plenty of room to work “There is enough space to leave my appointment book to my left so that if someone calls during a service and I need to make an appointment, it isn’t disruptive.”

The size helps in other ways. Barratt and her husband placed her Work Top Air Cleaner (WTAC) in the space that would have been drawers in the right side of the credenza. “This way, it is hidden from view and isn’t taking up any extra space,” she says. Barratt’s husband then drilled a hole in the credenza’s top using a hole saw and attached the WTAC’s filter screen and hose to the table. Now, any filings and dust are pulled down through the table and the blue hose into the unit’s filters, which Barratt changes regularly. Her husband also drilled a hole in the side of the table so that the WTAC on/off switch was easily accessible. She also made room underneath to store her airbrush compressor so that it, too, is out of clients’ sight.

In addition, they left the privacy panel off of the credenza so that the client would be able to put her legs under the credenza while Barratt does her nails.

“I then called a local glass company and had them come out to measure the desk I requested that the piece of glass have a hole in the middle of it so that my WTAC would still function, yet the wood of the desk wouldn’t be marred by acrylic liquid or any of the other chemicals I use,” she says. She found a table runner made from tapestry and placed that between the glass and the desk. “I still need to add the antique mirror and some art work to the walls. In the meantime, this is an inexpensive way to jazz things up,” she says.

On the table is another well-chosen item: her desk lamp. “The halogen bulb is better for doing nails and the non-tip base design allows me to easily adjust it as I work I can follow the client’s movements without too many shadows or too much adjusting, which along with the ventilation system prevents me from getting headaches,” she says, adding that success really is in the details.

Though Barratt still has decorating to do, her salon is already a smashing success. She attributes it to putting her clients’ needs and her vision first. “It is always about the client because all the money in the world can’t pay for the kind of advertising I get: word-of- mouth from loyal, satisfied customers. “You know what they say...everything happens for a reason,” she says, summing it all up.

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