When you walk into Images by Cara, you can’t miss the butterfly. A splash of mauve, teal, and pink silk, the framed scarf with the butterfly image makes a statement to all who enter the Wayne, N.J., salon. It also says something special about owner Cara Krafchick, who likes to think of Images by Cara as a place for personal metamorphosis.
“Butterflies are very significant to me” she says. “I also have a butterfly on my logo for my business cards.” The butterfly signifies growth and rebirth, she explains. “I do motivational lecturing, and I always ask my audience, “Are you willing to give up what you are today for what you can become tomorrow?” That’s the first step toward growth.” And Krafchick would be the first to admit that the past two years have been a time of great challenge and personal growth for her.
But her first glimmer of what would become Images by Cara came to her 15 years before she bought the salon. Krafchick purchased that silk scarf in 1977 on her first day in New York City. “I went into Gucci, and I certainly didn’t have that kind of money to spend, but I bought the scarf for $65. I still remember the price,” she laughs. “I told myself that someday, that scarf would hang some place very special.”
And Images by Cara is a special place. But the shop, located about a half hour from Manhattan, was more like a caterpillar when Krafchick purchased it two years ago. “The previous owners had room for other services, but they hadn’t developed the business,” she says.
Crafting an Image
Creating a special image for the salon was important for the former model, makeup artist, image consultant, and Barbizon modeling instructor. In addition to the nail salon, Krafchick divided the remaining space to create three separate areas within the salon: “The Boutique,” which features casual clothes, accessories, and a personal shopping service; “The Quiet Place,” where clients can get a facial and enjoy an aromatherapy session; and “The Image Studio,” where clients can receive anything from a makeup lesson to a complete makeover.
To complete the salon’s boutique look, Krafchick hired a personal window dresser, who usually changes the windows weekly. “The windows really help to promote special events like fashion shows,” she says. “I’d also like to start promoting gift ideas in the window displays.”
Creating this one-stop rejuvenation center has been a labor of love and a joint project for her and husband, Stanley, Krafchick says. “Stanley runs the business end of the salon, plus he has a side business creating hair styles on video. For $25, the client gets a video showing her face with 12 different hair styles,” she explains. While Images by Cara is not a hair salon, clients often use the video hairstyles as a starting point for a complete makeover, Krafchick says. “We find out what a woman wants to express with her appearance. That’s important – to bring the whole picture together with hair, nails, makeup and fashion. We feel we do something special here,” she says. “Our motto is ‘Where the unique is commonplace,’ and we really do try to provide a unique experience for our clients.”
Out of the Cocoon
Clients who visited the salon a mere two years ago would be amazed at the transformation, Krafchick says. “The previous owners had lost interest in the salon,” she says. “The clients were disillusioned. It was a mess. In the waxing room, somebody had spilled wax on the wall, and that’s where it stayed. Do you know what dried wax looks like after three years? The previous owners never had a cleaning service. Acetone had been spilled on the floor and never cleaned up.”
When she bought the business, Krafchick says, she knew she had another salon. The new rules were too structured for them,” she explains. “They were used to running things their own way and coming and going as they pleased.
“I was not prepared for this, and the financial loss was huge,” she says. The departure of nearly all her staff was personally stressful, too she remembers. “I’ve been in the beauty business all my life. I really understand how nails need to be done,” she says. “And managing a business comes easy for me. But I didn’t know then that the nail business is a very difficult business.”
The departing technicians took 90 percent of the salon’s nail business, Krafchick says. “And their clients were just beginning to become full-service clients, so that made the loss even worse.”
Rebuilding a Dream
Krafchick decided to face her problem head on and quite publicly. “I had to address it,” she says. “How could I hide it? Luckily, I’m a great networker. I put out feelers all over town.” Krafchick also ran an open letter to the public in the local newspaper, telling what had happened. “I asked people to bear with us. I also ran ads. I got calls from all over.” New technicians saw the ads and stopped by. “I hired three right out of school,” she says. “I also got two technicians with full followings. Then we ran half-off coupons. Pretty soon, you could start to feel the flow of energy coming back to the salon.”
Krafchick now has eight nail technicians, two massage therapists, and a makeup artist. The new technicians appreciated Krafchick’s policies regarding regular cleaning, business hours, and running a more structured business. “They were willing to cooperate with what I wanted to do,” she says.
And Krafchick’s ideas for her salon extended even further – as far as the west coast. “I love California, and I wanted Images by Cara to have a very artsy, California feel,” she says. “At first, the people in Wayne didn’t know how to adjust to the new look,” she says. “But now they love it. It’s very homey, very friendly, and not intimidating. I didn’t want that cold, European look. We’re different.”
Another west coast trend, aromatherapy, is slowly becoming popular in New Jersey, Krafchick says. “We give aromatherapy massages and facials, and out aromatherapist mixes her own oil for massage. She has studied the effects of the different scents, and when I get my own massage, she shows me how to choose the scent that has the effect I want.”
The aromatherapy business has been “slower to build in Wayne than in either Manhattan or on the west coast,” Krafchick admits. But her clients’ interest in holistic health is increasing, she says, and she plans to begin retailing aromatherapy products soon.
Spreading the Word
While potential clients are enticed by the salon’s beautifully dressed windows and sensuous aromas, perhaps the best marketing Images by Cara could have is the woman herself. Krafchick coordinates community fashion shows and gives motivational talks to churches and temples. She also speaks regularly to a group of local women business owners. “I talk about image and coordination,” she says. “Women want so much to know who they really are, but many of them are afraid to take that step,” she says. “Through the work-shops, color analysis, beautiful nails, and makeovers, they can really bring out a lot of confidence.”
To further expand the business, Krafchick has subdivided the salon a bit further and added “The Bridal Place.” “The bride, her mother, and the bridal party can get most services in the salon or at home. Plus the brides bring in their headpieces and we work with them,” she says. “They usually get their nails done at the salon, but we did have one mother of the bride who broke her knee right before the wedding, so we went to her home.”
But no matter how much Krafchick enjoys the bridal business, the fashion shows, and the makeovers, it’s the nail business that is the cornerstone of Images by Cara, she emphasizes. “Nails are our base,” Krafchick says. “The other things are great and I love them, but nails are where all the activity is.”
When it comes to nail services, “We do everything – acrylics, natural nails, tips and wraps,” Krafchick says. Well, almost everything. “We tried gels and fiberglass, but that really didn’t work for us,” she says. She’s also undecided on whether to sell nail care products in the salon. “I’m a little bit concerned that it might cut into our nail services,” she says. “Our customers come in regularly, and it seems that once they start getting their nails done professionally, they really don’t want to do them themselves.”
The technicians at Images by Cara also specialize in several different types of French manicure. And that specialization helps to attract brides-to-be, who may already be in the salon for a makeover or a fashion consultation, Krafchick says. “For brides, we sometimes do special airbrushing and artwork on French manicures,” she explains.
THE ARTISTIC TOUCH
Nail art has become quite popular with her clients, and that has the added benefit of bringing out the best in her technicians, Krafchick says. “We’re doing a promotion right now where a client can get nail art on one nail for free,” she says. “This generates excitement for the girls and the customers.” Techniques vary depending on how daring the client wants to be, Krafchick says. “We use decals and stencils a lot. One of our technicians is especially artistic, and she does Betty Boop and other cartoon characters.”
Krafchick’s main goal with the nail designs, as with all the other salon offerings, is to always have something different and exciting happening at the salon. “We have a regular, steady clientele, and I want people to walk in and say ‘Hey, what’s going on?’ each time they come here. I want Images by Cara to be an exciting place to be.”
Part of her attraction to nail design is Krafchick’s own interest in oil painting, where she leans toward landscapes, still art, and abstracts. Her interest in art has resulted in her encouraging her technicians to experiment with their craft. “I tell them to dig into themselves and find their artistic expression,” she says.
In the end, it’s the total woman – from her newly glowing complexion to her perfectly polished toes – that interests Krafchick. And it’s a professional interest that she takes very personally. “I want a woman to feel like she can come in here and spend time and find herself,” Krafchick emphasizes. “I know that sounds a little philosophical, but that’s me.”