Alabama Home-Based Salon Provides Southern Hospitality

Vicky McCain converted a sun porch and removed a hot tub to make room for Nubs to Nails Salon in her home.

The Natchez Trace cuts across the northwestern corner of Alabama, near Florence, on its way from Natchez, Miss., to Nashville, Tenn., and serves as a reminder of the hundreds of entrepreneurs who used this pathway from 1780 until 1830 to transport their goods south on the Tennessee and Ohio Rivers. When the goods were sold, these independent businessmen then broke up their boats and sold them as lumber. To return home, they had to walk several hundred miles along the Trace, wearing away a path over the years, in places as much as six feet wide.

The most difficult passage for these boatmen was an area on the Tennessee River now called Florence, Ala. Florence has grown since then and now shares the rolling hills and pine forests with the small towns of Tuscumbia, Muscle Shoals, and Sheffield. Today you can easily see sections of the Trace along the Natchez Trace Parkway, which is now a national park.

My first impression when I arrived in this town whose forefathers had worked in conditions often brutal and dangerous, was the feeling of prosperity: There was building going on and business seemed good in town. New business has moved into town, drawn by a good labor base, good housing and schools, and the positive business atmosphere. Recreation along the river is exceptional, bringing many tourists to the area.

Nail technician and home salon owner Vicky McCain shares with those city founders an indefatigable work ethic and an eternally optimistic attitude. Her salon, which she runs from her home, is nestled on a quiet and neat tree-shaded street in a Cape Cod-style house. The name of the salon is Nubs to Nails Salon, but to drive by the house you notice only several cars in the driveway to indicate the thriving business operating within.

There are lots of reasons for choosing to run a business out of your home: convenience, being with young children, lower business overhead, and location. These were all factors in McCain’s decision to run Nubs to Nails Salon from her home. McCain, who has been doing nails for nine years, has been operating Nails to Nubs for four.

“When we knew we were moving to Florence, it seemed a logical choice to try to find a home that might be able to expand to add a small shop for a salon,” says McCain.

Opening the door to the “salon,” which is really a converted sun porch, the first thing you see is the warmest smile in Alabama, as McCain says, “Hi!”

A puffy white ruffled valance covering the entire ceiling adds softness to the former sun porch. A white wicker chair and sofa with blue and pink flowered cushions provide a haven for waiting customers. And a ceding fan is the proverbial Southern touch.

Finding the best place for a home-based salon took some time. McCain and her husband looked at a lot of houses before they found this one. The screened-in porch at the end of the driveway was originally used for a hot tub. Says McCain, “We decided we could close the porch in with windows on three sides. That makes the room appear larger than it is. The windows give it an airy and spacious feeling even though it is only a 10- by 12-foot space. We added the fabric ceiling to hide the fact that it was a screened porch.” The effect is plushness and comfort.

McCain works alone. Alabama law does not allow hiring employees for business conducted in a home, even though McCain is so busy that she has to keep new clients on a waiting list.

I asked why she decided to have her salon in her home given the local restrictions that hamper her business being able to grow.

“I wanted to do something for myself, something that would give me personal rewards and still enable me to handle my family responsibilities. This way, if one of the children is sick, I’m here. If a client cancels, I have a little extra time to be with my children. That’s very important to me because my family does come first in my life.”

McCain agreed to be interviewed provided she could continue working as she talked, and her attention never left her client or what she was doing while we spoke. She handles her clients by appointment only, and the woman she worked on as we spoke had waited four months for an opening. All Nubs to Nails clients are regulars who are booked in advance for their nail care, keeping McCain very busy during the four 12-hour days she works.

If clients are willing to wait months to become a customer, Nubs to Nails must be doing something very right. “You just can’t do nails half-heartedly,” says McCain. “You have to care about your clients and you have to be willing to do your best for them.”

When the McCain family moved to Alabama, Vicky found there was no one doing nails in her town, and the nearest salon was too far away. She visited a local hairstyling shop and offered her services doing nails.

Working in the beauty salon didn’t allow her to offer the services she felt would best help her clients. Says McCain, “I didn’t want to just make money. I wanted to do something for me that made me feel good and gave me personal satisfaction. I love what I do and I’m never bored.

“You have to be sincere about what you do in business to succeed,” she says. “If you’re not, customers will know it.”

McCain is sensitive about concern over home-based salons. She laments that people can pick up a kit and do nails out of their homes without a license and she echoes the concern over the damage to the reputation of legitimate home nail technicians when untrained people work on nails.

However, despite training and professional performance, McCain says that the key to success in this business is sincerity. “Do what you do to make your clients feel good, not just to make money. You have to be friends in a one-on-one operation; you really have to care about what you’re doing. Don’t do a slap-dash job. It’s so important to be careful and use good equipment, to keep a clean shop and to let your clients know that you go to the extra effort for their safety. If you don’t take care of your customers, someone will come along who will spend that effort.”

A home-based business has built-in challenges as personal and professional lives try to co-habitate. But McCain employs some very effective ways of keeping those two separate. For instance, she has a separate phone for business and answers it only during business hours. Likewise, she doesn’t answer her private phone when she’s working. “Can you imagine how long you’d succeed if you didn’t separate the two?” she asks.

McCain’s concern for the industry goes beyond her cozy converted porch and thriving business: “I think there should be more emphasis on the health concerns in doing nails, more products that are designed to be safe and effective. It’s interesting that some products that I used in Tulsa don’t work in Florence, and some that I use here didn’t work there.” She toys with the idea of someday opening her own nail shop. “It would be nice — someday,” she says. “I’m training two friends, which I can do in this state as long as they don’t work in a salon. Both are working toward the Alabama state board exam. Who knows? Someday they might work for me in a bigger salon.”

For now, though, McCain is satisfied by making her current clients happy. “I thoroughly enjoy what I do. I’m never bored because I like how my clients feel about themselves when they leave the shop. It’s very important for me to give something back to my community. I do nails for one lady who can’t otherwise afford them. I can’t tell you how good I feel when I finish her nails: She glows, and that makes me feel very good about myself.”

Peg Drummey (mother of NAILS publisher Cyndy Drummey) is a freelance writer who travels around the United States full-time with her husband Jack.

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