Maureen Volpe’s clients and employees liked her salon so much they learned her methods and franchised her name---in 55 salons nationwide.
Have you ever enjoyed a service so much that you wanted to take it with you wherever you went?
That’s just what clients and employees of Volpe Nails did. They created a growing, successful network of 55 franchises in Florida, Virginia, North Carolina, New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania.
Like other well-known franchises, Volpe Nails offers clients the same techniques and products ---no matter which Volpe salon they choose. In addition, Volpe salon owners know that when they need advice, president Maureen Volpe is there to assist them, a policy she has maintained since franchisingin 1984.
FROM THE INSIDE OUT
“Our franchise program started from the inside out. Almost all of our shops came from customers and employees who moved and wanted a Volpe salon in their new location,” says Maureen Volpe, president of Volpe Nails, based in Endicott, New York. “When I started doing nails 10 years ago, clients came from four hours away to get their nails done. Eventually people started asking me to teach them to do sculptured nails.
“At one point I owned six salons myself, and I decided to franchise. I thought if they were going to use my name and my technique, we should have a formal agreement,” continues Maureen. Franchising not only meant that start-up costs would be met by the owners of individual salons, but that Maureen could fund continuing research in products and techniques with the royalties she received from each shop.
But the most important advantage, Maureen points out, is that franchising allows her to maintain her high standards. “With a franchise I have more control over quality and consistency,” she says. “I want to be able to say, ‘If you want to use my name, you have to do this, this, and this.’ Therefore, there’s a certain level of quality customers can expect at each Volpe salon.
So how does Maureen maintain consistently high standards in 55 salons? To start with, thorough training, good communication, and specialization.
MAKING TOP-NOTCH TECHNICIANS
Once a franchise owner has been selected and her financing is secure, Volpe Nails requires training in technique and management skills. All nail technicians for the new salon may begin the four-week training program as well. In the first three weeks, Volpe trainees work on quality of product application. The fourth week is spent working on speed and learning shortcuts and nail art Trainees must pass written and hands-on tests before Volpe Nails will certify them as Volpe technicians. Confident of her methods and determined to provide consistency, Maureen encourages even previously certified technicians to take some of her training classes.
Of equal import in Volpe training classes are business skills. Owners learn how to manage their salons everything from hiring and training employees to advertising and promotions to the computer system used at Volpe salons. Volpe trainers help franchisees select furniture, carpeting, blinds, business cards, and salon handouts. “Right after they complete training and the construction of the shop is finished, they jump right into doing nails. We plan it that way,” says Maureen.
Success is almost immediate for some salons. “One shop opened December 10 last year with four employees,” Maureen says. “Less than one month later, there were seven employees and all of them were busy.”
MAKING PROFITS, NOT MISTAKES
The benefits of such thorough preparation are obvious---new owners, with the advantage of Maureen’s years of experience, begin by making profits instead of mistakes. “We’ve already made every mistake there is to make in the nail business---but more importantly, we learned from every one,” says Maureen. The main thing is proper technique. Ninety percent of all mistakes can be eliminated by applying nails right---in a way that best suits the client’s natural nail.
“Another big mistake is wasting ad dollars. I must have wasted $10,000 in my first two years of business,” she says of misdirected advertising. If you’re going to advertise, do it right. Spend the money where it will work---not on the radio station that’s hounding you to advertise, but on the radio station that people listen to.
“A third mistake is to hire part timers because if they really want to do the work , they’ll do it full time,” says Maureen. “It’s also a mistake not to fire people when you should---when they’re destructive to business.”
THE COMMUNICATION CONNECTION
Because many Volpe Nails owners were once Volpe clients or employees, they know the Volpe standards well enough to maintain consistency in their own salons. But if they feel unsure of themselves at any time, Maureen is there to help. “We talk to our owners at least once a week when we ask if they need products,” says Maureen. “We have an 800 number, and if any technician has a problem, either I or Julie Clark, the director of training, will get on the phone and talk her through it.”
In addition, owners meet twice a year at owners meetings. Once a year, all Volpe Nails employees participate in a two-day seminar that includes classes and competitions. “We try to keep communication open,” explains Maureen.
“We have a saying here that new franchise are silver, but the old ones are gold.”
FINDING A NICHE
While most salons try to offer as many services as possible to attract the widest variety of clients, Volpe salons concentrate on sculptured and natural nails only. Volpe nail technicians do not apply pre-formed nails, glue-on tips, or wraps. “In New York, people associate nails with Volpe, like Kleenex and tissue.” says Maureen. “They think Volpe means sculptured nails. That’s gratifying.” She finds that acrylic is good for patching broken nails, for strengthening or lengthening natural nails, and for nail biters.
When I started doing sculptured nails, I noticed a lot of salons were turning away nail biters, and I asked ‘Why can’t we do nail biters?’ You can apply sculptured nails to those nails, but you have to do it right, she emphasizes.
“About 60% of our clients are nail biters who want an instant fix,” Maureen explains. “What nail they do have is often fan-shaped, thin, flat, and short---there’s not a tip in the world that will stay on. You can sculpture it successfully, though.”
Catering to nail biters requires more than proper technique. Volpe technicians are trained to counsel clients trying to kick the habit. Most nail biters, Maureen points out, are embarrassed and obsessed with their nails. “We help them by applying nails and counselling them,” she says.
BEYOND GOOD TECHNIQUE
To customers without nail problems, Volpe Nails offers natural manicures as well as sculptured nails. “We try to enhance our clients’ natural nails if we can. Contrary to popular conception you can earn more profit doing natural nails, because the client needs more frequent service. And you can sell them more products because a natural client needs more products,” says Maureen.
But all Volpe clients, Maureen says, come to the salon to be pampered. From day one, we start clients on time. We give them a good beverage, such as coffee that we brew every hour on the hour, served in a nice mug, something that makes them feel elegant. During the holidays we’ll offer them Christmas cookies or a cup of coffee with a splash of amaretto, whipped cream, and nutmeg. It takes only a little effort to give clients something special, and it makes a big difference.
“We try to greet people by name and initiate conversation,” Maureen continues. “I tell the technicians to show they care and to write tips on their customer service cards so they remember what they talked about last time.”
A PAMPERING ATMOSPHERE
As construction begins on new Volpe franchises, Maureen encourages franchisees to strive to create a pampering atmosphere. While some equipment is standard in all Volpe salons, each salon can develop and execute its own theme for decor.
“Whether the client is poor or rich, she is treating herself to this one hour of attention. We try to create a pampering atmosphere, right down to the carpeting. Don’t get a tweed indoor/outdoor carpet,” Maureen says. “Get a soft, plush, feminine carpet. It’s only a difference of a few hundred bucks. And get chairs that are practical, but also pretty and comfortable. Do whatever you can to make things look delicious and feel good.”
Maureen also urges technicians to send clients Christmas and birthday cards, to have elegant gift certificates available, and to book appointments far in advance if clients request it. “once you establish 100 to 150 clients, you’re set. Those same 100 to 150 people are your paycheck, your bread and butter, so give them a little extra,” she says. “Hang on to your clients. They come in the first time for nails, they come back because they like their nails, and they keep coming back because of the relationship you’ve established with them.”
It’s especially important to focus on your customers in the new decade, according to Maureen. “If clients don’t feel special in the 1990s, they will go to the other guy,” she says. “I’ve created competition for myself. So many salons do nails well that we not only have to offer the best technique and products, but also the best service.”
With that attitude, it’s no wonder clients want a Volpe salon wherever they go.
Maureen Volpe’s Tips for Success
Pay attention to your education. “If you’re going to do nails, do them right. After I learned to do nails, I went to every class I could and I talked to doctors and chemists,” says Maureen. By conducting research in anatomy, nail disorders and diseases, and nail products, Maureen found the techniques and products best for her clients and passed that information on to her trainees.
Cater to your clients. “Not just models and actresses do their nails people from all walks of life get their nails done. I’ve heard women say they would give up their cigarettes before they gave up their nails. I thought, “There are people like that in New York,’ People who wait on the public---such as waitresses, stewardesses, and bartenders---want their nails to look nice.
Treat nail biters with care. “Casting a form wrong on a nail biter is like setting a bone wrong. Many technicians will place the form incorrectly, starting the free edge at the edge of the existing nail and not on the natural ridge where the free edge should leave the finger. Many technicians are afraid to apply the chemicals to the skin or will crowd the cuticle. Sculptured nails help nail biters stop biting, because the texture and hardness feels different. But the nail must be applied properly.”
Retention reveals good customer service. “My technicians are mainly 18 to 19 year olds. We help them develop their customer service skills by giving them a lot of examples during training, and by offering a prize each month for the best retention. Our teachers have had eight or nine years experience with 100% retention. In addition, we have a monthly report that tells each salon owner each employee’s retention.”
Encourage technicians to sell. “We tell our technicians to service the customers and try to sell retail. We don’t push our technicians to sell, but if they’re servicing their customers well they should educate them on why we carry the products we do.”