At Atir- a Natural Nail Care Clinic, nails do not have to be long to be beautiful. Owner Rita Gregory opened the first all-natural nail salon 16 years ago to fill a void she saw in the nail care industry. Today the franchise is strong in 14 states offering consumers a unique four-step treatment for keeping their natural nails healthy.
A FRANCHISE FOR NATURAL FANS: For many clients, a manicure is a treat reserved for a special event. To others, a manicure means a standing weekly appointment. What holds true for both groups is that the manicure is often focused solely an appearance. What about the health of the actual nail? A healthy nail is just as important as the color of polish, which is precisely what Rita Gregory hoped to emphasize when she opened the first Atir- A Natural Nail Care Clinic in 1988.
Salon Name: Atir- A Natural Nail Care Clinic
Location: Williamsburg, Va., plus 25 additional locations in 14 states
Owner: Rita Gregory
Square Footage: headquarters, 3,000; other locations, 1,200-1,800
Years of Ownership: 16
Number of Nail Techs/Employees: 7/10
Specialties: Four-step natural nail care program, rehabilitating damaged nails
Other Services: Pedicures, paraffin treatments
After wearing enhancements for six years, Gregory noticed her natural nails weakening. She sought professional help but was disappointed to realize that all the salons she contacted only offered ways to hide-rather than solve-the problem. “Instead of ‘treating’ problems, the industry offered only to ‘cover-up’ problems with glamour fixes,” she says.
“This is when I knew the professional standards for natural nail care programs had to be changed,” she continues. “I soon realized that none of these professionals had really been taught a total natural care program for hands and nails.”
Gregory decided to take matters into her own hands. After researching the possibilities for healthy, natural nail care, Gregory opened the Atir- A Natural Nail Care Clinic in Roanoke, Va. Sixteen years later, 26 franchised Natural Nail Care Clinics can be found in California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Missouri, Maryland, New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennyslvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia. While the original Roanoke location still exists, the company has since moved its headquarters to Williamsburg, Va., allowing room for both a clinic and a training facility. The colonial town offers a unique niche as both a college town and a tourist destination.
Clients at Gregory’s Williamsburg location reflect the variety of the town-from students to retirees, tourists to local families. “Several hotels in the area will recommend and even set up appointments for tourists at our salon,” notes Gregory, who no longer does nails in the salon, focusing instead on running the training facility and developing the programs. “We also try to run specials for the college students, especially with all the sororities.” Thirty percent of its clients are men, something Gregory attributes to the natural environment of the salons.
IN THE MIDST OF SERENITY: Clean, uncluttered spaces are the mark of Natural Nail Care Clinics. A “modern safari” décor of beige and white is accented with red, brown, and olive green. The wood floors, that cover all but the pedicure room, which is speckled tile, and the leafy plants that decorate the rooms create a serene, natural setting. “Our products are very mild and therefore clients will not notice a strong chemical smell when they open the door,” adds Gregory. The spa-like atmosphere helps Natural Nail care Clinic customers feel relaxed and pampered.
“Clients are escorted to their seats while being offered something to drink from a variety of hot teas and coffee, hot apple cider, and water,” says Gregory. “In addition, they are offered a warm aromatherapy neck pillow to help relax and pamper them. Each new client is introduced to everyone they will come in contact with at the clinic and they are fully educated on our process and products. Overall, our clients are dedicated to us because they feel cared for. We are not here to just do their nails,’ but we are genuinely concerned with designing a nail care program especially for them.”
According to Gregory, Natural Nail Care Clinics are much more than salons-they are geared toward solving problems and creating regular nail care routines. “We specialize in rehabilitating clients who have suffered damage from wearing enhancements or who have chronic splitting and peeling problems,” says Gregory. “Our specialized products enable us to set up nail and skin care programs for clients with all different types of symptoms.”
Although they solve problems and heal damaged hands, the techs at the Natural Nail Care Clinic also work with clients to create maintenance routines that can prevent future problems. “Our goal is to help our clients achieve a new relationship with their hands by introducing them to the benefits of the Natural Nail Care Clinic’s program,” says Gregory.
Technicians first educate clients on the health of their nails and then create programs that are specific to each individual client’s needs and conditions. Natural Nail Care Clinic offers only natural solutions in both its treatments and retail products. “We want to help clients’ natural nails get better not worse, and we believe that enhancements can dry out the nail plate causing unhealthy symptoms to get worse,” comments Gregory.
THEIR OWN WAY: Natural Nail Care Clinic prides itself on its unique system. At the Williamsburg clinic for example, there are five pedicure stations and 11 custom-built manicure stations. All Natural Nail care Clinics’ manicure stations are situated around their unique, specially designed nail bar. This arrangement allows the technicians to move among the clients and serve more than one client at a time. Gregory describes the benefits of this system:
“When our bar concept we are able to have one technician work on three clients thus maximizing the amount of clients we can treat in a day.” As a result, the clinic is able to see 300-500 clients per week with only six to 10 employees.
As technicians move among the clients, they employ Natural Nail Care Clinics’ four-step program that focuses on hydration, maintenance, protection, and glamour. Natural Nail Care Clinic uses a Swiss product line for all of its programs.
“We sell a lot of retail items because everything that we use on our clients is available to be purchased,” notes Gregory. “Our new client instructional manicure stresses the products necessary to maintain healthy and strong nails in between manicure appointments. We really stress that taking care of one’s nails and skin should be a daily care regimen like brushing your teeth or taking care of your hair.” As a result, 40% of the salons’ business is retail sales. “We also do a lot of retail because everyone in the clinic is educated on all the products. When new specials come out all employees are provided with (and must memorize) pricing and creative ways to sell.”
Natural Nail Care Clinic’s technicians are thoroughly versed in all aspects of the franchise’s programs. They are put through an extensive two-week, on-site training period and are taught everything from Natural Nail Care Clinics’ specific processes to the company’s philosophy. As Gregory says, “All potential technicians are taught how to diagnose and develop a necessary nail care program for specific clients as opposed to simply how to do nails.”
Employees receive hourly wages plus full benefits. Furthermore, Gregory notes that most employees advance to management positions or go on to own a Natural Nail Care Clinic. Technicians are encouraged to assume ownership of their jobs and accomplishments. Natural Nail Care Clinics are as committed to their staff as they are to the clients they serve.
The dedication and hard work of Gregory and the thoroughness of Natural Nail Care Clinic’s program has proven to be successful. By thinking more deeply about the care and attention involved in maintaining healthy hands, Natural Nail Care Clinic has a accumulated a cache of faithful clients. As Gregory states, “Our clientele is dedicated because they have seen results and most importantly because they know we care.”
Emily Smith is a freelance writer based in Charlottesville, Va.