From Motorcycles to Manicures

Creating a salon from an auto parts shop was a lot like giving a nail service – involved cleaning up the dirt, giving the area some shape, and adding a couple coats of paint.


Opening a new salon requires  a series of transformations – the owner must become the combination financial wizard, business manager, interior decorator, personnel manager, supply supervisor, and janitor. And the building or space, piece by piece, becomes a nail salon.

Getting a salon in shape can be a challenge, especially when the space needs electrical outlets, ventilation, and major clean-up. Bonny Adolph, president of Naturally Nails in Baltimore, Md., met these challenges when she created her second Naturally nails in space that used to be a combination video store, auto parts store, and the “shop” where the former owner fixed up his motorcycle.

While a combination auto parts store and motorcycle repair shop seems unlikely as the inspiration for a spacious, elegant nail salon, it was the building itself that prompted Adolph to look into opening a second business. “Basically, what happened was I become interested in the location, a big glass building,” says Adolph. “It was good people see other people getting the service done, it make them want to become a part of the crowd.”

In addition, the building is located on a very busy street near two popular restaurants. After learning that the owner would consider renting the space, Adolph checked her finances with her brother, manager Ernie Carico, who now does the accounting for both salons, to be sure she could afford the rent and turn a profit. Adolph’s preparation also included visiting other salons. “A couple salons in the area were doing okay,” she says, and that encourage her to check the zoning regulations and lease the space.


Already being n the nail business was a plus, says Adolph. “I knew we were ready to open a salon because we already had equity in the business, we were turning a profit, and we knew we could make the rent,” says Adolph. “When you open a new business, it’s a good idea to have at least six months to a year’s worth of rent as cushion.” In addition, Naturally Nails already had built relationships with product distributors and the bank.

Phyllis Carico, Adolph’s mother trusted her daughter’s business instincts – after all, Adolph had convinced Carico to go to nail school with her and open the first Naturally Nails in March 1989.

“She’s very enthusiastic, very persuasive,” Carico laughs. “We had the time to open a second salons, and were ready for more business.” Today, vice president Carico manages the Naturally Nails location in Golden Ring Mall, leaving the new location on Harford Road in her daughter’s hands.


Before Naturally Nails moved in, the glass building had a dirty tile floor and wood paneling. Adolph and her family added freestanding wall to separate the business from the others in the building, painted the walls, paneling, and poles white, put down a black floor, and added hot pink fabric from the top of the freestanding wall to the ceiling. They also installed an alarm system, ceiling fans to keep the air circulating and to reduce odors, and extra electrical outlets.

Doing most of the construction work themselves saved money. “We did a lot of scrubbing and cleaning,” says Adolph. “Why pay someone else to clean and paint? I wanted to save money there and buy nice furniture instead.”

Adolph recommends that new salon owners save money by doing as much construction as possible themselves. “So many people employ all these fancy contractors and interior decorators,” she says, “and get top-of-the-line equipment at a very high price. They should do what they can themselves – they can save a lot.”


Four employees moved with Adolph to the new location. She wanted to have experienced nail technicians with her because “even if the salon is new, people like to know they’re going to a nail tech who’s been in the business a long time,” says Adolph. She hired and trained two new technicians, while Carico hired four more at the Golden Ring Mall location. Some clients followed Adolph to the new location as well.

Whether she’s servicing clients or managing employees, Adolph’s philosophy is the same: “My goal is to touch a lot of people and make them happy. If I am giving a lot of good, I’ll get it back.”

She stresses to her employees that making clients happy is their first priority, and strives to make her employees happy by giving them all the products they need plus 50% commission. Perks include Christmas bonuses, contest, and prizes. “It’s really family, really tight,” says Adolph. “If I’m good to them, they’re good to me.”

Working with family members has brought challenges and benefits, especially where management is concerned. “The three of us – Bonny, Ernie, and me – made this business go,” says Carico. “We had to learn to let each other have each other’s way.”

Clients like the family atmosphere. “We get a wide range of clients because I have a way with the older clients and Bonny has a way with younger clients. Everyone feels comfortable,” explains Carico.


The grand opening was an encouraging start, says Adolph. Both scheduled clients and walk-ins took advantage of the free nail designs offered. Adolph reaches potential clients by advertising in yellow pages, participating in coupon mailings, and advertising in the local paper. “And pushing and asking,” Adolph adds. “They’re not going to come to you.”

Adolph’s new salon promises to be as successful as her first. Her advice, “Do as much as you can yourself,” applies to business sense as well as decorating. Look for opportunities everywhere, and whatever your inspiration, make the transformation.

By Annie Gorton.

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