From salon to nail school to high school vocational training, what started out as a slow-growing investment has now boomed into a still-growing “family” of nail techs.
On the second Tuesday of every month, the 35 staff members of Color My Nails Salon can be seen dancing to “We Are Family” blasting from the stereo. The surrounding manicure tables are a reminder that this is no dance club; salon owner Monica Bruin sees these meetings as a way to get some stress out, have fun, and get the techs together.
Located in Midvale, Utah, the salon opened 26 years ago. Bruin started Color My Nails with a full clientele and two techs, and from the beginning, she was careful to stay out of debt. “My husband built the tables. I bought wicker furniture for the front because that’s all I could afford,” she says. “Every year, when I earned more money and more clientele came, I would build another desk. And then I would build another desk, and another, and that’s how I built the business. I never did anything I couldn’t afford,” Bruin says.
Creating the Right Space
Color My Nails now has 30 nail technicians and has expanded physically as well. Bruin changes the decor every four years, when her lease is up for renewal, but the look she always goes for is homey and comfortable. For wall paint, she chooses the popular colors at the time, and currently, the salon’s different sections are painted gold, red, green, purple, and burgundy. Walls are lined with bulletin boards and photos of techs at work.
The salon has 24 manicure tables in the main room and three pedicure stations in the back room. Shared among all the techs, the pedi spas are always in use, and sometimes the staff has to turn clients away.
At the entrance is the retail area, which houses a display of products unrelated to nails. Bruin’s sister, Traci, scours gift shows, collecting unique purses and jewelry that fly off the shelves. “Our retail items sell like crazy,” says Bruin, who estimates sales of $1,000 weekly on retail alone.
Salon clients are mostly career women, and Bruin enforces a dress code to ensure a professional look. The price for a mani and pedi are $20 and $40, although techs with more experience charge their own rates.
Bruin says it’s the salon’s long presence in the city, little competition with neighboring discount salons, and its central location in Midvale that bring in the 200 to 400 walks-ins monthly. “When you’ve been here for so long, people just know about you,” she says.
The high volume of walk-ins allows newer techs to acquire their own clients, one of the ways that Bruin maintains so many techs. Half of the techs have been at the salon between five and 20 years. “Twenty-five percent of techs who leave my salon end up calling me back for a job within two years,” she says, referring to techs who leave with a clientele that drops off, but are unable to recover due to lack of walk-ins.
Thirty-five women working in close quarters can be tough, and Bruin does what she can to bolster team spirit. She makes sure to solve any problems before they get out of control. “If there’s something between two techs, usually I grab both of them and we go talk about it,” she says.
At the monthly meetings, besides dancing, there’s food and a drawing for prizes for those who arrive on time. Bruin also awards the Star of the Month to the tech who is the biggest team player. In addition, she throws a slumber party in a park every July, and during the annual Christmas party, a Star of the Year is voted on. The winner gets a cash prize, two weeks of free rent, and a plaque on the wall with her photo. “These are the things, in my opinion, that keep up the morale in my salon; it’s why I have techs who have been here for 20 years,” Bruin says.
Passing the Knowledge On
Bruin has two managers running the salon — she’s actually only there Thursdays. Since 2002, she’s been more occupied with the Color My Nails Nail School of Technology that’s opened across the street. Having always trained techs in the back of her salon, starting a school and getting it accredited was a natural step.
The newer techs at the salon usually already know each other, having all studied at the same school. “Nowadays, I don’t take on anybody unless they come from my school and know how I train and do nails,” Bruin says. With 40 students, it’s not a surprise that she has a waiting list of techs wanting to work at the salon.
Having a school and salon so close together has been beneficial. “My school keeps my salon very full,” she says. She can refer complicated procedures to the salon, and when the pedi spas are full at the salon, she can send clients over to the school, where there are 10 pedicure stations. In addition, it’s made her more well-known in the industry.
What’s more, Bruin is spreading her nail expertise further by reaching out to area high schools, where vocational training is offered. Students are bussed into career centers, and Bruin sends instructors there.
“The hope with the high school girls is that when they take the classes at the tech center, they will love nails, and come to CMN school to continue their education and get licensed,” she says. With 10% of these girls signing up for summer classes, Bruin sees the program as successful and is looking to expand to other districts.