Owner Thao Nguyen left a career in law to create a charming, successful nail haven from the ground up with the help of her sister Ha Nguyen.
The inspiration for Tips2Toes decor was interior design styles from various Japanese and Korean movies.
Based in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada, Tips2Toes Nail Spa is a Victorian romance-themed retreat that focuses on exceptional services in a relaxing atmosphere. Owner Thao Nguyen runs the salon with business partner and twin sister Ha Nguyen using the skills they learned growing up in their parents’ nail salon.
Thao, born in Hong Kong and raised in Canada, considers herself to be a mix of traditional and western influences. From the age of 13 until they began college, she and her sister helped out in every aspect of their parents’ nail salon, including translating for them and problem solving. After college, Thao decided to open a salon upon realizing that her career at a law firm was unsatisfying. “I wanted to try to run my own business, so the next best thing to do was to return to my roots,” she says. As Nguyen began looking into a newly developing area, her sister Ha agreed to help while she was in college working on her graduate studies.
“All those years of translating and taking care of my parents’ business, dealing with lease negotiations, payroll, and marketing — all these skills came in handy when they were needed,” Nguyen says. Despite being young, she convinced a board of directors to approve her business plan for a prime unit next door to a Starbucks.
“Each week I slowly gained their respect and eventually they loved the business plan and decor ideas,” Nguyen says. She and her sister attribute most of their success to their mother, Be Thi Nguyen, now retired, who enjoys helping out on the weekends. “She helps clean and make sure everything is in tiptop shape for us. You know how moms can be,” Nguyen laughs.
The unique manicure booths were created to enhance the relaxing experience of being in the salon with added privacy and comfort.
Sweet, Soft, and Inventive
Inspiration for the salon’s dreamy decor came from Japanese and Korean films. “We find that a lot of soft colors and wallpaper were used for a cozy, cute effect,” Nguyen says. “Bright lights and white, sheer curtains remind us of romantic getaways and canopy beds.”
The salon’s color palette incorporates sweet mauves, creamy vanillas, and chocolate browns for a feminine and modern look. High ceilings blanketed with soft, romantic drapes are accented by hanging lamps and white Victorian-inspired chandeliers.
The salon holds eight manicure stations and four pedicure basins within the main space, and includes a back room for waxing and make-up services. Three of the manicure stations are located on a long table on the right half of the salon while the four pedicure basins are placed in the back. Both sections are separated by a low wall.
On the left, five unique manicure booths sit back to back, each resembling intimate restaurant seating for two. “The booths were an idea we came up with to provide more privacy for our clients,” Nguyen says. “We didn’t like the idea of our customers crammed in next to one another.”
During the construction process, Nguyen had to do a great deal of pricing research to avoid being taken advantage of by contractors, she says. She also had to present a business plan at a bank to obtain funding for plumbing, electricity, cement, dry wall, and an HVAC system.
“Everything else was done by my sister and me, with help from some friends and family. This helped tremendously because we had such a limited budget,” she says. “I remember my sister and I went to Home Depot for free tutorials on how to lay tiles and plaster walls. We literally slept in the salon every night for a month and a half, working as quickly and as hard as we could.”
(left to right) Owner Thao Nguyen stands with her mom, Be Thi Nguyen, and sister/business partner Ha Nguyen in their salon's main foyer. The sisters created the salon from the ground up, which included everything from negotiating with contractors to laying down tile and flooring themselves.
The Nguyen sisters, both certified as nail techs in 2002, have return clients who are not only loyal to them, but were also loyal to their parents many years ago. “Clients appreciate that we take the time to know them and understand exactly what they are looking for,” Nguyen says. “We respect that everyone is different and has different tastes and preferences.”
Tips2Toes’ services include manicures, pedicures, nail art, gel and acrylic nail extensions, OPI Axxium services, waxing services, makeup applications, paraffin wax treatments for hands and feet, and airbrushing. The salon specializes in freehand nail art, as well as the popular pedicures that include full leg and foot massages. Currently, about 90% of the salon’s services focus on nails.
The salon's popular pedicure basins were built in their entirety by owner Thao Nguyen and her sister Ha, using training they obtained by attending classes at a home improvement retailer.
In addition, large group parties for bridal showers, children, and corporate events are another salon specialty. With regard to pricing, manicures start at $17, pedicures start at $33, and a la carte services range from $3 for a nail repair to upwards of $60 for certain nail services. “The most popular nail treatment at our salon is the $45 manicure and pedicure combo,” Nguyen says. “We spend an hour to an hour and a half and we are thorough, which our customers enjoy very much.”
“Our clients are usually referred by word of mouth,” Nguyen says. The salon also markets itself through radio and contests, the website, and cross-marketing with other businesses.
“We try to give our clients specials each month — something different and new. We also offer half-price services on the seventh visit,” she adds. During peak season in summer and winter, each employee sees anywhere from six to 12 clients a day. Slow seasons usually consist of busy nights and a steady flow of clients throughout the weekends. “From time to time, it is nice to get together with clients and chat,” Nguyen says. “Trust and reputation can’t be bought, so it is very important to me to make sure that everyone is happy and satisfied.”
Lighthearted Atmosphere The employees at Tips2Toes are all friends but maintain professional respect for each other and work as a team to improve. “We always try to keep each other grounded and remind each other of our focus and goals,” Nguyen says. “We all have to work, but if we make it fun, it won’t feel like work.”
Initially, Nguyen faced some difficulty finding and hiring technicians who would abide by her salon’s rules and speak English no matter what their background was. “I felt that as long as the employee tried and learned along the way, customers would still appreciate her efforts,” she says.
The team makes a point to share any and all new techniques with each other and as an incentive, Nguyen arranges group events for the team as well as monthly staff dinners to discuss suggestions, improvements, and new changes. “This keeps the communication open and free, and this helps keep morale positive at the work place,” she says. In addition, all employees receive services free of charge as a means to keep themselves looking their best and to also inspire customers to try out new services.
“My goal was to offer something different to the clients, in service and the environment experience aspect,” Nguyen says. “We wanted to make others happy and to try to make a change in this nail industry — maybe try and gain more respect for the art in this industry and acknowledge those who have the passion for it.”
Salon Name: Tips2Toes Nail Spa
Location: Kitchener, Ontario, Canada
Owner: Thao Nguyen, partner/manager Ha Nguyen
Square Footage: 926
Years of ownership: 3
Number of Nail Techs/Total Staff: 5/7
Specialties: Pedicures and freehand nail art