At Avanté Studio & Spa, Maggie Boyd has created her seal of power both in the nail industry and in life as she works to empower her clients and her fellow nail professionals.
With all of her work for the nail industry — she has served as a board member for various associations, including the Nails Industry Association, and she was instrumental in the nail technician licensing law passing in Illinois — Maggie Boyd might be described as crazy for nails. But the owner of Avanté Studio & Spa in Barrington, Ill., has an even bigger passion than nails: women’s issues.
“I am for women,” Boyd says simply. And the nail industry, too, is for women, Boyd says. “I believe this business is one of the most empowering things a woman can do. This is a profession that helps women excel.”
“My passion for what I do comes out of what I am. I like being a woman, and I like working with women.” As for her clients, Boyd says, “The women who come to my salon are empowered because they do things for themselves.”
Boyd didn’t always hold these views. In fact, she spent the first 15 years of her career in the corporate world “chasing the almighty dollar,” as she puts it, before she burned out.
“I was working in sales, which I loved because I was working with people, but I had to take advantage of them. I couldn’t do that, so I quit,” remembers Boyd.
Boyd looked for a job where she could earn “grocery money,” and saw an ad for a manicurist. She had 900 hours of cosmetology training so she was familiar with the industry, so Boyd decided to give it a whirl. That was 1983; by 1986 she had opened her first salon, Nail Splash. In 1990 she opened Avanté Studio. In 1995, she expanded the scope of her services and changed its name to Avanté Studio & Spa to reflect the changes.
Unhappily married and in love with her new career, Boyd says she was soon working 14 hours a day six days a week. By 1990 Boyd found she had no life outside of work so she made another change. “I left my husband and cut my hours in half,” she says. To try to make tip for the lost hours, Boyd raised her service price $5. Still, she was startled to discover that her income actually increased 10% that year. Another of life’s lessons learned, says Boyd, who’s adopted the maxim “work smarter, not harder.”
Work Smart = Work Healthy
Even as her business’s success grew, Boyd’s health started to fail. In 1985 she started to have blurred vision. Although at the time she didn’t connect it with her blurred vision, she also found she was more irritable than usual. As time went on, headache’s plagued her and irritability became part of her nature.
“I had hormone tests done and my blood sugar levels checked and they were all fine,” remembers Boyd. But all was not fine. By 1989, she could no longer smell the acrylic products she worked with and she had severe headaches after seven-hour days in the salon.
“By then I had read enough to think something was chemically wrong with me so I pulled all the high-odor products out of my salon,” says Boyd. The headaches went away and the irritability soon faded (although Boyd admits her personality is naturally abrasive).
Boyd discovered that she suffered from chemical sensitivity to acrylic products so she switched her salon exclusively to light-cured gels. At the same time, she moved her salon to a larger location in Barrington and designed a local exhaust .system for her new location.
She didn’t want a table with a vent in the tabletop because heavy dust falls straight to the tabletop anyway. Nor was she satisfied with local exhaust systems that put the intake valve in the ceiling because, she says, “It has to get past my face to get to the ceiling.”
Boyd developed her own local exhaust system using a few pieces of flexible hose attached to a swing lamp. One hose .suctions dust, while the other hose could be placed near an acrylic monomer to remove vapors, if she ever allowed them back in her salon. The dust and vapors are pulled through a box in the basement and vented to the outside.
“The whole goal is that if I’m going to work here, it has to be pleasant for me and for my technicians,” says Boyd. As for their health, all the nail technicians’ workstations are equipped with a local exhaust system. “Now I’m trying to figure out away to save their hands and wrists from carpal tunnel syndrome,” Boyd says.
Her concern for her and her employees’ health goes beyond the obvious, as well. Tucked away in a private space are an exercise bike and a treadmill that Boyd encourages technicians to use to stay fit.
Boyd bases all her business decisions on doing what’s best — best for her, best for her employees, and best for her clients. For her employees, what’s best is a healthy environment where they can earn respect and achieve success. She also wants them to enjoy life, which is why she encourages them to work three days a week like herself, rather than five.
For her clients, Boyd’s best includes providing a service that allows them to grow their natural nails even if they’re reinforced with a gel overlay. To achieve this, Boyd insists that clients heed her advice.
“When my clients sit down, I’m the boss. When they want a longer length or a different shape than I recommend, I tell them I’m the professional. First I ask, ‘Have you ever grown your nails yourself?’ Then I tell them I have helped thousands of clients grow their own nails by doing it my way. Then I ask them if they’ve; gotten what they want doing it their own way, and they say no. I produce results; that’s how I keep them,” Boyd says.
While Boyd’s attitude seems brash to some, it’s all based on respect. “My business is very successful because of my clients,” Boyd says. “What I do for them is try to give them the best products and to use those products the way they should be used. My clients have made me a success,” she says. She hasn’t always had this attitude, Boyd admits, but it’s the one that’s gotten her where she is today.
Just where is she? At the top of the heap, at least in Barrington, an upper-middle-class suburb of Chicago with just 9,000 residents. Avanté’s clients pay $85 for a full set, and $40 for a two-week fill. Boyd is quick to point out she and her live technicians all have full books.
Granted, until just a few months ago there weren’t any low-price alternatives in Barrington. But within the past few months, two discount salons opened nearby. Boyd refuses to view them as competition, however, because; they don’t offer gels. Also, adds Boyd, “There’s a top and a bottom. To counter the competition, I’m going to raise my prices, probably $5, in 1996. These salons aren’t doing what I do. I’m worth the money I make,” Boyd affirms. “The; discount salons can fight over the bottom. I want the people at the top who know they’re: worth it and are willing to spend it.”
Set Your Sights High
Boyd decorated her salon to attract those “people at the top.” The high ceiling gives the salon an open felling, while; the abundant plants add warmth. Off-white paint tinted with pink provides a calming effect, while’ the deep blue on the ceiling and the; burgundy on the custom-built tables both attract “educated, upwardly mobile people,” says Boyd, who made a study of colors before opening her first salon. “Aqua and pale pink incite fantasy in women, for example. These are subtle things, but subtle things make a difference,” she adds.
Other subtle touches include keeping the salon’s mini blinds open in the- evening when the salon is open. The activity in the salon attracts the attention of passers-by, says Boyd. Another small touch that’s had a significant impact on clients is Avantés network bulletin board. Salon clients are- invited to promote their own businesses by putting cards or fliers on the board. Other clients cheek out the board and often use the services advertised.
While Boyd saws making money is not her top priority, Avantés success has allowed her to move forward in life. For years she reinvested her profits in the salon, upgrading the decor and equipment. In 1993, she moved Avanté to a better, roomier location; in 1994, she purchased the property and she’s now her own landlord, as well as landlord to several other businesses. In 1995, she realized a personal dream and bought her own home on live acres of land with two horses. “This is my reward for 12 years of hard work,” she says.
Giving As Good As She Gets
Her hard work has reached farther than her own salon. Boyd also has dedicated much time to bettering the image of the industry and of professional nail technicians. “Originally, it had to do with finding out what’s in these nail products. That led me to join the National Cosmetology Association and to go to all their shows. Product knowledge is absolutely everything,” says Boyd.
“I care about education,” says Boyd, who has spent hundreds of hours with other concerned professionals lobbying state legislators and drafting a proposed bill for licensing as well as proposed regulations.
“I want education so people entering the industry can have a basis of knowledge to make decisions and choices. My goal was and is to protect the technician, myself included. I want to make nail care as marketable as hair and makeup,” Boyd says.
Boyd is still active with several associations, attending shows and teaching classes.
New Mountains To Climb
Boyd is looking closer to home for future challenges. She added skin care to the salon with two private facial rooms and an open makeup area more than a year ago, and she’s also considering offering tanning.
Boyd is already thinking ahead to how she wants to remodel the salon, which she says she will do in the next year or two, even though the current location opened with completely new furnishings just 2½ years ago. Most people really like change, explains Boyd, because it keeps things fresh and exciting. “In big malls, stores usually have to remodel their stores every few years as part of their lease contract. You need to renew a salon at least once every five years.”
As for the distant future, Boyd is open to opportunities. Eventually, she hopes to start a foundation for battered women, using profits from the salon to find it. “There’s a lot of violence against women, and I would like to help change that. At one time I feared for my life. I want to help women and end oppression,” Boyd says.
There’s no question that she’s already helped women, both through her educational classes and work for associations, and in her salon, where, she admits, “Sometimes I’ll even get a bit mouthy with a woman who has an oppressed attitude.”
And if it takes one to know one, rest assured that Maggie Boyd knows a woman with an attitude when she sees one.