More than just “pretty faces,” this year’s Salon of the Year Awards finalists raised the bar of professionalism with their contributions to their industry, community, and salon.
Was it leadership in improving their state’s nail legislation? Their response to the local community’s needs? Stringent sanitation practices that earned some positive TV news coverage? Or was it their focus on their customers’ needs and wants that earned six salons and three nail technicians top honors at NAILS’ 1998 Salon of the Year Awards? Believe us, it was all that and more.
This year’s nominees made it very tough for NAILS’ panel of judges to choose winners. All of the entrants not only raised nail industry standards while running professional, successful nail businesses – they demonstrated a passionate dedication to their chosen career, their coworkers, and their clients.
When the judges finally narrowed it down to nine finalists, we asked them to join fellow nail technicians, manufacturers and distributors, as well as NAILS staff and event/show sponsor The Industry Source (a Nailco Company) to attend a special ceremony during the Great Lakes Beauty Show ’98 in Dearborn, Mich. After a lavish spread of hors d’oeuvres and drinks, NAILS and The Industry Source announced the winners to an audience of more than 200 during a slide show and special presentation that included last year’s winners, Shari Finger of Finger’s Nail Studios, and Linda Champion of Golden Shears Hair, Nails & More. The event was held on the eve of the two-day show at the Hyatt Regency Dearborn.
The two Salon of the Year winners and one Nail Technician of the Year winner in the three divisions received $500 and an engraved plaque, while the runners-up received $250 and a framed certificate. The Nail Technician of the Year winner also will be flown to California to do the nails at a photo shoot for an upcoming NAILS cover.
NAILS hopes that the nine salons and nail technicians on the following pages will inspire you by their example to make improvements to make improvements in your industry, your salon environment, and your technical skills.
 Industry Source president/CEO Larry Gaynor congratulates Athena Elliot, who combined technical skills, community service, rave client reviews, continuing education, and industry support into the Nail Technician of the Year victory.
 Nanci Soltani of Fandango brought along several staff members and her husband to help her celebrate the Salon of the Year victory. (left to right) NAILS publisher Cyndy Drummey, Fandango’s Sandy Toleson, Soltani, Larry Gaynor, and Fandango’s Terri Smith bask in post-win glory.
 Salon of the Year, 1-4 Nail Technicians winner Cathy Neben (holding plaque) had some stiff competition from not one, but two Rebecca Moores: one from All About Nails (left) and the other from Just Nails (right).
 Nail Technician of the Year runner-up Nancy King (middle) and her staff not only do great nails, run a tidy salon, and practice the ultimate in customer service – King also donates 10 hours a week in consulting time to her state board and helps shape nail-related legislation in Maryland.
 Two-time Salon of the Year winner Nail Galleria (pictured) delivered an entry package that proved why it is one of the top salons in the country; impeccable sanitation, a staff that operates as a team, tip-top client service, beautiful décor, and a true love of the nail industry.
 Runners-up in one of the closest races (Salon of the Year, 5+ Nail Technicians category), Nail Clinic invited their entire staff to the show to support owners Laurie, Piskur, Lori Gillespie, and Michelle Barna.
 “We are the champions …” Larry Gaynor congratulates the Salon of the Year and Nail Technician of the Year winners (left to right) Athena Elliott, Fandango owner Nanci Soltani, and Hair Spa owner Cathy Neben.
Salon Success - the Science and the Art
WINNER: Hair Spa
Owner: Cathy Neben
Location: Houston, TX
Years in Business: 3
Staff Size: 7
Winning Words: “A vote for Hair Spa is a vote for the consumer.”
Cathy Neben’s background reads like a medical chart, as so much of the twists and turns of her life were precipitated by medical problems.
After high school, Neben chose to major in pre-med in college, focusing on biology because she wanted to study how to eliminate pseudomonas from the lungs. “My brother has cystic fibrosis, and pseudomonas grows in the lungs of people who have that disease,” she explains. Neben’s dreams were put on hold when as a freshman, she was critically injured in a car accident that crushed much of the left side of her body and required many surgeries to recover.
Then, just when she thought she could return to school, she developed gallstones, which couldn’t be surgically removed for awhile because of the injuries from the car accident. By the time she finally was well enough to return to school, she decided to continue her studies in biology, but also to obtain a master’s degree in social work. After she graduated she married and immediately became pregnant.
After her daughter was born, Neben says she started gaining weight and feeling sick again. After months of tests, the doctors realized that her clavicle was putting pressure on her jugular vein, and removed it. But almost as soon as she felt better, she felt bad again.
An epileptic, Neben says the doctors finally diagnosed the symptoms as a type of seizure, but weren’t sure of the cause. In the meantime, Neben says she had discovered the Hair Spa, where she went to get her nails done because it made her feel good about herself. When the salon owner decided to sell, Neben – who had given up thoughts of pursuing a medical career – bought it.
“I bought the shop in a haze, and I didn’t know what I was getting into,” she says. “Then the seizures got worse and I almost lost the business because it wasn’t being managed.” Fortunately, she finally discovered the culprit – she was allergic to MSG – and from there got the salon back on track.
As she got involved on the day-to-day running of the salon, Neben became fascinated by acrylic nails and began to research them. When she came across a study that showed artificial nails can harbor pseudomonas bacteria – the same bacteria that got her interested in a career in medicine – she was hooked. With then-director of nail services and past NAHA winner Marti Preuss, Neben got Hair Spa involved in a series of investigative reports on nail salons. “The series was so well received,” she says, “that Channel 2 repeated the most popular segment in a July 1998 primetime special, ‘Dateline – Houston.’
“As professionals, we are all committed to educating the consumers, our clients, and ourselves about health issues in the beauty industry,” Neben says. “At our salon we accomplish this by attending trade shows and belonging to The Salon Association. Taking advantage of classes offered at no cost from local distributors provides additional training.”
After the news shows aired, Neben and Preuss realized the need for even more consumer education and they decided to sponsor a “Day of Nails” seminar, which Preuss taught.
“The Day of Nails showed consumers what to look for in a good nail salon,” Neben says. “Marti had a lot of information and pictures of different fungi and bacteria, and she showed what drill damage looked like.” Neben’s sorority sold tickets to the event, and donated the proceeds to Children’s Miracle Network.
Since Preuss has left the salon because of musculoskeletal disorders in her hands and wrists, former lead nail tech Sharon Jones has taken the position of nail director. With Jones, Neben hopes to become a “watchdog” for the nail industry. “Educators are telling technicians that it’s OK to do pedicures on people with fungus, and then there’s the whole thing with damage to nails from incorrect drill use.”
As for Credo blades, Neben thinks the only way to stop their use is to ban their sale to nail technicians in Texas. “I was at my daughter’s school volunteering when I was called to the principal’s office. I thought, Oh, God, what could my daughter have done?” she says with a laugh. “But she just wanted to know if it was true that those blades were illegal for use on the feet in the salon.”
While she got off to a rocky start with the salon, Neben has enjoyed tremendous success since immersing herself in the business and the nail industry. While the salon’s name may be Hair Spa, the focus is on nails, massage, and skin care. This past September, she expanded the salon from 1,200 to 3,400 square feet, expanding the pedicure area from one whirlpool spa to four (keeping the old one to use for children during mother/daughter pedicures). She also added three more nail stations, two soundproof massage rooms with a pocket door that slides open between the two, another facial room, and a separate room for acrylic nail services so that spa clients won’t be bothered by the odor.
With the original salon decorated with antiques that Neben inherited or bought, she carried that theme into the new area. Her newest pieces include a red velvet settee from a Texas cotton giant’s home, which will centerpiece the new nail area and separate the pedicure area from the nail stations, and an 8-foot by 5-foot art nouveau fireplace mantel with seven mirrors. She placed the mantel in the salon’s entryway to display nail polishes.
Even with all of the significant investments she’s recently made in the salon/spa, Neben is determined to keep her prices as reasonable as possible. “I’m the Walmart of the spa world,” she says, referring to her $45 full-hour massage and $30 deep-cleansing facial. “There’s nothing wrong with the high-end day spas, but normal, regular people can’t afford to go to once a month. Why shouldn’t a single mom have a few moments of relaxation? I have state-of-the art equipment and I want everyone to be able to afford to enjoy it.”
We think feet are neat, especially after they have been in our Whirlpool Pedicure Throne.
 Hair Spa’s antique décor includes matching vanities, chairs, and mirrors that come from old plantation bedrooms.
 One of Cathy Neben’s favorite salon advertisements tells consumers about Hair Spa’s gift packages for special occasions. It’s no wonder… the week of Mother’s Day she generated $3,000 in gift certificate sales.
 Hair Spa’s professional atmosphere and reasonable service prices (one-hour whirlpool pedicures are $25 and luxury facials are $30) appeal to all clients.
 Neben (here with daughter Suzanne) recently expanded Hair Spa from 1,200 to 3,400 square feet, adding three more nail stations and three more whirlpool pedicure spas.
All the Right Moves
RUNNER-UP: All About Nails
Location: Northampton, Pa.
Owner: Rebecca Moore
Years in Business: 2
Staff Size: 5 (4 nail technicians)
Winning Words: “One of the best things about the award is that it has encouraged my staff to get involved and learn more about nails and competing.”
You know you’re doing something right when you get your nail technician’s license in September, open your first nail salon in mid-November, then triple your staff in December. Well, it appears that when Rebecca Moore opened All About Nails in Northampton, Pa. – just two years ago – she did a lot of things right.
“Everything moved so quickly that my head was spinning,” says Moore, who not only completed the state’s mandatory 200-hour cosmetology course in 1996, but also hung around for another 100 hours for the extra training.
Once certified and confident about her education, Moore started planning her salon. Two weeks after the state inspector’s approval, All About Nails opened above a bridal shop in a renovated two-story building built in the 1800s.
The first thing Moore did was design the salon with her clients’ comfort in mind: fresh flowers and billowy chairs in the lobby, nail stations situated far enough apart for privacy yet close enough to chat with a neighbor and angled so that every client can look out the window.
Moore took all the help she could get, including assistance from her father Frank, who wallpapered the entire salon in carefully chosen, soothing print patterns.
Once the furnishings were in place, Moore began promoting. She developed her own logo and salon collateral, using mostly modest-sized mailings to promote holiday drawings, summer specials, discounted birthday parties for kids, free nail art, mother-daughter specials, and alternating monthly client discounts.
Then, she began networking in the community by joining business associations and getting involved in community service, all the while adding finishing touches to the salon’s décor, learning new techniques, trying new products and services, instructing her staff, finding new ways to make her clients more comfortable, and yes, always promoting.
In just two years, after putting her heart and soul into All About Nails, Moore says she has already realized two of her major goals: running a successful salon and receiving the awards nomination.
“The awards ceremony and the show were such great learning experiences for me. It was my first big show, so I took advantage of it,” says Moore, who attended as many classes and seminars as possible.
Accompanying Moore to the awards ceremony were her husband, mother, and sister. “The only one missing was my father,” says Moore. “My father has always been my most avid supporter, but ever since he heard that I was nominated as a finalist in NAILS Salon of the Year Awards, I think he’s been busting at the seams with pride,” she says.
 Salon owner Rebecca Moore says that when a client comes to All About Nails, it may be the only time in a week or two that may be the only time in a week or two that she may get to relax. “It’s a great chance to escape while being pampered,” she says.
 All About Nails specializes in acrylics, gels, wraps, and hand-painted nail art designs.
 Moore knows how to promote nail art. A card is laminated permanently on each nail station, reading “Free Nail Art – This is the design of the week. Any other art stripes are $.75.” The nail tips are changed weekly, and the color and designs are only repeated twice each year.