Business Management

Top Salons and Techs Honored at Industry Awards

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.


Glamour, Kentucky Style

RUNNER-UP: Just Nails

Location: Erlanger, Ky.

Owner: Rebecca Moore

Years in Business: 8

Staff Size: 4 nail technicians

Winning Words: “My salon reflects everything that I am. I share a little of myself with everyone who walks in the door.”

As Rebecca (Becky) Moore changes and grows, so does her salon, and so does her commitment to the nail industry. That’s how her salon grew from 400 to 1,300 square feet, undergoing four renovations so far. That’s why she changed her staff from booth renters to employees in 1997. That’s why she wrote letters urging a bill banning MMA and even appeared before the state legislature to answer questions on the subject. What’s more, she mentors students at three local cosmetology schools, teaches nail classes, and judges competitions.

Moore describes her salon’s unique décor as “Kentucky meets Pottery Barn meets Hollywood.” Her husband Craig built just about every piece of furniture in the salon. “We tried to combine natural products, like different kinds of wood and concrete with shiny stainless steel for a décor that’s modern, fashionable, and clean-looking, but still comfortable and functional,” says Moore. There are two nail rooms, a private pedicure area, a min pedicure area, a reception area with retail displays, a storage and supply area, and an employee break room.

At one point, Moore had a staff of six booth renters. “But,” says Moore, “there was no unity among the staff, no teamwork, and nothing was uniform.” So she converted to employees, temporarily reducing staff size, and has seen positive results. The salon offers its employees a full slate of benefits including medical insurance, liability insurance, workers’ compensation, and paid vacations and holidays. She also holds incentive contests on a regular basis.

Moore expects a lot of her employees in return. All nail technicians are certified by Creative Nail Design’s Masters program and by Backscratchers. She pays for them to attend nail shows and classes regularly. All staff members are expected to follow the rules contained in the 12-page employee handbook and practice the utmost in sanitation. A “sanitation creed” is posted for all clients to see.

As she walks in the door, each client is greeted and offered a beverage. Waiting customers may relax with a complimentary spa foot soak. “Every month we offer a new special to our regular clients as well as to prospective clients,” says Moore. “We also provide homecare instructional sheets and two brochures related to fungal problems, along with referrals to local dermatologists.” Always striving to be on the cutting edge, they offer henna tattoos and client workshops, and also have a new spa menu in the works.

[1] Most of the furniture in the salon was designed and built by Moore’s husband Craig. He also knocked down walls and built the break room, storage area, and private pedicure area.

[2] Posing after the awards dinner are (from left) Sarah Cox, Catherine Martin, Rebecca Moore, and Deborah Eisenman.

[3] Just Nails nearly swept NAILS’ 1998 Graphics Contest, winning or placing in three categories. Elegance, simplicity, and consistency define their look.


Heart & Soul

WINNER: Fandango

Location: Santa Rosa, Calif.

Owner: Nanci Soltani

Years in Business: 3

Staff Size: 5

Winning Words: “We’re trying to change the whole view of the nail industry by being community involved and bringing positive awareness to it.”

When Nanci Soltani, owner of Fandango in Santa Rosa, Calif., found out her salon had won the 1998 Nail Salon of the Year Award, she and her four nail technicians were shocked. “We were overwhelmed and excited. We weren’t expecting this at all because we’ve never entered before,” she says. For them, the first time was certainly a charm.

However, two of the technicians could not make it to the awards banquet, so they celebrated by painting “No. 1 Nail Salon” on the salon’s windows and filling its interior with streamers, balloons, and glitter. The salon looked as though a celebration bomb had gone off, Soltani says.

Giving back to the community is what Fandango is all about. Its strong ties with the local community started three years ago, after adopting a local family for Christmas. Since then, the salon’s – and clients’ – generosity has quickly expanded. During the holidays, Soltani and her staff put up a tree with “name stars,” featuring names of children and families from local agencies. When clients come in, they select a star and later return with a gift, which they place under the tree. Soltani and her team personally deliver the gifts right in time for Christmas.

Fandango does not limit himself to giving during Christmas, however. Each summer, the salon holds a summer party, which doubles as a canned food drive for the Sonoma County Food Bank. “We’re grateful to our community for supporting us, so we want to give back. We think it’s important,” Soltani says.

She is so involved in fact, that after winning the award, Soltani decided to use a portion of the $500 cash prize to buy a VCR for a special education class whose teacher happens to be a client.

Soltani says Fandango’s customers, which currently number about 400, are also what make the salon so special. “It’s a family feeling. They’re not only clients, they’re also our friends.

“It’s kind of a neat business because the people who keep coming to you are the ones who like you anyway,” Soltani says. “Our clients are really happy with the quality of service here, our sanitation practices, and the fact that we consistently continue our education.”

Clients are so pleased with the service that when Soltani was putting together the entry package for the award, many of them offered to write letters of recommendation. Soon, letters flooded the salon, each one lavishing more praise on the salon than the last. Soltani was so overwhelmed by all the positive comments that she decided to include all 34 of them in her entry.

Upon entering Fandango, clients say they instantly feel at home. Not only do they receive a salon menu, but a letter welcoming them to the salon. The décor also plays a major part in the salon’s relaxed, laid-back atmosphere: cozy blue-and-white striped couches filled with throw pillows, a bright blue carpet, and potted plants all lend an air of familiarity. The look is warm and friendly in a professional kind of way. Soltani calls it a “country eclectic look.” The salon also has glass-topped matching nail stations situated near its windows. Frescoes adorn the salon’s walls and add to its comforting atmosphere.

Fandango was actually born in 1995, after the owner of the nail salon that formerly occupied its space moved to another city. Soltani worked in that salon and after her employer’s move, she decided to keep it open, albeit with a different name. Not only did Soltani purchase Fandango, she also had a wall knocked down to make room for her and the new team. One of her clients had gone to manicuring school, so Soltani hired her. After hanging out at the salon and watching the technicians do pink and whites, another technician joined the team. The last technician hired was actually working at another local salon, but after she was hospitalized, that salon rented her station to someone else.

In order to stay at the cutting edge of new products and technology, Soltani and her technicians make sure to regularly attend both manufacturer and independent continuing education classes. In addition, the salon is also open to nail technicians who are interested in learning how to sculpt pink and whites ae Fandango’s self-proclaimed specialty. Staff members also regularly compete in local and national competitions.

Educating clients is also a key part of the salon’s philosophy. That way, they will be able to make choices about their own nail care and will know when they are being treated properly. Soltani says everything is sanitized in front of clients so they know exactly what is happening. This way, if they go out of town or have to move, they will know what to look for in a new salon.

“I’ve heard horror stories from people of where they’ve been, but they didn’t know they were endangering themselves,” she says. “If we educate them, it’s like a light bulb goes on and they realize how safe our profession can be.”

With much of her time invested in her salon and staff, Soltani does find time to relax. She enjoys traveling with her husband, and her two granddaughters also keep her constantly occupied. “There’s a third one on the way. That keeps me very busy,” she says with a smile.

[1] The bench outside Fandango is a nice, peaceful setting where clients can sit and visit with each other while their polish dries.

[2] Salon owner Nanci Soltani describes her staff as “a team who makes hard work fun.” (Left to right): Karleen Best, Soltani, Terry Smith, Kathy Sanchez, and Sandy Toleson.

[3] Fandango also hosts food drives. Their last one was in conjunction with the holiday party. The party invitation also served to thank the 34 clients who wrote Salon of the Year entry package letters to NAILS on behalf of the salon.

[4] What started out as gift for one family reached salon-wide proportions in the past three years. Soltani and her staff decorate their tree with “name stars,” featuring names of children and families from local agencies. Clients take a star and later return with a gift, which they place under the tree.


Making Dreams a Goal

RUNNER-UP: Nail Clinic – The Nail and Body Spa

Location: Avon, OH

Owners: Michelle Barna, Lori Gillespie, Laurie Piskur

Years in Business: 5

Staff Size: 15

Winning Words: “Our mission is to be the embodiment of professionalism.”

To be named one of the top salons of the year in 1997 is quite an achievement, but owners Laurie Piskur, Lori Gillespie, and Michelle Barna were not about to rest on their laurels. Immediately upon their return from the NAILS Show ’97, they began evaluating and scrutinizing every aspect of their salon.

“We entered Salon of the Year as a team, but how could we become a better team?” asked the owners in this year’s essay. Their answer: “Working together toward a common goal. It seems obvious, but what could we do to make that happen? We divided into small groups, which became task-oriented and responsible for various salon activities. Teams were established to brainstorm advertising, develop in-house promotions, promote community service, and even collect data for this entry.”

“Teamwork has had a tremendous impact on our employees. It is easier to take credit for a project that you helped with than to give credit for one that management ‘made’ you participate in,” Piskur asserts.

To build a rapport with customers, Nail Clinic began using the salon newsletter as a vehicle to educate clients on industry issues such as MMA, new products and services, and community issues such as their efforts to help a local battered women’s shelter.

Realizing that their current clients are even more valuable than potential clients, they began celebrating longtime customers with customer appreciation days that feature snacks, beverages, and games with prizes.

Last July, they sponsored the Nail Clinic Golf Open, where clients enjoyed nine holes of golf (with a cart), beverages, and snacks followed by dinner, awards, and prizes.

Yet Nail Clinic doesn’t rely on games and gimmicks to build and keep its clientele. Over the past year the salon has expanded its service menu, using in-house promotions and newspaper ads to promote gift certificates, retail products, and spa services. And last April, they offered clients a complimentary gift certificate valued at half of whatever they spent on a given day.

The Nail Clinic team also got involved with a number of community projects, including collecting toys for Toys for Tots, picking weeds for the county’s Pride Day, sponsoring a blood drive, and collecting items for a local battered women’s shelter. They also held a Beanie Baby raffle to benefit Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital in Cleveland.

The threesome continues to set new and higher goals, including a new location, larger staff, and its own website. As their motto, they’ve adopted this quote of William Jennings Bryant: “Destiny is not a matter of chance; it is a matter of choice. It is not a thing to be waited for; it is a thing to be achieved.”


“No Two Alike”

RUNNER-UP: Nail Galleria

Location: Westin William Penn Hotel

Owners: Michele Yaksich and Terri DeCort

Years in Business: 6

Staff Size: 23

Winning Words: “Nail Galleria supports a strong sense of social responsibility.”

Terri DeCort and Michele Yaksich are no strangers to these pages, having won Salon of the Year in 1994 and 1996. While the faces are the same, however, the salon should look a little different to readers, as they’ve just celebrated their first anniversary in a new location, the historic Westin William Penn Hotel in downtown Pittsburgh.

The move allowed them to almost double their square footage, making space for several new nail technicians as well as massage and hair services. This spring, Nail Galleria will also add facials to the menu.

While a frequent complaint of salon owners is a lack of qualified nail technicians to choose from, Yaksich says that’s never been a challenge for Nail Galleria. Both she and DeCort have nurtured a healthy relationship with nearby Pennsylvania Beauty Academy. All 12 of their nail technicians enjoyed extensive training once they were hired by Nail Galleria.

Employees also are encouraged to advance their own education with a salon-sponsored fund that pays half their tuition cost for advanced classes or trade show expenses. The other half can be raised through the sale of raffle tickets to clients who then have the opportunity to win gift certificates or product baskets. “Nail technicians also enjoy a sliding pay scale that rewards technical expertise, retail sales commissions of up to 20%, paid vacations, and bonuses for perfect attendance,” DeCort says.

This focus on their employees reflects back on clients, who enjoy elegant surroundings, a professional, highly trained staff, and attention to their personal needs. DeCort and Yaksich also have developed relationships with DeCort’s podiatrist and one of Yaksich’s clients, a dermatologist, to refer clients with nail and skin disorders. In exchange, the medical professionals keep them up-to-date on the latest conditions and findings affecting the feet and hands.

Inspired and motivated by their first Salon of the Year win in 1994, Yaksich and DeCort implemented their own awards program for their staff. “We always have the more competitive nail technicians who really like it, and it gives everyone recognition for their strengths,” Yaksich says of the ongoing program. Yet perhaps the most inspiring award for nail technicians at the awards party are tied in to retail sales. For every retail item sold, the nail technician gets a raffle ticket to add to a drawing box. At the party, the lucky person whose ticket is drawn will receive a free paid vacation.

While they admittedly would have enjoyed bringing home their third Salon of the Year award, Decort and Yaksich also pragmatically live by a quote cited in their essay, which states, “Stop believing in competition. Competition says that two parties bring exactly the same service to the market place … that is impossible. There is always a difference. Find that difference and you will never be without plenty of business.” Nail Galleria is living proof.


Recipe for Success

Runner-up: Georgette Garber-Torell

Salon: Hottest Touch Nail Salon, Indian Harbor Beach, Fla.

Years Doing Nails: 8

Age: “40s”

Winning Words: “Winning is not about the nails you do, but how you get there: continuing education, customer service and openness to improvement.”

Life is made good for clients through little attentions, believes Georgette Garber-Torell. A fanatic for those little details that make clients feel pampered and appreciated, Garber-Torell has a personal client table set up next to her station, providing them with tissues, pens, mints, a calendar, ring holder, and salon business cards as well as a place to put their own cards to advertise their business or services to other clients. Below the retail polish display are books that clients can swap. In the bathroom, scented hand soaps and designer colognes – as well as a jar of 20 disinfected nail brushes (and a jar for those that have been used) – await them.

Lauded by clients for her listening skills, Garber-Torell makes a point of individualized attention from the very first appointment. When a new client calls and books an appointment, she finds out why they want their nails done. If it’s for a special occasion such as a cruise, she pulls reviews from the newspaper or Internet about the ship they’re going on and presents it to the client at her appointment. She also uses the Internet to find seasonal recipes that she includes in a flier that goes on the client table. Clients share them with their friends, who then may call for an appointment.

Her most effective use of the Internet, however, is to make it easier for clients to book and change their appointments. “Clients can e-mail me to book or change appointments,” she explains. “I check it at 5 a.m. every morning, so they know they don’t have to worry about trying to remember to call during the day. Many of my clients use it.”

Garber-Torell treats her clients as treasured friends. With so many of them sharing the intimate details of their personal lives, she decided to put the information to good use by making suggestions when appropriate to hook up clients and their friends or relatives with other clients or their friends. “I’ve hooked up everyone from seniors who form bridge clubs to singles looking for friends. There have even been two marriages from a client meeting another one’s relative.”


A Winner to Whom It Really Matters

“I love the salon because it has charm and style; the atmosphere is very relaxing even after the most stressful of days,” claims client Alison Whitlock in a page-and-a-half handwritten letter. “Walking through her door I get coffee, tea, cookies and, best of all, a friendly smile and hello. Georgette always hears what you say. Once in four years she was running 15 minutes late and she phoned me so I could adjust my schedule.”

Another client, Debra Buchanan, had this to say: “First and foremost, she does an excellent set of nails …. Goergette is a perfectionist and will not let you leave until she feels that your nails look perfect. She keeps up-to-date on all of the new nail products and techniques and uses them accordingly …. The whole ambience of the salon relaxes you and makes you feel very special. The salon is very clean and sanitary, which is a must for me …. The décor looks like it was done by a professional decorator ….”

[1] Georgette Garber-Torell does her best to provide exceptional one-on-one service and to educate her client on the proper care of their nails.

[2] “The salon has a quiet, peaceful serenity that creates the impression that all of this has been provided just for you,” says one Hottest Touch client.

[3] Garber-Torell uses only top-of-the-line product to create sleek, natural-looking nails.


Putting Nails on the News

Runner-up: Nancy King

Salon: Nail Care, Laurel, Md.

Years Doing Nails: 18

Age: 37

Winning Words: “I believe that you can never know enough about the industry, and since it is ever changing, current education is a must.”

On the verge of burnout, Nancy King took a “working vacation” about three years ago at her second home in Florida. While there, she attended a trade show where she decided to attend a sanitation class. “I found out in that class that alcohol kills nothing but time, and that my state board’s sanitation practices were so outdated that it’s not funny; they still required 70% alcohol for disinfecting implements and formaldehyde tablets in the drawers for storage,” King remembers. “I came back and went to the state board meetings and asked why I had to go to Florida to find out what is safe and should be used.”

King admits now she didn’t exactly win an ally in that first meeting. However, she persevered, attending every state board meeting and formally addressing the board until they finally listened. “I proved my point by taking my drill and legitimate products and MMA products,” she says. “I demonstrated safe and unsafe nail practices, the difference between disinfectants, etc.” Gradually, she transitioned from foe to friend, becoming an informal advisor to the board on nail industry-related issues – a relationship she really likes.

“From the outside, I can promote legislation and give them information. Now we have sanitation laws, electric file regulations, and something in the works on MMA,” King says. She also works to educate consumers about nail salons, sending press releases to news stations like ABC, which she says has aired three of the five consumer awareness pieces on nails they’ve filmed so far. And the next time she goes to appear before the State Senate committee (which is scheduled to happen about the time this issue reaches your mailbox), the news crew will be with her as well.

“I believe the more aware the consumer is, the less chance there is that those of us in the industry who go above and beyond will suffer due to salons that practice poor sanitation,” she asserts. “I do not see them as competition because they do not offer what I and my staff do.”

In addition to her work on her home turf, King happily offers what help she can to other state boards. She also volunteers at two local cosmetology schools two evenings a week to teach students hands-on techniques. “I believe that the better the education from the beginning, the better the technicians will be in the future,” she notes.

In all, King spends an average of 10 hours a week working toward the enhancement of the industry. In the salon, she services a full clientele and works to heighten her own skills by logging 200 hours of continuing education over the past two years. While her clients don’t necessarily see all that she does outside the salon, the results still shine through in her gorgeous pink-and-white acrylics, her superior customer service, and her impeccable sanitation practices.

[1] While her clients may not be aware her many contributions to the local nail industry, they do know King does great nails and runs an impeccable salon with superior customer service.

[2] King spends about 10 hours a week working toward the enhancement of the industry, but in the salon she serves a full clientele and has logged more than 200 hours of continuing education in the past two years alone.

[3] King serves as an informal advisor to Maryland’s state board when it comes to industry-related issues. “From the outside I can promote legislation and give information,” she explains.



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