Like many during the recession of 2009, Nick Brown was laid off from his job — he worked at a large pharmaceutical company. Instead of dwelling on misfortune, he devised a business plan to elevate his wife’s existing family nail business to untouched heights in their neighborhood in Troy, Mich., an upscale area that already had enough convenience-style nail salons. Capitalizing on the poor economy, the couple was able to receive a really good rate on a retail space for the reinvented salon.
“When people are jumping out, that’s the time to jump in,” Brown says. “I immediately saw a larger market for a nail salon that had an upscale feel with strong and dependable customer service.”
Brown envisioned a more deluxe experience at what would soon be called Velvet Nail Lounge, opening in September 2009. The salon’s resort-like interior features emerald, coral, and gold, and shines like a “beacon of light” during winter months when it’s numbingly cold and dark. In addition to the beach vibe, Brown places an emphasis on building relationships and using high-quality products, two facets of the salon’s business that he says weren’t present in the Michigan nail market.
Velvet also incorporates makeup, microblading, and waxing in their menu, and Brown has even manufactured Velvet’s own makeup line called LAELUX with a private label company, named after their daughter Laelani. Velvet Nail Lounge was the first salon in the area to offer dip systems, which Brown says has become their most popular service.
“We saw the industry starting to catch up with these ideas,” he says, “but we wanted to be so far ahead of the curve, it was like we’re already around the corner and no one can see us.”
Being an inventive businessman, Brown saw another opportunity in a common salon annoyance: Chronically late clients who arrive with freshly brewed coffees in their hand. Drawing from Jennie’s Vietnamese cultural background, the pair combated this issue by starting a business within the business called Viet Joe Cafe, the salon’s own coffee shop. Brown says this filled a gap in the local market for Vietnamese coffee shops, and at the same time, gave clients no excuse to show up late because of a coffee run.
“It’s brought money that would normally be given to the coffee shop two doors down, and put it into our pockets,” Brown says, playfully discussing his joy in being the head barista. “It’s like my stage — that sounds cheesy — but it’s a lot of fun and it’s been a really good revenue source.”
Velvet continues to fill its days with a full appointment book and little room for walk-ins. Brown plans to potentially offer his knowledge via a separate business consulting brand within the salon industry, and maybe even franchise the idea of Velvet Nail Lounge. He and his wife always seem to be thinking of new business ventures, making them a cohesive team in every avenue.
“My wife appreciates all my ideas,” he says. “She always says to me, ‘You’re the person who comes up with the ideas, and I’m the one who makes them happen.”
Knowing how to stay ahead of the curve has helped them reap benefits financially. Nick Brown’s advice? “I wish more people would realize the value in not just competing to have the lowest price, but competing to be the highest quality,” Brown says. “It took us years to cultivate a clientele who knows we’re different and will happily pay extra for it — and it’s been worth it.”