Having grown up around the typical North Carolina nail salon owned by his parents, Dynh Le was strongly encouraged to go into the family business. Despite an initial reluctance to join the traditionally feminine profession, he grew to see its creative opportunities.
“As a kid, it was like, ‘You’re telling me I can paint Dragon Ball Z or Pokémon on your nails? Or soccer balls or flowers?’ I could do all of that, so it intrigued me,” he says.
Despite obvious talent, he constantly had to defend the fact that he was a guy doing nails. His peers would tease him, and even more frustrating, customers would question his abilities.
“I’d say, ‘you know, guys do nails, too!’ Finally, customers would let me do their nails and when they came back, they would request me again,” he says.
The “guys do nails” explanation became so repetitive that it inspired his Instagram username, and then, two years later and a bit more impressively, the acronym behind his own rustic-style, male-friendly nail salon, GDN Nail Bar. The Wilmington, N.C.-based salon opened May 2016, and a year later, appointments are often fully booked a week in advance.
Now Le has a family of his own, and he and his hairstylist wife are expecting a second child in July. While he says he won’t pressure either child to enter the beauty business, it’s safe to assume they will be surrounded by aspects of the industry throughout their upbringing; Le even announced the baby’s gender via a nail-related Instagram video.
“I’m going to paint pink or blue acrylic with black polish on top, and then, as I drill away, you’ll start to see the color underneath,” he described before he had posted the video. “A nail-themed gender reveal!”
Along with being a salon owner and future father of two, Le produces nail humor videos, which have garnered hundreds of thousands of Facebook views and cover topics like overly talkative clients and dropping nail nippers.
Wilmington, N.C., is the home of major film studio Screen Gems, which was behind films like Iron Man 3 and TV shows like One Tree Hill. Disregarding the glamorous side of what Le jokingly refers to as “Wilmy-wood,” it’s just a laid-back beach town with an ever-expanding tourist population, offering endless bikini-clad clients in the summer.
“The West Coast of the East Coast,” he calls it.
Le has also tapped into his creativity with the salon’s design, which evokes an industrial feel.
“I laid all my floors with hardwood tiles of different colors to bring out the colors of the furniture,” he says. “My salon isn’t necessarily manly, but it’s neutral, and I built the place myself.”
While the decor isn’t excessively masculine, men feel comforted by the vintage, rustic vibe. One whole wall is reclaimed barn wood, and copper basin pedicure bowls sit beneath oversized leather chairs that are comfortable for even the tallest and most muscular men.
While the majority of clients are women, GDN has been seeing more men than ever lately.
“The atmosphere brings the men in — kind of like it’s their man cave,” he says. “They don’t feel like these women are staring at them. It also helps that we serve wine and beer.”
GDN also serves mimosas on Saturdays, social additions to a manicure embraced by the surrounding college community of University of North Carolina, where Le is a business and marketing alumni.
Le’s marketing skills come in handy as a business owner, and he hosts events like Video Game Wednesdays to intrigue his male clientele, who tend to opt for simpler services.
For the more intricate services usually reserved for female clients, GDN offers acrylics, gels, and nail art. More recently, customers have been opting for marble, chrome, and holographic nails.
Le experiments with new styles, even generating a geometric four-sided shape he calls “facet nails.”
“Everything is fast paced and there’s always something new coming out that my staff and I are all learning together, whether it’s chrome or studs or new shapes,” he says. “In fashion these days, nails are just as important as everything else.”
GDN is one of the only specialty salons in Wilmington, according to Le, staying on top of trends and offering high-quality nail art. Team members all offer unique, focused skills. Because it’s difficult to find male nail techs in his area, Le is the only male tech at GDN.
“Having these girls on my team is so valuable and crucial to me because their input makes the salon what it is,” he says. “We hardly ever say no to a client.”
While GDN aims to satisfy all client wishes, Le says he is very selective about who he hires. He appreciates the different amiable personalities among the staff, but talent is absolutely required, along with an eagerness to stay on top of trends.
“Now I’m a family man and I have a kid, so I’m really trying to strive forward in the industry.”
Salon name: GDN Nail Bar
Location: Wilmington, N.C.
Owners: Dynh Le
Square Footage: 1,200
Opened: May 2016
Number of Nail Techs/Employees: 4/6
Specialties: Male-friendly services
Compensation structure: 60% commission