Sparkle San Francisco owner Mia Rubie was working in communications in Levi’s corporate office when she became interested in nails. She first started doing nails as a hobby and got her nail tech license a few years later. Rather than finding work in a salon, Rubie decided to create a space of her own. Using her business background — Rubie studied entrepreneurship in college — she opened a 275-sq.-ft. studio in the Mission District where she did nails alone.
“It was my goal to have my own business,” she says. “After working corporate for years, I felt it was time to go independent.”
Over the next few years, she recruited a few nail techs to join her, and the studio moved around as it grew. Now in a 900-sq.-ft. space, Sparkle San Francisco is the only salon in the neighborhood specializing in nail art. Demand is also spurred by the huge following Rubie and her nail techs have amassed on Instagram.
Made up of four independent nail techs and an esthetician, Sparkle San Francisco is the city’s hidden gem, located downstairs from an apothecary with no storefront. The salon operates by appointment only and nail techs take their time to get designs just right.
Sparkle San Francisco is located in the trendy Mission District. The neighborhood is one of the oldest in the city and is known for its art scene. When choosing the salon’s current location, Rubie knew she wanted that specific area and was happy to find a spot on Valencia Street.
“It’s the hot spot; it’s full of restaurants and shops and people,” she says. “It’s where people go on the weekend to eat and shop and check out the bars.”
The salon is downstairs from Scarlet Sage Herb Co., an apothecary that sells herbs, essential oils, and new age items like crystals and incense. Neighboring businesses include a trendy restaurant, a vintage clothing store, and a few boutiques.
It’s rare to see clients come in for a solid color manicure. All four nail techs specialize in detailed nail art, which sets Sparkle San Francisco apart. The salon’s most popular treatment is a hard gel manicure with art. Rubie says that most clients bring in nail art examples that they’ve found on Instagram or describe what type of art they want, but the luckiest occasions are when a client gives them free rein to create their own designs.
Nail techs offer manicures, pedicures, gels, and acrylics to go with their nail art. An onsite esthetician also offers waxing, spray-tanning, and eyelash extensions. Because of the salon’s unique offerings, Rubie says that pricing was a challenge in setting up the salon. Manicures start at $25, gel manicures start at $40, and pedicures start at $30.
The studio is set up as a booth rental situation, so each person is responsible for maintaining her own business. “All the techs are renters,” Rubie says. “So everyone is working together as a team, but we’re all very independent as far as managing our own schedules, our own clients, and things like that.”
Even though each nail tech is self-managed, the group still pursues additional education together. The staff generally attends at least two tradeshows a year as a team and takes additional classes when possible.
“We all just took a class with the brand Kokoist because they were in the Bay Area,” Rubie says. “There’s no mandatory training, but when opportunities like that come up, I want everyone to come with me.”
Sparkle San Francisco has a diverse clientele — from young professionals and waitresses to older women (Rubie’s oldest client is 70). However, she says that the biggest demographic is professional women who work for the nearby tech companies.
Thanks to social media buzz and word of mouth, Rubie and the other nail techs have gained a loyal collection of clients. Unfortunately, this prevents most of them from taking on new clients. “At this point, we have only one tech who’s taking new clients. The rest of us have closed our books because we’re filled to capacity,” she says. “The demand is very challenging, but it’s a good thing.”
The studio consists of four nail stations, two pedicure stations, and one treatment room for the esthetician. When designing the space, Rubie worked with a local interior designer to create a neutral environment. Rather than choosing big and bold decorations, Rubie wanted clients to feel truly at ease.
“Everything is very clean and kind of minimal,” she says. “I didn’t want it to be cluttered or look too feminine. I wanted it to be artsy.”
The waiting area features photos of the nail techs’ designs, and additional art from local artists is hung around the salon. With the exception of the salon’s pale plum pedicure station, the salon is mostly white, gray, and gold. In addition, Rubie has a retail stand featuring accessories and beauty products. The display is small, with some jewelry pieces, nail decals, and cuticle oils, but she plans to expand the section over time.
As for future plans, Rubie says, “Once we’re at capacity, which is pretty much the case right now, it’ll be time to think about either getting a bigger place or a second location in the Bay Area.”
Salon Name: Sparkle San Francisco
Location: San Francisco
Owner: Mia Rubie
Square Footage: 900 sq. ft.
Number of Nail Techs/Employees: 4/5
Specialties: Nail art
Compensation Structure: Booth rental
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