For Luxe Nails owner Lisa Nguyen, nails are a way of life. She was in elementary school when her mother decided to open a nail salon. The family moved into the apartment upstairs, so Nguyen and her sisters would often go downstairs and watch the nail techs at work. “Our playground was the nail salon,” she says.
Nguyen knew how to give manicures by the age of 12 and got her nail license at 16. Even after she graduated college with a marketing degree, she knew the salon was where she wanted to be. She also picked up some valuable business knowledge over the years from her mother.
“You know how people flip houses? My mom would flip salons. She would open up salons, get them running, and then sell them,” she says.
Growing up around nails, Nguyen always felt especially at home in salons. Naturally, this level of comfort has continued in her own salon, Luxe Nails in Philadelphia. She considers her nail techs and clients her family, and tries to make everyone feel welcome.
The team’s detailed nail art and strong social media presence have made the salon a very busy place. They see around 300 clients a week in their tiny 900-sq.-ft. space and are forced to turn away clients on a daily basis. Now, Nguyen is bringing in reinforcements. She is in the process of opening a New Jersey location with one of her sisters in order to meet demand.
Northern Liberties is an up-and coming neighborhood in Philadelphia. Nguyen says that she was especially drawn to this neighborhood because of its diversity and its many small businesses.
Although there are many salons in Philadelphia, and Northern Liberties specifically, Nguyen says that she separates Luxe Nails from the pack through competitive pricing and networking with other small business owners in the community.
“It’s almost like a Philly-supports-Philly thing,” she says. “One of our clients opened up her own event space and it’s hard to open up a new place, so I donated. It’s like giving back and supporting your peers at the same time.”
Luxe Nails offers manicures, five types of pedicures, acrylics, gels, and waxing. However, they are best known for their nail art. Nguyen says her nail techs create many intricate designs and can draw detailed characters.
“We do a lot of Swarovski crystals and we fully stud them. We have different variations, colors, shapes, and we’re actually known for them staying on,” she says.
The salon likes to stay on top of trends by always having the latest colors. Nguyen says that customers love their extensive nail polish collection, which includes 600 bottles of traditional polish.
“It’s crazy, but every time you go to the supply store there’s a new collection! I like variety so they get me every time,” she says.
The salon offers competitive base prices, with manicures starting at $15 and pedicures starting at $25, and higher prices depending on the amount of nail art.
The salon has a very loyal and diverse group of regulars, including some men, whom Nguyen is happy to call part of the family. She says that it’s normal to see many clients of different ages, races, and backgrounds having group conversations.
But this is more than a community nail salon. Some of Luxe Nails’ regular clients travel from out-of-state. The salon has also served a few high-profile clients including Nicki Minaj, Adrienne Bailon, and Angela Simmons. However, Nguyen admits that the salon struggles to meet such high demand.
“We turn away clients all the time, we just can’t keep up. A lot of the work we do is really intricate and it takes a lot of time so, we can’t really service 100 clients a day. Some of the nail art — like studding individual crystals, for example — can add an hour or more to your basic service,” she says.
“We’re really family-oriented. There are eight of us and everybody specializes in nail art,” Nguyen says.
Although she owns the salon, Nguyen doesn’t consider herself the boss. Instead, she encourages everyone to contribute to the salon. Instead of a full-time receptionist, nail techs take turns handling the phones and front desk. They also collaborate to teach each other new skills.
“Even though I may see a design and not understand it, another technician sees it differently and can break it down. We’ve talked about attending different classes, but with so many tutorials online, we usually just look things up and figure it out ourselves,” she says.
Nguyen still remembers how run-down the space looked when she first began renting it almost four years ago.
“It was an old-school salon,” she says. “It had a bunch of neon lights on the window and a bunch of different fliers — specials and things like that — stuck to the window.”
When designing Luxe Nails, she wanted to convey that this wasn’t a run-of-the-mill salon. She chose a warm neutral color palette and a minimalist design that makes clients feel comfortable but doesn’t clash with seasonal decorations. The staff decorates the salon for every holiday and changes the pillow colors for the pedicure chairs every season.
Expansion is the next step for Luxe. Nguyen is currently in the process of opening a second location in Glendora, N.J. with her sister. The new salon will be double the size of the Philadelphia space.
After that, she plans to move the original location to a bigger space and open a third salon. However, she plans to take things one step at a time. But overall, she is excited to expand Luxe Nails and serve even more clients.
“I learned the business from my mother so it’s exciting to actually succeed in it,” she says.
Salon Name: Luxe Nails
Location: Philadelphia (with one opening soon in Glendora, N.J.)
Owner: Lisa Nguyen
Square Footage: 900
Opened: October 2012
Number of Nail Techs: 9
Specialties: Nail art, extensions, tips, acrylics
Compensation Structure: Salary