Style Me Sweet Beauty Lounge co-owner Stephanie Horner fell into nail art by accident. She ended up in urgent care after a nail tech tried to remove her acrylics without soaking them in acetone first. Per doctor’s orders, she avoided salons for the next year until she stumbled upon a YouTube video about 3-D nail designs. Fascinated, she ordered the cheapest nail products she could find on eBay and tried it out herself.
At the time, Horner was studying to be a kindergarten teacher and working at Home Depot. Her new hobby attracted the attention of friends who wanted nails like hers. Within months, she enrolled herself in nail school.
After graduating, Horner found a job at a high-end spa where she met coworker Katie Melendez. Together they developed the concept for Style Me Sweet Beauty Lounge, a nail and hair salon where customers can get “spoiled rotten from head to toe.”
With Horner as lead nail artist and Melendez as master stylist, the salon’s popularity has exploded since opening nine months ago. Education is still Horner’s passion, but instead of kids in a classroom she’s teaching customers the importance of healthy nails with an emphasis on locally made beauty products.
The salon is located in Albuquerque, N.M., off the I-25, near Cliff’s Amusement Park and plenty of restaurants. It’s a quick drive from the University of New Mexico and nearby malls. Although there are many salons in the area, what sets Style Me Sweet apart is its indulgent treatments. “Other places are like fast food. We’re gourmet,” Horner says.
Albuquerque has seen a surge in tourism thanks to the television show “Breaking Bad.” Style Me Sweet sometimes partners with the Breaking Bad RV Tour, which visits many of the show’s filming locations, to give guests a Heisenberg Sweet Treatment Manicure and Pedicure which features “Breaking Bad”-themed products including their blue crystal sugar scrub.
Style Me Sweet offers hair, nails, waxing, eyelash extensions, and makeup services, but about 75% of its business is focused on nails. The salon’s standard manicures and pedicures are called “sweet treatments.” Customers choose a bath bomb, sugar scrub, and shea butter or massage oil candle from a rotating menu of sweet flavors. Manicures start at $25 and pedicures start at $35. They also offer an express waterless pedicure for $25 that uses hot towels instead of water soaks.
Nail techs work with both natural and acrylic nails. Horner is especially proud of her unique method of quick and versatile fills. Style Me Sweet uses name-brand tools, Caption nail polish, and locally made spa products.
The salon’s fun atmosphere has attracted a wide variety of customers. Families are a regular presence around the salon during the daytime. Horner says that kids love the glitter bath bombs and nail art, while mothers love the color-changing polish.
Ladies’ nights are also gaining popularity in the salon. Even men are among the salon’s many regulars, making up about 20% of the business. Though most come for the hair and waxing services, some visit with significant others for couples pedicures. “Guys are really into the scents as much as their wives or girlfriends,” Horner says. “They’re choosing scents for each other instead of themselves.”
The salon’s wide clientele means nail techs must adapt to any situation a customer might have. Some come in for simple nails while others are more adventurous. The biggest challenge, however, is working with nail biters and educating them on the importance of healthy nails. The salon prints out informational articles to teach customers about the negative effects of their habit.
Teamwork is emphasized at Style Me Sweet. With many of its nail techs just out of school, Horner pushes for education in the salon. She conducts one-on-one training with nail techs throughout the day and teaches them how to market their services through social media. Nail techs also meet every other Sunday to give each other pedicures or learn a new technique together.
Horner and Melendez hold monthly staff meetings to discuss how the business is going and encourage open communication among employees. All nail techs are initially paid on commission with a month-by-month contract, but are encouraged to move into booth rentals as they gain more experience.
The salon also offers monthly incentives for employees to sell retail. In the past the employees have been able to keep 100% of the profits from retail sold or participated in contests where the top seller wins a prize pack of products for herself.
Style Me Sweet channels the glitz and glamour of Las Vegas, Horner’s hometown. She says the goal is to make everyone who walks in the door feel like a rock star. In addition to their indulgent sweet treatments, the salon also offers free cocktails.
Horner jokes that she channeled her previous job experience at Home Depot when she and Melendez built the salon from the ground up. The pair put glitter on the walls, floor, and even ceiling tiles during construction.
The nail techs at Style Me Sweet Beauty are all about the challenge. “They are constantly keeping up with the newest trends and techniques thanks to social media,” says Horner. Nail techs will post new ideas on their private Facebook group or watch YouTube tutorials together. Clients will even come in with nail art pictures to “test” them.
Business has grown substantially thanks to word of mouth. The salon offers referral discounts and encourages pre-booking to grow its customer base. The staff also attends local craft fairs and beauty shows to market their products and services while learning about new products and techniques to share with clients. The staff will attend the International Beauty Show in Las Vegas this year, their first as a group.
Salon Name: Style Me Sweet Beauty Lounge
Location: Albuquerque, N.M.
Owners: Stephanie Horner and Katie Melendez
Square Footage: 1,460
Opened: September 2015
Number of Nail Techs/Employees: 5/8
Specialties: Sculpted nails, sweet treat manicures and pedicures
Compensation Structure: Commission and booth rental