After visiting numerous nail bars during a vacation to the U.S. several years ago, Irish sisters Andrea and Michelle Horan realized nail bars in Ireland were lacking certain qualities. They felt that while Irish nail bars had a more reserved atmosphere and were saved for special occasions, there was a more social and casual quality at American nail bars that inspired them.
“When we opened up the salon, we wanted to be somewhere that people could come in and sit down and use our Wi-Fi, or sit down and have a chat, or just hang out, as opposed to just a place where you get your nails done,” says Andrea Horan.
However, not long after the idea was conceived, the sisters realized neither of them knew anything about nails or how to run a nail bar. So the first thing they did was hire staff with experience doing nails.
Starting with three nail technicians when it first opened in November 2012, Tropical Popical’s business has grown significantly, and it currently has 10 technicians. Recently, its popularity skyrocketed after actress Saoirse Ronan, made famous by her Oscar-nominated performance in “Brooklyn,” twice gave the nail bar a shout-out. She did this once during an appearance on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” and later at the Golden Globes.
Now, bookings for the salon that once were made a week or two in advance must be made a month in advance, with some reservations being made for as far ahead as Christmas.
Tropical Popical is located on Williams Street in Dublin, which has been aptly dubbed “Beauty Street” due to the number of salons residing there. Tropical Popical was one of the first nail bars on the street, says Horan. South William Street is known for its independent spirit and camaraderie, which is reflective of Tropical Popical’s personality as well. It’s a popular hangout destination for people of all ages to get a cup of coffee or just people watch. When the sisters found the space, there was very little that needed to be done in terms of renovating. Most of the changes they made were cosmetic.
Tropical Popical’s menu features many different treatments, which include manicures, pedicures, and nail art options. However, it’s the gel-polish services that Horan says are the bread and butter of the salon. “It’s either a Gelish treatment or an express mini-Gelish that clients want. People just want their nails looking gorgeous,” Horan says. Gel extensions are also popular, she notes.
Prices start at 25 euros ($27.53) for gel-polish manicures and 35 euros ($38.55) for pedicures with gel-polish. Combos start at 50 euros ($55.07).
Tropical Popical’s 10 technicians all possess a few essential qualities: “They must be amazing at doing at nails and nail art, and be amazing fun,” says Horan.
Tropical Popical had trouble recruiting nail technicians but that was solved with the creation of the Trop Pop High School. Horan describes it as a “sneaky” recruitment service. At the “high school,” Tropical Popical nail technician Niamh Carey teaches several training courses for nail artists and nail technicians. Licensing is not required in Ireland.
Tropical Popical has a relaxed environment, for its nail technicians as well as its clients. “We’re not strict. We encourage people to have fun,” Horan says.
Since they’re not nail techs, the sisters tend to the business end of things. Michelle handles the management of the salon, while Andrea handles the branding and administrative work.
Customer experience is a big focus for Tropical Popical, with a concentration on building relationships between the staff and clients. A fun exchange of banter between the clients and technicians is just as important as conducting professional nail work, according to Horan. “We’re not one of those production lines that try to get people in and out,” she says. “If a client is telling a story about a date she’s going on that night, she’ll come in the next day and tell the staff how it went.” The clientele isn’t limited to a specific age range, but Horan likes to think that they are all young at heart.
It was while Horan was vacationing in Las Vegas and the Mexican resort town of Tulum that she came up with the artistic theme for Tropical Popical. She merged the best elements of both locations, and also added her love for all things tacky and fun. The decor includes an abundance of flamingo and parrot decorations, a pineapple-shaped table, various cactus plants, several disco balls, and drinks served out of coconut cups. Tropical Popical also has merchandise for sale, all of which display Tropical Popical-themed art. This includes flip flops, jewelry, bags, T-shirts, and gift vouchers.
Some of the decorations found at Tropical Popical are from clients, who will occasionally return to the nail bar with gifts. This enhances the decor of the nail bar, which Horan says is naturally evolving.
Tropical Popical’s restroom is decorated to appeal to a very particular niche; it’s covered with photos of hunky English model David Gandy.
Salon name: Tropical Popical
Location: Dublin, Ireland
Owners: Andrea and Michelle Horan
Opened: November 2012
Number of Nail Techs: 10
Specialties: Gel-polish manicures
Compensation Structure: Hourly