About seventy miles separate nail techs Amy Oung and Michelle Phoenix. Oung is based out of Warwick, R.I. and is the owner of Harmony Nail Studio. Since its opening in 2010, the salon has made a name for itself by specializing in gel to create in-demand enhancements and trendy nail art designs. Phoenix is based out of Cambridge, Mass.and opened the doors to Wet Paint Nail Spa in 2005 to a collegiate community and continues to offer pampering without pretension, she says. The boutique-type spa is a go-to destination for scholars and residents looking for natural nail care services. NAILS brought these two nail techs together and had them trade spaces and shadow each other for a day. “I took this challenge as an eye opener,” Oung says. “I was curious about the demographic, location, and business model.”
Since meeting eight years ago at the New England Networking Event for Nail Techs that was organized by nail tech Darlene Donovan, they have been on each other’s radar and have developed a mutual admiration as female entrepreneurs and East Coast nail techs.
“I’m always open to improvement and I looked forward to learning something from Amy. I am an admirer of Amy’s work, as well as her friend. I thought it would be a ball to do the swap with her. Because I already know that Amy’s an (accomplished) nail tech, I wasn’t worried,” says Phoenix regarding her initial thoughts about the experiment.
Phoenix and Oung shadowed one another over the span of two days in each other’s respective work place. To prepare for the swap, both nail techs solicited their clients by offering volunteers a free service in exchange for participating in the experiment. Oung and Phoenix even used social media to call for models with hope they could book a service they don’t typically execute in their own salons.
“We both asked our own clients if anyone was willing to have her nails done by another professional. Clients will pay for what they want but if they know the service is complimentary, it won’t be such a gamble,” Oung explains. “On my end it was difficult because my clients have been coming to me for years.”
When Pheonix shadowed Oung at her salon located in a quiet suburban neighborhood, Phoenix quickly learned that the clients at Harmony Nail Studio love fashion, have style, and expect a personalized service experience. According to Oung, Harmony Nail Studio’s clientele are city girls looking to get away from the hustle and bustle to get trendy tips. They come from all over New England to get couture gel nails.
“Amy’s client’s are lovely. It was a pleasure to meet them,” Phoenix says. “I really, really, really loved getting to work on enhancements since my customers aren’t into that sort of thing. And (Amy) has so much product! I just wanted to stay all day and play with everything.” Phoenix offered Oung’s client gel overlay with glitter, one of Harmony Nail Studio’s most popular services. “I kept checking in with (Oung’s client) while I was doing her manicure to make sure she was comfortable and that I wasn’t too heavy handed and that she liked the work,” Phoenix says. “She was pleased with her manicure and said she enjoyed being a part of our swap. She trusted me to do good work because she trusts Amy. It was really fun. She was very relaxed and chatty.”
The day Oung visited Phoenix at Wet Paint Nail Spa on Observatory Hill, Oung got to learn about the city she was visiting and performed a classic manicure with a little bit of nail art. “It was fun,” Oung says. “Because I was in Cambridge, whenever I talked to the client, she would explain about the area and demographic. I loved the experience. The client was very easy going and had fun with the entire service.” Oung even got to perform a manicure on a male client. “I haven’t done a regular manicure in a long time,” Oung says. “We don’t offer regular spa manicures so it was like conjuring back to my past. And also the art was with nail polish, something I hadn’t done in so long!”
According to Phoenix, Wet Paint Nail Spa caters to professors and graduate students. That demographic includes women in their late 20s to retiree age, even men, she says. High-end coffee shops, specialty grocery stores, yoga and massage studios, and a local police station surround the spa. Despite how posh it sounds, Phoenix says the area has a Mister Roger’s Neighborhood vibe that she’s really grown to love.
In terms of salon décor, the nail techs have personalized their establishments to reflect their personalities. At Harmony Nail Studio, clients are greeted with butterflies, the salon’s logo, and decorations dedicated to two female film and fashion icons. “The salon was designed with Audrey Hepburn and Marilyn Monroe as the inspiration. And there are butterflies all around the salon; they are like hidden Mickeys at Disneyland,” Oung says.
The vibe at Wet Paint Nail Spa is clean and green to exhibit professionalism. From filling disinfectant trays with fresh Barbicide after each service to explaining how the spa’s disinfection protocol works to each client, Phoenix makes disinfection practices a priority. Wet Paint Nail Spa also prides itself with knowing they do their part to recycle materials and conserve water. “We don’t use pedicure tubs. We used to but then I did an audit of our water usage and realized we were using 10,000 gallons of water a year for pedicures,” Phoenix says. “Given our stringent disinfection practices, there was no way that the water could be recycled, as it was too toxic. I felt it was unconscionable and decided to change our methods.” The spa now uses clean steamed towels to wrap client’s feet and covers them with compostable plastic bags during a pedicure service.
This experiment offered a unique opportunity for both business owners to learn from a fellow nail tech without any resistance. “This experience was a lot of fun. I sometimes go to other salons to get my nails done just to see what they are offering and see if there’s anything I can learn from them for my spa. But I usually don’t say that I am a nail tech when I do that. I want to be treated like a regular customer and see what’s up,” Phoenix says. “Doing the swap with Amy was great because I got to ask all the questions I wanted. Plus, I love hanging out with her and her family.”
The swap proved successful and fun for both nail techs involved. “Overall it was an eye opening experience to see how my colleague ran her establishment,” Oung says. “There are different skill sets but at the end of the day, successful businesses thrive on similar concepts of exceptional customer service, attentive nail care, and a distinct business model. It makes me want to peer into other salons to see how they run their business.”