In September 2013, Tran Wills and her mother Sally Le opened Base Coat Nail Salon to give Denver a unique nail experience. Wills owns and operates an art gallery in Denver and wanted to help her mother, who had been a nail tech for several years, open her own salon. Combining fresh, natural ingredients with what Wills already knew about the retail world, mother and daughter were able to create a salon different from anything Denver had seen before.
After 14 years in the fashion and retail industries, Wills felt she had a good business sense. So when her mother, who had always expressed an interest in running her own salon, suggested opening Base Coat Nail Salon, it seemed a natural fit for Wills to spec and design it.
When deciding what services to offer, the mother/daughter duo wanted to encourage a tradition of simplicity while still being conscious of the products they use on customers. That is why the salon only offers manicures, pedicures, facial waxing, free-hand nail art, and nail wraps. When explaining why the salon doesn’t offer acrylic or gel services, Wills says, “Until they make a natural gel-polish, we’re going to keep it chemical-free.” The lack of harsh chemicals makes the nail salon a safe environment not only for the customers, but also the nail techs.
With just six months under their belt, Wills and Le are still navigating their way through the nail world. Wills mentions that it was a slow start, especially because the snowy winter months can deter foot traffic. But, Wills and Le chose the Berkeley neighborhood area because it is has a lot of family-oriented residents.
According to Wills, the most difficult thing about opening a brand new salon has been finding consistent staff who fit the style and who believe in and support the mission. According to Wills, most nail techs aren’t interested in just doing natural nails. “But we have a really solid team now and it feels really good,” she says. Wills also mentioned she would love to hire more techs and maybe franchise in the future.
Keeping It Simple
Because Wills has daughters whom she doesn’t want inhaling harsh chemical smells, and because of Denver’s eco-conscious nature, she and her mother decided the salon should only offer natural products and services. Wills worked with a local beauty company to create all organic, non-toxic, and custom-made products for Base Coat Nail Salon including cuticle oil, lotion, foot scrub, foot cream, and even paraffin wax. Also, the salon only carries “five-free” polishes that come from female-owned companies such as RGB and NCLA.
Wills says, “Now we know that we are safe for pregnant women and for my little girls. We know exactly what is in these products and how safe they are. Customers have responded well to our eco-friendly efforts.”
The salon’s design and price points are also in line with the simple ideology. Black, white, and wood are the design elements in this open air salon. There are no treatment rooms, only a waxing area, and the small salon is drenched in light. This styling has helped the salon maintain a reputation of being modern, clean, and again, simple. According to Wills, the neutral tones also help men feel more comfortable when having services done at the salon.
As for pricing, Wills explains, “We created it in a way that people can remember.” Depending on the type of manicure, a customer might pay $18 for the Quick Coat, $28 for the Base Coat, or $38 for the Luxe Coat. For a pedicure, it could be $28, $38, or $48. The most expensive of the services is the organic Luxe Coat pedicure, which also happens to be the customer favorite, according to Wills.
Also, every nail tech has the same specific three-week training so every customer has a similar experience no matter which nail technician she sees.
The salon space was formerly a dedicated art gallery, so Wills maintains a section for local female artists to display and sell their art. Being highlighted in the salon/gallery is an honor reserved mostly for up-and-coming female artists who have yet to be featured anywhere else. Also, because of its location in the city, the salon is able to participate in First Fridays — an evening the first Friday of each month in which galleries, studios, restaurants, and cultural attractions stay open late. People can come by the salon for a quick $10 mini-mani and then stick around to peruse the art. “Nail salons are such a social scene so we’re always trying to think outside the box for how to encourage that,” Wills says.
In trying to connect with customers, Wills manages social media for the salon. The great result from working with Instagram is clients who have seen nail art from the salon will come in and request it. The salon also sells all the natural, custom-made products it uses, including the polishes. According to Wills, if a client really loves a color and is, say, going on vacation, she can buy her color and bring it with her to do touch-ups. “Customers can continue the after care they need until their next visit with us,” Wills explains.
Employees are also seeing the benefits of the salon’s unique persona. Base Coat Nail Salon has begun working private parties and off-site events, such as magazine photo shoots, and the nail techs keep 100% of their wages for each event. Wills is trying to book more events for her employees to work.
Salon Name: Base Coat Nail Salon
Owners: Tran Wills and Sally Le
Square Footage: 1,000
Number of Nail Techs/Total Staff: 4/6
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