Nestled between the cliffs of Bird Rock, a quaint beach-side neighborhood in La Jolla, Calif., Stay Polished Nail Boutique has a simple motto: great service, great hand and foot massages, and perfectly polished nails.
Salon owner Naomi Kim-Nelson left a 14-year-long career in healthcare to become a nail tech. At the start of her career, she worked in a small La Jolla salon, and after a few years she noticed ways in which the current nail scene could be improved. In 2008, with the opening of Stay Polished, Kim-Nelson brought her ideas to fruition.
“Coming from a healthcare background, I am kind of nitpicky when it comes to cleanliness and customer service,” says Kim-Nelson. “You go to a salon to feel relaxed, so you want your time there to be leisurely. Nothing should be upsold on you, and if you want extra callus work, special polish, or a particular scrub, it shouldn’t cost extra.”
Matching the unhurried atmosphere of the area, all treatments at Stay Polished are one-hour long and ensure customers a personalized leisurely experience. Clients can choose which portion of the treatment they’d like their manicurist to focus on. Whether it’s a longer relaxation massage or more nail repair, the service is wholly in the hands of the client.
Long treatments are just as therapeutic for the nail tech as they are for the client, says Kim-Nelson, who sees clients in addition to running the salon. “Sometimes I don’t like to be rushed because it takes a certain amount of time to make the nails look good, to do something you’re proud of. An hour is adequate and if you end earlier, that’s fine; at least you’re not making someone else wait. You’re upfront about expectations.”
Additionally, the salon vows to steer clear of electric files, acrylics, and bad odors, and works hard to stay abreast of all the latest natural nail products on the market.
Customers Are Here to Stay
Since Bird Rock is a bit off the grid, especially compared to nearby areas like downtown La Jolla or San Diego, Stay Polished does not receive many tourists. On occasion, a university student or two will book a service before graduation, but the salon’s client base is mostly returning customers, many of whom Kim-Nelson acquired from her previous nail tech job.
Stay Polished therefore puts a lot of effort into customer retention. Nail techs keep a record for each client, tracking both personal details and beauty preferences. Currently the salon has about 1,000 clients in its database, which includes regular and once-a-year customers.
“Our clients love the fact that we remember everything from the colors they most often select to their last vacation,” says Kim-Nelson. “We know what they had done previously, and if there was a certain top coat or polish brand that worked better for them.”
At Stay Polished, clients are served wine, champagne, beer, tea, or coffee free of charge. If Kim-Nelson knows a client has a particular beverage she likes to drink, she’ll keep it in stock. “We really get to know our customers personally, and they almost become our friends,” says Kim-Nelson. “Making them feel like they’re at home makes them more relaxed.”
Customization Is Key
Stay Polished’s basic manicures are $25 and the salon’s popular Bio Sculpture manicures are $45. Although the prices are set, the service is not.
A Bio Sculpture manicure, for example, includes nail prep, cuticle work, nail shaping, nail cleaning, hand massaging, polishing, and curing. However, the nail techs try to customize the procedure to better fit their client’s needs.
“We cater to the individual, so if we see he or she needs extra cuticle work, we do that,” Kim-Nelson says. “Or if they want more buffing, we do that too. It’s the same price, but we gear it toward making it specialized in that allotted hour.”
According to Kim-Nelson, Bio Sculpture is very prevalent at Stay Polished due to its versatility.
“Not only can you give someone a safe soak-off gel manicure, you can also fix or extend a nail with Bio Sculpture, and it comes in over 180 colors,” says Kim-Nelson. “They have different gels with different degrees of flexibility, strength, and hardness so you can really custom-build your service to that client. You can even do 3-D nails.”
Kim-Nelson is so confident in the product and her salon’s mastery of its application that she offers her clients a two-week guarantee: If any lifting or peeling occurs in that time, the next appointment is free.
“We have that guarantee because we feel like the prep work is the main thing that will prevent our customers from coming back with complaints,” says Kim-Nelson. “We don’t do any soaking in water. We just do extensive nail prepping, making sure the plate is completely clean and free of foreign substances that will touch the gel.”
Trying New Things
Kim-Nelson is not afraid to try a new product and have her salon be the first in the area to offer it. When Kim-Nelson or her nail techs are interested in a new product, they will spend a few weeks familiarizing themselves with it, testing out its application internally. If they’re pleased, they’ll add it to the salon’s evolving menu.
“If our customers find another salon that offers the same product we do, they might love the product, but they don’t love the application,” says Kim-Nelson. “When they find out how long we’ve been dealing with these new products behind the scenes, they’ll stay with us because they know we’ve already perfected it.”
Currently, Stay Polished offers Bio Sculpture soak-off gels, Gelish, Minx, CND, OPI, Essie, Carolyn New York, Chanel polish, bamboo and lemongrass scrubs and lotions from Lather, and Footlogix products. In addition to gel and regular polish, they also offer 3-D nail art, color blocking, and 2-D nail design.
Kim-Nelson also reports that glitter is extremely popular among clients at the moment. Rather than using typical glitters, the salon uses Eye Candy glitter eye shadow, which they discovered works well on nails and gives clients a more sophisticated look.
The salon’s fearless attitude toward trying new things, in addition to its customized services, is what has brought such a local crowd to this intimate Bird Rock shop.
Salon name: Stay Polished
Location: La Jolla, Calif.
Owner: Naomi Kim-Nelson
Square Footage: 600
Opened: April 2008
Number of Nail Techs/Total Staff: 4/4
Specialties: Soak-off gel, Bio Sculpture, natural nails, Minx