In December 2010, Nadine Ferber and Adair Ilyinsky opened a nail salon, tenoverten, in Tribeca, a trendy, popular neighborhood in New York City. The address was perfect, located on Tribeca’s coveted “six corners.” The only drawback: the spot was on the second floor of a five-story building. How would two women who aren’t nail techs (no industry connections, no clientele) be able to get word out to let people know about a salon with no visibility?
Patsy Tavenner had the same dilemma. Retired from her job in government and ready to tackle a new challenge, Tavenner opened Patsy’s Nail Bar in Washington, D.C., in February 2010. She had no built-in clientele and no networks in the nail industry. She chose a location on the second and third floors of a three-story building.
Both salons are doing well despite operating above the head of pedestrians in areas already saturated with salons. How did they do it? To begin with, they opened salons that fill a void in the market. “Tribeca is very much a neighborhood place, and we saw the neighborhood was lacking the type of salon we wanted,” says Ferber. “We built our business out of our experience as passionate customers.”
Tribeca has day spas and discount salons, but Ferber and Ilyinsky wanted a salon “with a relaxed and social atmosphere.” Clients walk into what Ferber describes as a “gritty stairwell,” up a flight of stairs to a landing, and then climb another flight of stairs before they walk into a salon with 12 manicure stations and 12 pedicure booths. It’s worth the work. Manicure tables are equipped with iPads for each client, while pedicure clients face huge windows that allow them to “look out onto the city without the city looking back,” says Ferber. “It’s very loft-like; you feel like you’re stepping into someone’s apartment.”
Tavenner describes a similar catalyst for opening her salon. “We asked ourselves what was missing in the neighborhood,” says Tavenner. “We have nail salons and expensive day spas where people can get manicures and pedicures, but we had no nail spa.” Tavenner opened Patsy’s Nail Bar with extras not typically found in traditional salons: The handcrafted nail bar has Silestone countertops and Italian tiles, and Romero Brito paintings hang on the walls. The salon’s second level — which is the third floor of the building — provides privacy for couples’ pedicures and spa parties, plus the area functions as a “man-cave” for male clients who want a beer, a wide-screen TV, and a pedicure without an audience.
Use Press to Your Advantage
Tenoverten and Patsy’s Nail Bar fill a niche that keeps clients coming back, but how did clients find them in the first place? Ferber says she and Ilyinsky put the word out to their personal and professional networks. Ferber owns a clothing boutique and Ilyinsky is a fashion financial analyst. Their connections drew the attention of Vogue magazine who announced their opening as a “Vogue Secret.” Other press includes The New York Times, Marie Claire, New York Magazine, and Allure. “We were very fortunate with press,” says Ferber.
Tavenner also credits press with spreading the word about her salon. “We were the first salon in D.C. to be trained in Shellac,” says Tavenner. Articles announcing the service, along with descriptions of the salon, were featured in Daily Candy D.C., Shape, and the Washington Post Express. Tavenner says she still sends press releases out to media sources to keep her name in front of readers.
Offer a Unique Experience
The secret to keeping clients coming back to an out-of-the-way location, when they could choose an easier-to-navigate spot on street level, is the one-of-a-kind experience that rewards them once they leave the street. Salons like tenoverten and Patsy’s Nail Bar understand they attract a limited clientele. They don’t try to provide “something for everyone.” They excel at satisfying the client who is looking for something beyond what satisfies the masses. Designing a salon that caters to the preferences of a limited clientele is working for veteran techs, too. Experience has taught these techs the value of fine-tuning their services to cultivate a specific clientele, and many have found their best location to be above ground level.
Sisters Myra and Ilisa Green opened Green’s Nails & Massage in Chicago as 30-year veterans in the industry. Though many faithful clients followed them to their location on the 15th floor of the building, they credit the unique experience they offer as the reason new clients continue to seek them out. “We do not rush our services and appointments,” says Myra. “We have a quiet, out-of-the-way spot removed from the rush of the city where clients receive personal attention and good conversation. Their time here is like being with a friend.” Green’s offers gel enhancements, natural nail services, and massage. The atmosphere is holistic, relaxed, and soothing, plus the privacy affords clients opportunities they aren’t likely to find somewhere else. Ilisa tells of famous clients who visit Green’s because they enjoy services without interruption and of couples who make the salon a date destination, bringing in baskets with wine and cheese to enjoy during their services.
Maggie Franklin has been a nail tech for 20 years. Recently she moved her salon, The Art of Nailz, to the fourth floor of a historic building on Main Street in her hometown of Visalia, Calif. She echoes the observation that a tucked-away nail salon can be successful when the owner understands the opportunity to meet the needs of a smaller audience. “Different tiers of professionals exist in the industry,” says Franklin. “Working without a storefront allows someone to work by appointment and to develop a certain clientele. If your business is largely dependent on impulse bookings, it may be harder.” Though, notes Franklin, her walk-in business has never been stronger than at her present, fourth-story location. “I don’t know if it’s the foot traffic from Main Street or that the Internet is coming of age in our small town so people use their phones to find me on Google and come over because I’m within walking distance.” Either way, moving to the fourth floor hasn’t slowed her business growth despite no evidence of her salon from the street.
Let Clients In on Your Secret
The experience clients have at above-street-level salons is by its nature more private. When salon owners capitalize on this unique distinction, they create a deeper loyalty among customers. “For the first six months we were in business, people only saw a sign with 10/10,” says Ferber. “We had no signs advertising us as a nail salon. We became the place for people to discover. Even now when the salon is full, clients feel as if it’s ‘their place,’ a hidden gem.”
The feeling of discovering a secret place is certainly tantalizing. While Patsy’s Nail Bar is allowed signs in the windows, sandwich boards on the sidewalks, even video from a TV at ground level showing pedestrians the inside of the salon, it’s the surprise clients get when they enter the salon that makes them feel like they’ve found a secret spot in the city. “We’ve heard complaints about the stairs,” says Patsy, “but when clients walk in, they’re always surprised at what they find, and they love it.”
Filling a niche by understanding what satisfies a targeted clientele and delivering an exceptional experience helped these four salons succeed even though clients have to search to find them. But, just like salons at street level, their success is ultimately linked to word of mouth. Yelp, Citysearch, Facebook, and Google were all cited as ways new clients learned about the salon and as ways salon owners continue to market the location and unique experience they offer. Pictures, client testimonies, and a list of available services help to reduce some of the apprehension of walking off the street and into the unknown. “Twitter is also a useful way to interact with customers,” suggests Franklin. (Search “artofnails” and “tenoverten” at twitter.com to see the possibilities.)
Every location will have its benefits and drawbacks, but for those looking to open a new salon or move into a new spot, the ideal location may not be the one right in front of your eyes. Maybe the best way to find your spot is to start looking up.
PROS & CONS
> We get a lot of light, even on darker days, because of all the sunlight from the windows.
> We don’t have to contend with garbage on the streets or go out a few times a day to sweep the sidewalks.
> Limited visibility.
> It’s difficult for women who are carrying a lot, including strollers.
Green’s Nails & Massage
> We like the feeling of being “part of the block” that comes with working in a big building.
> Clients are able to step outside of the rush of the city to relax.
> It’s hard for clients who drive to get through when the city has big events, such as the marathon.
> If someone has only a half-hour for lunch, they aren’t likely to have time to walk over, take the elevator, stay for the appointment and be back in time, unless they are tenants in the building.
Patsy’s Nail Bar
> We are able to hang signs, and we’re located at a street light so people can look up and see our name in the window. Plus, a restaurant is across the street, so people can see our salon when they’re seated at their table.
> People can’t see what you look like; they’re uncertain about going where they don’t know what they’ll find.
>There’s no elevator.
The Art of Nailz
> I have a great view of the mountains and awesome seating for the Annual Christmas Parade and weekly Farmers’ Market.
> Our senator and assemblywoman have offices in my building, so I get a great view of the protests.
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