Starting a nail salon amid a slow economic climate worried Loan Nguyen, owner of Gloss Nail Spa. But after celebrating its first anniversary, she is considering expanding. Since opening in March 2010, Nguyen has been vigorously grooming this business into a popular and prospering nail spot in Milwaukee. “I put money aside for about six months just as back up to make sure we had enough,” Nguyen says. “But after only three months, we were able to pay everything, and then from there it’s only been getting better,” she says.
Gloss started with five technicians, including Nguyen, who had been a nail tech for 15 years before opening the salon. Her exposure to nails came while in college when her parents opened a nail salon. “Nails have always been in my face,” she says. The nail spa now boasts 14 technicians, all on commission, and an esthetician.
After finishing her bachelor’s degree in business from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Nguyen pursued a career in real estate for several years until marrying. After years of hearing about her parents’ salon, she decided to get her license. While starting a family she alternated between part-time and full-time as a nail tech.
But eventually she wanted more. “I knew I needed to branch out on my own,” she says. “I was tired of working at a salon that doesn’t really care about the clients who come in, so I decided to open a somewhat affordable salon that is really clean and high-quality and is pretty modern too.”
No Books to A Full Schedule
When Nguyen started Gloss Nail Spa, she accepted walk-ins only and had no appointment book. “That just did not work because 20 people would walk in at once, and there wouldn’t be enough techs,” she says. Now, the appointment book is a priority. She says that unlike other similarly priced salons, Gloss is sure to get appointment clients in on time and never takes a walk-in first. “When we set an appointment, we don’t make them wait; a lot of our clients appreciate that,” she says. Now, appointments make up 90% of the nail spa’s customers.
Hiring technicians in those first six months became a seemingly impossible mission as well. “It was hard to find people to work, especially as a new salon, because people don’t want to work at a place that hardly has any clients to begin with,” says Nguyen, adding that she had to seek out nail techs in order to keep up with the traffic. “At first there wasn’t that much business, but from word of mouth it grew so quickly.”
Now that she has enough technicians, scheduling them has proven to be the most difficult task in managing the salon, especially with the motto of keeping appointments at the top of the list while also accepting walk-ins. To help keep a smooth schedule, Nguyen emphasizes that the techs stay within 10 minutes of the appointment time frame. She allows techs to make their own hours and days to work, all the while trying to keep gaps to a minimum. “Scheduling is definitely the hardest,” says Nguyen, who offsets this by filling in herself when necessary.
Nguyen encourages the technicians to build their own clientele. “Normally when you work at a salon they don’t really want you to build a clientele because if you leave they don’t want you to take those clients with you,” she says. “I tell my technicians, ‘This is your business — even if you leave these are still your clients.’ ”
Due to her experience as a nail tech, Nguyen says she understands the importance of building trust with a client. If you leave a salon, you want to be able to tell the clients that you will gladly take their business with you. Nguyen’s clients are people she has serviced for more than five years.
Gloss for Professionals
Most of Gloss Nail Spa’s clients are “working class ladies” as Nguyen calls them, who head into the salon after their full-time jobs. The salon is around the corner — and on the other side of the Milwaukee River — from several business centers, but is close enough to allow for a connection to the area. And if they are a daytime client, they most likely work from home, according to Nguyen.
Professional women aren’t the only ones walking around the block to go to Gloss — professional males account for 20% of the salon’s business. “We do have a lot of men coming in,” Nguyen says. “A lot of them are professionals who need to keep their nails clean.” She says some of the men come in on their own the first time, but many are physically brought in by a woman and some through gift certificates. “A lot of them end up liking it and keep coming in,” she says. Nguyen notes that many clients who go to more expensive salons end up coming back to Gloss Nail Spa, saying they felt the service was better and had more value for the price.
Gloss offers top professional products, which fits for its most popular services: the No-Chip Manicure and Pedicure. The No-Chip Manicure is $40, compared to the Classic Manicure at $15. Nguyen says she carries six lines of “no-chip” products, including Hand & Nail Harmony’s Gelish, OPI’s Axxium, and CND’s Shellac. She buys new polishes almost every week because it helps keep and bring in clients. “I’m really into bringing new things into the salon,” she says.
The services are all-inclusive. “You don’t get cheated,” Nguyen says. “We don’t charge extra for callus remover; we try to be on top of everything and service our clients however they feel the most comfortable.”
Before buying too much of one product, Nguyen puts everything through a wear test first. “I like to try them out before I really invest in them,” she says. All the techs use CND for base and top coats, and clients love OPI partially because of the frequency of new polishes released. Gloss also uses products from Jessica Cosmetics and Minx Nails. The Minx manicure for $40 is popular for special events.
Nails take precedence at this nail spa, as there is no retail area. If a client asks about a particular product used in a service, the techs are free to sell them a product, but they do not get commission from retail.
Part of Nguyen’s surprise in the quick growth of her business is that she started Gloss in a newly developed area, where the salon was the first building to open. “We’re surrounded by apartment complexes and condos on a busy street. If you drive by fast you might miss us,” she says.
Once you get into the salon, the teal colors and earth tones matched with the bamboo setting in the open space lend a trendy, stylish feeling. Upon walking into Gloss, there’s an open manicure bar and a sleek reception and waiting area. Behind the manicure bar sit 10 manicure tables and the pedicure space, which is set apart by bamboo and pillar-styled walling. There is also a private facial room.
Nguyen is looking to expand the salon into what is currently a fitness center next door. The center is planning to move into a nearby building under construction in a couple years. “Meanwhile, we’re just trying to figure out the maintenance and how much it will really cost to do it,” she says.
Nguyen works with local charities to help get the business name out there. She says the community — sometimes through a referral from a client — often asks her to participate in different events. The salon also does party services, such as birthdays and wedding events.
With the recession, Nguyen says getting other businesses in the area has been slow, and she recognizes development will take time. But for now, Nguyen and staff just wish there were more eateries around. “There’s no food!” she laughs. “We have to walk at least three or four blocks down to get food.”
Salon Name: Gloss Nail Spa
Owner: Loan Nguyen
Square Footage: 1,800
Opened: March 2010
Number of Nail Techs/Total Staff:14/15
Specialties: No-Chip Manicure
Photography courtesy of Gloss Nail Spa