Dunbar retails a variety of skin care and beauty products, including her own line, dubbed Bluffa Jo.
Maisie Dunbar is a computer systems analyst-turned-brand name. That is, she used to be a systems analyst, more than 17 years ago. Since then, she has become a nail tech and salon owner, makeup artist for celebrities and runway models, beauty consultant, Bluffa Jo makeup and skin care line owner, and in essence, a brand name.
Dunbar explains: "I hired a beauty business consultant and he made me realize my name was my brand," she says. He asked her a simple question: "Maisie, have you ever Googled yourself?" When she did so, Dunbar found that all her work, including the Bluffa Jo line, showed up under her name. Taking the consultant’s advice, she moved to a bigger location nearby and changed her salon name from M&M Nails and Wellness Center, opened in 1999, to Maisie Dunbar Spa Lounge.
Following the success of her career in the beauty industry, Maisie Dunbar is working to spread her brand name.
Making the Switch
Opened in October 2009, Maisie Dunbar Spa Lounge in Silver Spring, Md., is a two-level salon that includes six pedicure stations, two manicure tables, and four private rooms that can be used for massage, waxing, and skin care treatments. Makeup, eyelash, and eyebrow services are offered in front near the nail area.
The new location interior was entirely rebuilt — and Dunbar faced a setback when the hired contractor took off with her supplies, forcing her to buy all new ones. Dunbar adds that another challenge was financing the new place, as new materials and furniture had to be bought. Worried about being in debt, she wiped out her savings to fund the salon herself.
"I was looking for more of a spa lounge kind of feel," Dunbar says. Whereas her previous salon had been dominated by different wood tones, the new salon has a sleeker, more modern look, with white walls and floors and mostly dark furniture.
The waiting room outside the spa area leads to into four private rooms reserved for waxing, massage, and skin care treatment.
Marketing and Incentives
Among other achievements, Dunbar has been an educator for CND and Seche, done nails for television and awards shows, and been featured in newspapers and magazines. Dunbar uses her expertise to market the salon, offering specials and discounts and using online resources to push the brand.
Dunbar says her business grew strictly from referrals throughout the years. To reward those clients who brought in new business, she established a points and rewards system. Clients get points for referrals, and they can then use them to redeem services and treatments. Points can also be earned by buying a certain amount of products and for pre-booking.
Internet marketing includes a comprehensive website, e-newsletters sent every month, and a YouTube channel with videos that include a walk-through tour of the salon. She also offered a Groupon (online group coupon available at Groupon.com) to spread the word about the new location. "The client retention aspect of Groupon wasn’t that high. We got a great response, but many people thought our prices were a little steep," Dunbar says. "However, people have referred other organizations to us for events."
To combat the effects of the recession on salon business, she’s offered specials and serviced events. "You just have to rethink the way you do business," Dunbar says. "Doing it the same way is just not going to work."
Manicure and makeup stations are located on the upper level of the salon.
Ensuring Excellent Service
The salon’s most popular treatments are its basic manicures and pedicures, called the Girl-Le-Girl Manicure and Pedicure. At $83 for the combo ($93 if the service is with Dunbar herself), Dunbar says prices are a little higher than area salons.
Other nail services include CND’s Shellac hybrid nail color, Minx nail coatings, and Bluffa Jo Sugar Butter services, which use products from Dunbar’s own line. Clients can choose polish from OPI, Essie, CND, China Glaze, and Zoya.
She enacted a second-day callback system for new clients. The caller makes sure clients are happy with their treatment and experience, and if they are not, Dunbar calls them to see how she can fix it. She says this has been an effective policy in getting repeat bookings.
Most clients are female baby-boomers who moved with her from her previous location.
Pedicure stations that Dunbar designed herself lie along the back of the salon, allowing guests more privacy.
Tips for Other Techs
From computer expert to beauty expert, Dunbar has gone a long way from the day she was laid off 17 years ago. One can credit Dunbar’s success to her innovation and readiness to research other salon techniques, take classes, and attend trade shows. She eventually hired a business consultant because she wanted to take her salon to the next level.
"If you are committed to the industry, you will be successful," she advises new nail techs. Techs must invest in their education to get ahead. Some expect salon owners to take care of this, and while they should, not every salon owner will, she warns. In this case, it’s up to the tech to keep herself informed by reading, going to trade shows, doing market research, and getting services in other salons. "You have to be responsible for your own success," Dunbar says.
Salon Name: Maisie Dunbar Spa Lounge
Location: Silver Spring, Md.
Owner: Maisie Dunbar
Square Footage: 2,500
Opened: 2009 (1999 in original location)
Number of Nail Techs/Total Staff: 5/7
Specialties: Cutting-edge nails
Compensation: Salary at start, commission once established
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