Ulzii Tsogtbaatar’s interest in nails began at a young age, growing up in a family of five females all interested in makeup, hair, and the beauty industry. When she moved to the U.S., she became a nail technician, learning from each salon where she worked and taking away ideas on how to get new clients and how to best service existing clients.

In Mongolia, where her family owned a restaurant and adjacent bread and ice cream factory, she had already picked up business management skills. “After high school, I started working with my parents — I managed the business,” says Tsogtbaatar. She learned about competition and about managing employees, although she adds that she’s still learning things today.

After seven years working in various salons in Denver, Tsogtbaatar moved to Chicago and opened her own nail salon, Pure Rain Nail Spa, in the historic Printer’s Row area of the city. Bringing together her experience in running a business and first-hand knowledge of the beauty industry, Tsogtbaatar was prepared to manage her own salon successfully.

Starting Out

When she opened in December 2008, Tsogtbaatar started from scratch in a neighborhood where other nail salons were scarce. With a longtime interest in design, she chose brown furniture, beige and light green walls, rows of pillar candles, sheer white curtains, and an assortment of Asian-inspired decorations such as a large fan and elephant and Buddha statues.

The waiting area consists of two chairs with zebra-stripe cushions that match those of the pedicure bench, and a drying station sits nearby. Behind the curved, wooden reception desk is the retail area stocked with jewelry. A pedicure bench for five lines one side of the salon while six separate manicure tables line the opposite wall.

Despite her upbringing in a family of many females, the neutrality of the salon’s design, services, and even its name, all contribute to her larger-than-average male client base, which she estimates to be 15%-20%. “I once asked a client why he picked this place. He said, ‘Well, I don’t want to go to Princess Nails,’” she says. The name Pure Rain is a loose translation of her daughter’s name, Ariunkhur, in Mongolian.

Specials Keep Prices Reasonable

Most Pure Rain clients are young professionals, but the multitude of nearby colleges and universities means the salon gets its share of college students as well. “We have a lot of specials that university girls love,” Tsogtbaatar says.

Prices for a mani and pedi are mid-range, but Tsogtbaatar offers Internet specials on the salon website. The winter special, the Lavender Spa Mani and Pedi (the most popular treatment) was lowered to $35 and includes a soak in lavender sea salt, lavender scrub and mask, massage, and hot towel treatment.

In addition, although Yelp reviews are already positive, Tsogtbaatar began offering a free manicure to the first 20 clients who put up appreciative reviews on Yelp. Yelp specials normally attract the younger crowd.

Their no-chip manicures (OPI Axxium soaf-off gels) are another service that’s in demand. “It’s very popular — a good service for people who work with water, like bartenders, nurses, doctors, and waitresses,” she says.

Other services include eyelash extensions, makeup application, waxing, and massages. Tsogtbaatar, also a cosmetologist, handles these other services while her employees focus on the nail services that account for 90% of the salon’s services.

Keep Them Coming Back

Tsogtbaatar will admit she didn’t open her salon at an ideal time. “The end of 2008 was already a tough year,” she says. Still, a little over a year in, Pure Rain has managed to retain a good amount of regular clients.

She attributes this to excellent client relations and the little extras the salon provides. Open seven days a week for easier scheduling, the salon offers complimentary water and tea to clients. Two plasma TVs play “Sex and the City,” while alternatively, satellite radio plays in the background.  

In addition, the complimentary Bring Your Own Bottle option is a popular one, for both after-work downtime and larger parties. Often, groups will come for service with wine, and Tsogtbaatar says the salon remains open to the public unless the party is larger than 20.
Having overcome the hurdles of starting a business, and with a steady following of regular clients,  Tsogtbaatar’s main challenge now is dealing with appointments and parties that don’t cancel ahead of time. However, with this much experience under her belt, it shouldn’t be a challenge for long. 

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