Salon name: Wah Nails
Owner: Sharmadean Reid
Square Footage: 1,033
Date opened: August 2009
Number of Nail Techs/Total Staff: 6/9
Specialties: nail art
In an artistic residential area of east London sits a pink building, the home of WAH Nails, one of the few London salons specializing in nail art. A former stylist who has traveled extensively, Sharmadean Reid was frustrated with the lack of nail art in London compared with what she was able to get abroad. She decided to do something about it, starting a nail art salon that attracts creative professionals — and is set for expansion.
Blog Drives Nail Art Clients
Inspired by nail art designs she’d received from some Japanese nail techs working in Los Angeles, Reid thought it was about time there was a salon in London that specialized in it.
Enter WAH, a fanzine (now a blog) Reid started at 19 dedicated to women in creative industries. “When I thought I was going to open the nail salon, it was kind of a natural progression to use the same name,” she says. “I wanted the area to be a space where those girls who read the magazine could come and hang out.”
The blog is hosted by the WAH magazine website, and drives in much of WAH Nails’ clients. “Our customers come because they want something off the blog,” she says. “I find it surprising that most nail salons don’t have blogs.”
The salon specializes in nail art, but the menu includes nail enhancements such as acrylics, gels, and fiberglass, along with natural nail services. A basic Quick Fix Mani costs £15 (roughly $24) while the average cost of nail art is £25. According to Reid, prices are a bit lower than those of high-end salons. “I don’t want to out-price a younger girl who might really want our nails but not be able to afford it,” she says.
Most clients choose their designs or get design ideas from the salon blog, where 33 pages of nail art are up and more are constantly added. Design books are also available with individually priced, painted nail tips. The most popular design is the WAH Signature Leopard Print. Prices are calculated mathematically, taking into account embellishments, detail, colors, and time involved.
An Artistic Space for the Creative Crowd
Since WAH magazine is written for “street- and fashion-oriented girls,” it’s no wonder that’s the crowd the salon gets. Reid estimates the average age of her clients to be 23, although the range is wide.
Located in an artistic fashion district, the salon’s neighbors are fashion designers and artists. “It’s definitely a center for creative people, and I thought they would be the best clients who would like our nail art,” Reid says.
Reid didn’t want the space to look like a regular salon, choosing instead to design it like a studio. You won’t find waterfalls and Zen music here. Reid purchased mirrored tables for manicures, lined magazines along shelves on the walls, and placed plants in various parts of the salon. Tear sheets from magazines cover magnet boards. “Everything’s about color — really bright colors,” says Reid.
Reid used to run an occasional swap meet in the salon, where clients brought in their things to sell. Soon people began leaving their things there, which became a part of the salon’s retail business. After reevaluating the space, Reid saw it was taking too much room and took it out, although she still retails clothes.
About once a month, wall decor gets changed to feature a different local female artist. Art tends to be street-art-based canvases, such as paintings, graffiti, or stencils, and she plans on having a photography exhibition soon.
“When we do those exhibitions, we have a launch party for them, and it gets quite busy,” she says. The salon’s nail techs remain during the exhibitions for visitors who want their nails done that night. Reid says not only does it give the artist a platform, but it also gives the salon exposure. The salon also gets commission from the artwork sold.
A Quick Expansion
“In England, there really isn’t the culture as there is in America of having nails done as a routine,” says Reid. “It’s more of a treat. Girls don’t come regularly to have their nails done, week in, week out, which is something I’m trying to change.”
She does this by trying to book follow-up appointments as clients are leaving. She also markets the salon by broadcasting promotions via Twitter or Facebook. In January, the salon offered free rhinestones, and February featured Valentine’s Day-related nail art.
Although WAH Nails only opened in August 2009, Reid is well on her way in plans for expansion. In February, WAH opened in two locations closer to central London. One is inside Selfridges department store, and another in Top Shop, a popular women’s fashion store. She hopes these locations will drive in traffic, exposing nail art to more shoppers. “People who come to Central London come to spend money,” Reid says. “They’re not coming to browse.”
According to Reid, the nail industry in London at first looked at her with skepticism because of her age (25), untraditional salon, and a seemingly unjustified amount of press. But, she’s plowed through and now senses more acceptance. “I just wanted to show that I wasn’t seeing it as a fad or trend. I want to take nails to a bit of a higher standard in the U.K,” she says.
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