When Stephanie Coulston was a girl growing up in Phoenix, manicures and pedicures were a costly treat. Later, living in Los Angeles, she grew accustomed to relatively inexpensive but excellent nail service, and upon returning to her hometown, she found prices shockingly unaffordable. Remembering her childhood love of feeling pampered, she decided to do something about it. “From that point, I decided I was going to pursue it. I went to nail school, did the training in Arizona, and opened up after that,” she says.
The result is Sundrops Nail Spot, a beautiful old-Hollywood-inspired nail salon with mid-range prices, combining the quality of service and affordability that she had been searching for.
Pampering the Clients
Upon entering the salon, clients are greeted with a round table stacked with retail products atop a zebra-print rug. To the right are white shelves of retail products that range from clothing to flip flops to body products, the burst of colors balancing out the black, white, and purple color scheme of the salon. The top shelves display black-and-white photographs of ’50s movie stars, matching the prints of more ’50s favorites along the back wall.
The Sundrops name came from a line of jewelry Coulston designs and used to sell. “I didn’t want to give it up, so I used it for the nail salon,” she says. “I thought with the store being in Arizona, it was the perfect fit.”
She also came up with Sundrops’ service menu, which features playful names such as Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend and Down and Dirty. Costing $22, the Diamonds manicure is a favorite among female clients. It includes a tonic soak in a bowl filled with diamond jewels, nail shaping, cleansing, cuticle restoration, massage, and buff or polish.
The Island Indulgence and Down and Dirty are the favored pedicures. The Indulgence uses coconut oils and soaks to transport clients to a beach vacation, while the Down and Dirty gets tough on dead skin, using a soy foot bath to dissolve dead skin cells, a walnut, seaweed, and pumice exfoliation scrub, callus eliminator and heel exfoliation, and finally, exfoliating lotion. These pedicures cost $35 and $56, respectively.
Focusing on Specific Groups
Located in a small shopping center, Coulston describes the salon as having a neighborhood feel. Having intentionally avoided the large mall atmosphere, she estimates core clients live within a five- to 10-mile radius of the salon.
Salon services that single out clients ensure they feel special. To bring the guys in, the Man-cure claims to “eliminate the fluff but deliver all the goodness.” The service includes a soak, groom, massage, and finish with a buff or matte polish and is the most popular manicure for its male clients — 20% of total clientele.
Little Miss Mani and Little Miss Pedi, created for girls ages 5-12, is a reminder of Coulston’s childhood treats. Not only can they be used as a congratulatory event, but moms who come in with a fidgety daughter can have her sitting in a chair and enjoying a service. At $11 and $13 for the mani and pedi, they’re an inexpensive way to have a mother-daughter day.
Don’t think that Coulston has forgotten her core clientele of younger-to-middle-age professional women. As the Internet’s importance rises, Sundrops’ professionally designed website has a Sundrops Club option for those wanting a bit of exclusivity. Clients sign up for free online, and the perks of being a club member include complimentary chip repair, a birthday mini mani, and the insider scoop on sales and promotions. With only four required lines to fill out, signup is easy. What’s more, keeping a database of client e-mail addresses and birthdates lets Coulston know the demographics of her clients and allows her to contact them directly.
Behind the glitz of old Hollywood and the fun of catchy service names is, let’s admit it, a lot of hard work. Coulston is busy keeping the peace and making sure her nail techs stay happy. To ensure this, the salon has a break room for employees, with lockers, a lunch bar, pantry, and refrigerator. All full-time employees are offered health and dental insurance and paid vacation.
She also pays employees a salary plus tips instead of commission. “Paying on salary lessens competitiveness and creates a team atmosphere,” she says. “On commission, it was every man for himself.” Seeing this, she offered a gradual transition to salaries, which was completed nine months after the salon opened.
Getting PR is also Coulston’s job, although sometimes it comes easier than others. She says clients hear of Sundrops through word-of-mouth, but it doesn’t hurt to push that along with free media coverage. In the Phoenix New Times at the end of last year, the salon won a Best of Phoenix award for Best Boutique Pedicure, some good news she wasn’t expecting. “I guess [a reporter] must have come in. I didn’t know until someone called and said ‘I saw you in the New Times,’” Coulston says.
She also tries to get write-ups in the local papers, and when there is a big event at the salon, she makes sure to e-mail club members with the information and puts up posters in the salon announcing the events.
Salon Name: Sundrops Nail Spot
Owner: Stephanie Coulston
Square Footage: 1,300
Opened: Sept. 2007
Number of Nail Techs/Total Staff: 8/11
Specialties: Natural nail services
Compensation: Salary plus tips
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