Salon Name: Butter London
Locations: Westlake Center, Seattle, Starbucks Center, Seattle, SeaTac International Airport, Seattle, Sacramento International Airport, Sacramento, Calif., Dulles International Airport, Dulles, Va.
Owners: Sasha Muir, Nonie Creme
Square Footage: 500-800 sq. ft.
Opened: End of 2005
Number of Nail Techs/Total Staff: 10-20 each location
Specialties: Waterless manicures and pedicures
Compensation: Hourly plus commission on product sales, benefits
Should you find yourself stuck in the airport, with all your magazines skimmed and a half-empty cup of cold coffee at your side, you may find yourself in luck — if you’re at the right airport.
At Butter London nail stores, airport wait time can be passed just a bit quicker. Found in the SeaTac International Airport in Washington, the Sacramento International Airport in California, and the Dulles International Airport in Virginia, Butter London stores were designed to cater to an on-the-go client with some time on her hands.
Founded by entrepreneur Sasha Muir, Butter London opened its first location in the Westlake Center in Seattle at the end of 2005. A year later, she partnered with Nonie Creme, a top fashion session manicurist who joined the company to develop a new line of nail care products. Since then, they have opened up four other stores throughout the U.S.
FIGHTING THE STEREOTYPE
The idea of Butter London came from the stereotypes of a typical nail salon. “When we came up with the concept, we made a list of everything that is typical in an average nail salon and we tried to do the opposite. Typically, people would say the average nail salon might smell; we design products with a very low odor. They might say the service is bad or inconsistent; we work very hard to make sure we have service protocols to make it very consistent so you get the same service wherever you go,” Muir says.
The store design emphasizes these ideas. Both London city girls, Muir and Creme wanted to bring a hip London feel to the place and the final result is a design that mixes both elegance and cutting-edge elements. Black and gold panels frame the entrance, matching the display counters and cabinets. The walls are either painted a sky blue or wallpapered with a unique combination of flowers, butterflies, and a crowned Tower of London raven named Branwen that protects the store. Exposed piping hangs overhead, in contrast to the large black chandeliers that dangle from the ceiling. Instead of relaxing music, they blast British rock-and-roll that completes the upbeat atmosphere.
If it seems fast paced, that’s precisely what they were going for. “The atmosphere is not Zen or spa-like and that really fits well with what we’re doing,” says Muir. So what exactly are they doing? “We’re offering a very fast, convenient and high-quality service for people on the go.”
CATERING TO THOSE ON THE GO
Taking advantage of the airport downtime is a diverse group of people that Muir calls “the savvy consumer.” They range in age, but have a common ground: They are sophisticated, fashionable, traveled, and on their way somewhere — whether it is to a wedding, a business trip, or abroad.
Male clients are not rare at Butter London. Muir estimates that about 20% of the stores’ clients are men. She cites the beautiful signs around the airport as well as the store design that resembles a men’s haberdashery — or the fact that wives have talked up the product to their husbands — as reason for men to come inside. The most requested service for men is the buff-to-shine manicure, although many also request a foot massage.
Clients can opt for anything from a 10-minute Butter Lite (file and polish) to a full manicure and pedicure, which can be done in one hour. The most popular service is the Butter Me Up manicure, which includes nail shaping, cuticle work, a hand massage, and polish application.
Although the other locations do accept appointments, all airport stores are walk-in only. Muir estimates the wait time to be no longer than 10 minutes.
But even if a client has to wait, she can browse through the Butter London nail care collection, developed by Creme. Fifty percent of each store is dedicated to retail, and the line, already popular in England, is gaining popularity in the U.S.
KEEPING CLIENTS AND EMPLOYEES HAPPY
In response to the sanitation problems of nail salons, Butter London has tackled the issue head-on. Their solution is to offer waterless services. As they see it, removing water from the salon equation also removes the issue of sanitation and disinfection in regards to pedicure tubs and manicure soaking bowls.
Each location has anywhere from 10 to 20 nail technicians. Even part-time employees are eligible to receive benefits and Muir reports technicians are excited to work in the store and excited to sell the products because they have seen it in magazines and they recognize the brand.
The company boasts a carefully chosen nail care line that doesn’t use the traditional chemicals. “Not only is it good for you in being non-toxic, but it’s also couture because we take our colors directly from the fashion shows and the designers,” says Muir. “Noni plays an important role because she goes to the shows and looks at the collections to determine how our colors are going to fit in with the looks she’s seeing.”
Bidding for an airport location was not easy, but the positive reception they have received is encouraging. Since the stores are located past the check-in gate, clients at airport stores are limited by how often they fly. Even so, the stores still get a 30% repeat customer rate, not to mention the three million passengers that pass by each of their stores every year.
The overall success in store locations and the nail care line make expansion only to be expected. Muir and Creme are still debating the details, but they do have plans for a U.K. flagship store, as well as more locations around the U.S. If the economy permits, they plan on doubling the number of stores by next year in airports on both coasts of the country.
Muir and Creme may be on to something here — helping to transform that dreaded airport wait into something that could actually be enjoyable. Because now airport downtime won’t just be reserved for catching up on reading or incessant glances at a watch, it’s also the time for that well-deserved, much-put-off mani and pedi.