When Lisa Fritsch decided to open Diva Salon in Portland, Ore., she knew she had awinning concept for an eclectic and fun nail salon. But she also felt she needed professional design help to get the look just right.

Based on a referral, she called Jeff Fisher, owner of LogoMotives and author of the book, Identity Crisis! "When I first met Jeff, I said I wanted to do dancing letters, and as ridiculous as that sounds, he came up with something," says Fritsch.

Ultimately, they tossed out the dancing letters idea and replaced it with a signature leopard print look that built an image and defined a customer experience. Their font and color choices were carried through on business cards, advertising, a website, and signage. Even the chairs in the store were covered in faux leopard fabric.

Today, Fritsch’s clients proudly sport "diva camouflage" attire when they arrive for their manicures and pedicures. At Diva Salon, good graphic design melded to a vision has paid off in spades — yielding customer loyalty and a strong brand.

Building a Brand: Integrated & Authentic Wins the Day

Whether you have spelled it out or not, your salon has a brand, an essence that is communicating with your customers. It’s important that the experience you promise in an ad or on your website mirror the experience customers will find. When graphic designer Stefan Pinto was hired to create a new website for Touch Spa that would replace one hastily thrown together by an Internet hosting provider, he opted for some in-store research. Pinto was shocked at what he found.

"Your website now looks very clinical, almost like a hospital," Pinto told the owner, as he inhaled the aroma of candles and listened to soothing music. There was a disconnect between the customer experience and the promise made to the customer on the existing website. Pinto overhauled the site dramatically to bring the site’s look into alignment with the brand being built.

Branding extends to customer service and staffing too. Bradley Skaggs designed logos and print materials for two nail salons, Lush Life Nail Bar and Vanity in San Francisco. He said the biggest challenge his client faced was not conveying a vision to him for the nail salons, but ensuring that the customer had the experience promised through the branding. He advises salon owners to know their business well and protect their brand zealously. "A bad experience can destroy your reputation, and that’s really difficult to undo," he cautions. 

Spotting Good Graphic Design (and Designers)

So what is good graphic design? The six designers inter-viewed for this article all offered similar tips for salon owners.

Simple is best. Look for clean lines, good color choices, and legible fonts. There should not be competing elements in the design. Rather, your eye should be drawn to one core element.

Avoid clutter. Good design makes use of white space. Every inch of the advertisement or piece should not be crammed with logos, words, and graphics.

Place one call to action in your ads. When someone is flipping through a magazine, your ad has to grab their attention. You want to say enough in the ad for someone to pick up the phone, but not tell them every single thing about your business. Your ad should include one call to action, such as a discount, coupon, limited-time special, or special event.

Use creativity to work around budget constraints and build your brand. At Vanity in San Francisco the menu of services is designed to be printed on regular-sized paper in the back office, but is placed into a leather-bound book before it is handed to a customer.

Explore the options. Talk to your printer or designer about gloss, paper weight, foil, cutting styles, and other elements that can add value.

Don’t feel you must use full-color printing. If you are doing a mailing and need to purchase in bulk, black-and-white designs can offer a significant cost savings and be engaging. Two-color offset printing (using a press, not a color copier) can be significantly cheaper than full-color printing.

Get a referral if you want to hire a graphic designer and review their portfolio. Discuss budget up front. Pay attention to chemistry. You are not going to get very far with someone you don’t get along with, even if you love her design style.

Good design does not have to be excessively expensive. One graphic designer told us her basic package for a small business wanting an original logo and designs is $5,000. Before you have a heart attack, rest-assured, many professional graphic designers do not charge this much, with prices for identity packages starting as low as $500.

The Do-It-Yourself Dilemma With the advent of websites selling "original logos" for $99 and computer software loaded with templates, it can be tempting to do the graphic design work for your nail salon yourself. But can you produce the materials at the quality level you seek?

"There’s definitely a faction of people who can create things on their own," says graphic designer Rick Schmidt with Fat Cat Creative. "It’s about making sure they are consistent. Make sure you are getting the right message out to people."

Maintaining consistency in your nail salon’s graphic look is often a challenge, especially if you have relied on a variety of vendors over time. "You may use a quick-copy place for your business cards, hire someone else for your signage, and a third to produce fliers for a mailing," says creative director Rick Miller. Variations in color and logo-stretching can dilute your brand and cheapen the look you have strived so hard for.

Many small business owners try out different looks and switch often, which can hurt brand-building. "They listen to their spouse, their friends, and their neighbors," says Schmidt. "Six months later, their customers don’t realize they are the same company. I try to steer my customers to find a look and be consistent. You should continually improve upon your investment in your image and make yourself recognizable."

An easy way to check for consistency in your materials is to do a brown bag audit. Place all of the materials created to market your salon — business cards, fliers, advertising layouts, even a picture of your salon’s signage — into a brown paper bag. Then dump the bag out on a big table. If the materials are more schizophrenic than consistent, you may want to consider doing some branding work with a graphic designer or on your own.

Experts say that while stock logo and layout sites may be convenient, there are risks to using these sites. "I had a client come to me who had found another business in town using exactly the same logo image," says Fisher. "Both had purchased the design online from the same site."

When it comes to the logo sites, Dezine Girl’s Pam Brown says, "You get what you pay for. They are going to give you a generic template, a shape, a font, and boom, it’s a logo." She suggests do-it-yourselfers use stock layout and photo sites to get ideas and find a starting point.

Whether you do your own design work or not, being educated on the basics of design and printing can help you think creatively. It can also prevent costly mistakes. Printers don’t offer free re-printing on most jobs and hold the do-it-yourselfer responsible for the outcome, says Laura Beulke, who owns Vertical Printing in Encinitas, Calif. She offers a glossary of printing terms on her website to help.

Strategy should guide your graphic design choices. Beulke helped the Nail Lounge in Carlsbad, Calif., with its graphic design needs, and surprisingly, the salon owner opted to use slightly different versions of its logo to represent her two salons. Ultimately, it was a savvy strategy, because the second store was sold and its new owner made significant changes. The branding investment in the flagship store’s brand and identity was protected, because the two salons were distinguished graphically from each other.

Ultimately, says Diva Salon’s Fritsch, effective graphic design comes down to your vision. She advises nail salon owners to not be discouraged, because creating a brand is hard work. "I had experiences later with design work where my inspiration did not go well," says Fritsch. "I’ve been fortunate. I got lucky when I had a meeting of the minds with Jeff Fisher."



Diva Salon, www.divasalon.com

Touch Spa, www.touchmiami.com

Be You Bi Yu Wellness Center & Spa, www.beyouspa.com

Vanity, www.vanitybeautylounge.com

Lush Life, www.lushlifenailbar.com



• Pam Brown, Dezine Girl (San Diego, Calif.), www.dezinegirlcreative.com

• Laura Buelke, Vertical Printing & Graphics (Encinitas, Calif.), www.verticalprinting.com

• Jeff Fisher, LogoMotives (Portland, Ore.), www.jfisherlogomotives.com

• Rick Miller, Steppingstone LLC (Sterling, Va.), www.steppingstonellc.com

• Stefan Pinto, Parallax I.D. (Miami, Fla.), www.parallaxid.com

• Jeff Schmidt, Fat Cat Creative (Rockville, Md.), www.fatcat-creative.com

• Bradley Skaggs, SKAGGS (New York City, San Francisco), www.skaggsdesign.com


Author Ami Neiberger-Miller owns Steppingstone LLC, a firm that provides public relations and graphic design services nationwide. You can e-mail her at ami@steppingstonellc.com.

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