Jane Park, founder and CEO of Julep Nail Parlor, is a whirlwind of activity. Being an entrepreneur, wife, and mother of two, she is used to multi-tasking at work and at home. Bringing her concept of Julep — “a place where girlfriends can gather to connect and celebrate” — to the public has been no different. She is seeking to provide a calm, down-home place where businesswomen can take a break from more formal, more chaotic surroundings.
Located in Seattle’s University District, Julep is in the center of workplaces and destination shopping, next to popular local and national stores. Park opened the salon last June with co-founder and COO Jeanne Riley.
THE THIRD PLACE: Park was inspired to create a place for “social moments and celebratory events” after a less-than-satisfying experience in a nail salon. While catching up with her girlfriends in the spa, she was told to quiet down by the employees, and admonished to use her “spa voice.” She was craving a place to be a version of herself that she couldn’t be anywhere else.
She was familiar with the concept of the “third place” from her work at Starbucks, where she launched new products. The term refers to having an additional space, besides work and home, in which to socialize and feel a sense of community. She decided to modernize the world created in the movie “Steel Magnolias,” in the form of a nail parlor. “My husband is from North Carolina, and I loved that idea of sitting on the porch together,” she says.
Julep is laid out entirely on one floor, café style, with one room set aside for waxing services. The space has a warm and modern feel, with orange, custom-designed movable lights. “It’s visually memorable, but cozy,” says Park. The chairs are also custom-designed; about six different fabrics were used, so each customer gets her own special chair. The chairs can be moved so friends can sit together. With a fireplace in the parlor, and three flat-screen TVs that often show “Sex and the City” reruns, Julep offers an inviting and relaxing atmosphere.
Julep also hosts unique events for many types of clients. On “Mommy Mondays,” it provides a talented local story reader to entertain the customers’ children. For “Girls Night Thursdays” the salon keeps its doors open later (until 9 p.m., instead of its usual 6 or 8 p.m.). The event-friendly salon also hosts plenty of meetings for female corporate executives, baptisms, baby showers, and bridal parties who want to take advantage of spa-quality manicures and pedicures while convening.
The salon also counts many couples among its clientele, and it offers both a Man-icure and a Sports Pedicure for men. “The men are excited when their girlfriends or wives come in,” says Park. “I think it’s hard for them to come in on their own. On Father’s Day, we had so many couples, we put on ESPN.”
BRAVADO AND DILIGENCE: Starting Julep took a huge leap of faith. “It was scary to hire so many people without a single appointment on the books,” says Park. In her research efforts, she went to more than 100 spas and salons, and learned as much as she could about the industry. She took six months to prepare and hone her vision for the salon.
“I forget the name of the writer who said, ‘it takes bravado before reason to get started, then dogged diligence’ to finish a novel,” says Park. That’s how it felt, she says, as she scouted for the best people in Seattle to work at Julep.
She and her partner put a considerable amount of work into recruiting. “We wanted talented and empathetic nail techs,” she says. While Park has, in her past work, recruited employees for many different industries, she noted that getting the right talent for the salon was the biggest challenge she had ever experienced. “I want people to be very happy when they work here. We work as a team, and there’s lots of movement and flexibility,” she says.
The nail techs at Julep hold the title, “vernisseur,” a term derived from the French word “vernis,” which means “varnish.” “Nail tech is a broad term,” says Park. “Jeanne and I wanted to more accurately recognize the work being done. Before they are hired our nail techs are put through a rigorous immersion program.” Park and Riley are emphatic that the intense training be recognized in their title.
At Starbucks, Park also learned an exceptional amount about retail, and the baristas she watched taught her quite a bit about service. “I admire those who work on the front line of service. They know so many people’s names,” she says. “It was inspiring, and I hope to inspire that level of service at Julep.”
CUSTOMIZED TREATMENTS: Julep offers natural nail services only, providing creative and pampering services to their customers. The Red Carpet-Ready Treatment and the Chocolate Pedicure are two favorite indulgences. For the “Red Carpet Ready” treatment, the nail techs use fresh pomegranate seeds for the soak and hemp seed oil for extra hydration, and serve a virgin cosmopolitan cocktail in a martini glass. The Chocolate Pedicure includes a dark chocolate mask, scrub, and a moisturizing chocolate lotion, and hot chocolate is served.
The Julep Pedicure is by far the most popular treatment offered at the salon. “All our products are customized and developed just for us, and one of those is our real mint and grapefruit paraben-free lotion,” says Park.
Since she felt there aren’t many places for female entrepreneurs to hear about other executives’ experiences, and because she wanted to share what Julep is about with her clients, Park started a blog called “Parlor Games” . “I went about raising funds differently; I was more direct than my male counterparts, and wanted to keep a log for myself and to share with others,” she says. The blog chronicles her thoughts and efforts from the moment she decided to open a salon — including courting investors — to what is currently happening.
PLANS FOR THE FUTURE: To keep Julep on the cutting edge of nail industry trends and services, Park scopes out the marketplace. “I look at trends happening in other industries — for example, the use of color in cosmetics. I’m seeing neutral colors like brown and beige out there. If it looks good on your lips, it will look good on your nails.”
This ambitious entrepreneur also plans to bring the concept that comprises Julep to other locations in the next five years, starting with a second location in the Seattle area, either in downtown Seattle or neighboring Bellevue.
Park also has aspirations to bring even more quality to the nail industry: “The status of the nail care profession has declined from where it was 10 years ago,” she says. “Lots of beauty industry professionals are going into hair or are becoming estheticians. Working in nail care is a great, rewarding career, and my goal is to change the way the industry views nails.”