A Child’s Tale

by Sree Roy | November 1, 2007

Once upon a time in the California city of West Hollywood, a little girl went for a walk with her mother. Pretty soon, they came upon a beauty salon. The girl, wanting to get a pedicure like mom, went inside. She sat in the spa chair, but her feet didn’t reach the basin. “This chair is too big,” she huffed. Mom knew then it was time to build the salon that was “just right.” Bringing this fairy tale to life, entrepreneur Maria Botham created Spa Di Da, a full-service West Hollywood salon whose core clientele is kids ages 2 to 10.

“My 2- and 4-year-old would watch me put on make-up and were interested in getting manicures and pedicures like their Mommy,” Botham says. “We started getting services together, and I thought there should really be a place designed for kids. I thought they needed products designed for their skin and an atmosphere just for them.” With its whimsical design and service offerings, Spa Di Da is just the place.

MOTHER KNOWS BEST: Botham’s experience with kids isn’t limited to her daughters. She owned a children’s swim school for many years and currently owns a chain of Hair Fairies, a salon-style center for children’s head lice removal.

“I’ve been entrenched in the kid industry for 20 years, so I have an understanding of what they’re looking for and what they need,” Botham says. “When creating Spa Di Da, it helped me create an atmosphere and a company ethic that’s exciting for them and us.” She was able to take the similarities between her businesses even further by conveniently locating Spa Di Da next door to a Hair Fairies store, allowing Spa Di Da to feed off the sister business’s affluent clientele. “It’s a high-traffic area for us, and we thought it would be a great place to work out any kinks in the new concept, especially at the beginning,” says April Weiss, Spa Di Da’s director of operations.

Spa Di Da was originally going to be a hair salon, but Botham decided to expand the concept to include nails and skincare as she fleshed out her business idea. It turned out to be a fortuitous decision. Nail services now comprise 50% of the salon’s business.

CREATING A LAND FAR, FAR AWAY: Spa Di Da’s fanciful interior looks like it popped out of a beautiful bedtime story. A large chalkboard listing the service menu greets clients at the entry. To the left, an airbrush tattoo and make-up station tempts kids with temporary beauty fixes.

Two large airbrushed murals adorn the main (middle) portion of the 700-sq.-ft. salon. A castle design, complete with a dragon, adorns one wall, while a garden with fairies and cherubs graces the opposite. “The murals made it easy for us to complete the design, because it meant we didn’t have to look for a lot of extra art,” Weiss says.

A custom-made manicure table was created to seat two clients at once, which makes it perfect for a mother-and-daughter service or for two friends getting manicures side by side. The table’s coloring adds to the salon’s light feel — it’s purple and pink with dashes of glitter under the glass top.

The pedicure chairs too were customized for kids. Opting for portable pedicure bowls and separate chairs (instead of pedicure thrones), the salon quickly ran into a problem. “Even though we bought chairs that could be adjusted up and down, we found the kids’ feet still didn’t fit into the bowls,” Weiss remembers. The salon had boosters made in different sizes to lift up the bowls to the best height.

Hair stations are also located in the center of the salon, as is a facial bed tucked away behind a curtain. The layout is completed with a play area and bracelet bar (where kids make their own jewelry) in the back. On the side, dark wood shelves showcase the salon’s retail products.

SUGAR AND SPICE AND EVERYTHING NICE: Spa Di Da has an array of offerings as wide as any adult salon. Its menu includes hair cuts and styling, facials, manicures, pedicures, nail art, make-up, ear piercing, waxing, and temporary airbrush tattoos.

Cupcake pedicures are a popular signature nail service. Cupcake-shaped bath bombs were custom-made by Coeur d’Alene, Idaho-based Bauble Bath. Once they’re placed in water, the layer of “icing” on top comes off and turns into a scrub. Clients get a real cupcake to go along with their service, of course.

Boys are encouraged to get services too, including the “ManiGuy” manicure in which a soak that looks like green slime is used. On the hair side, the “Rock Star” haircut includes spiky styling and temporary color gel. “We tried to put a little something all throughout the menu in different service categories to get the interest of boys,” Weiss says.

Even babies are welcome at Spa Di Da. Mainly created for mothers who are afraid of cutting their month-old infant’s nails for the first time, the “ManiBaby” service will safely do this for her. It also includes a massage for the baby’s hands and fingers.

Birthday spa parties featuring a combination of these services have been huge for the salon, Weiss says. About four months after opening, the salon had already hosted about seven parties.

But Spa Di Da has faced its share of service-related hurdles as well. They came under fire from a U.K.-based media outlet for offering waxing services to kids. “I heard that radio listeners called in to say things like, ‘Who would do this to their child?’” Weiss says, noting that in actuality no clients have requested this service yet. “The reason we put waxing on the menu is because there are some kids who have heavy hair growth early and who are being made fun of. If the kid tells her parents she wants something done about the hair, then we felt we could provide an environment that is very comfortable for them.”

She continues, “We don’t encourage anything over-the-top at the salon, and we don’t do anything that’s not age appropriate.” She emphasizes that the salon uses gentle, kid-friendly products. Make-up is done in simple, translucent shades, nail polishes don’t have toluene, DBP, or formaldehyde, and lotions are organic or formulated especially for sensitive skin. “It’s about having fun being a kid,” Weiss says.

BACK TO REALITY: Like all salons, finding the right staff is important, and at Spa Di Da that means all staff members must play well with children. “After I do the initial interview, the potential employee must come back at least once for a practical with a child. We watch to see how they handle the situation and to check their work,” Weiss says. If hired, the employee is given a trial week, then is on probation for the first three months.

Spa Di Da hires all employees (no booth renters), who are paid either a set hourly rate or commission only, whichever is higher each pay period. Full-time employees also get a health insurance package, accrue paid personal leave, and are eligible for product bonuses.

Since its May opening, sales have shown a steady incline and positive press has created a powerful buzz about the salon, Weiss says. Owner Botham says the next challenge is moving to a larger location to better accommodate spa parties. She also hopes to open more Spa Di Das in other cities — which would take this beauty fairy tale well on its way to happily ever after.

KEYWORDS: modern nail salon, salon profile, niche clientele, kids, service ideas


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