Just Like Honey: “The first time I walked into Mani Pedi in Potrero Hill (in San Francisco), I thought it was a great concept,” says Holly Reeves LaCascia. “It was such a nice place to hang out or get together with girlfriends after work. When I moved to Atlanta, I couldn’t believe that there was nothing like that here.”

After a couple of years of living in the Big Peach and being unsatisfied with the nail salons she visited, LaCascia decided to put her business skills to use and open up her own little nail nook.

Leaving behind her work as a home-staging consultant — someone who goes into people’s homes and redecorates or redesigns it so the owners can fetch a higher sale price — LaCascia started writing a business plan in January 2006. Doing a lot of market research, she worked hard at finding out more about the industry and “suffered” through countless manicures and pedicures.

“One of the perks was getting to sample manicures and pedicures everywhere to see different techniques,” she says. “I got to visit a lot of salons. I talked with owners of boutique salons in San Francisco, and I made several trips back and forth between the two cities.”

Her frequently visited salons included Mani Pedi, Polished Lounge, and ZaZa Nail Spa. “People were willing to share their advice because I wasn’t going to be their competition,” she adds of her relationships with the San Francisco owners.

But her advice and inspiration for what would become Honey Nail Salon & Boutique didn’t come just from San Francisco. Locally, LaCascia put together an advisory board of people of various backgrounds. These specialized experts “were heavily involved in business decisions,” says LaCascia. Included in the advisory board is a well-established hairstylist in Atlanta — an expert in the local beauty industry but someone who also wouldn’t see Honey as a bittersweet rival.

A Location as Natural as the Birds and the Bees: One of the biggest business decisions for LaCascia was the location. “I chose Buckhead because it’s a very economically successful area of Atlanta, and businesses do well here,” she says. “I knew it would be an area of town that would give my business the best chance for success.”

Although LaCascia knew she wanted to open Honey in Buckhead, finding the exact location proved to take some time. “I looked for a long time to find a space that was older and filled with character,” she says. “I knew that Honey was going to be an oasis for people in the middle of their busy lives. I didn’t want it to feel like a typical strip mall nail salon or to be located in a giant high rise. I really wanted Honey to feel like you were relaxing at your most-stylish friend’s house.”

So when she saw the 1940s brick bungalow house on a quaint street in Buckhead, she knew she’d found Honey’s home. “It is perfect,” she says. “It’s on a great street that feels a bit removed from the hustle of the city, but we’re still close to everything.”

The “everything” in the business area includes shops, restaurants, and hotels. And, Honey’s neighbor is naturally fitting for the nail salon. Next door is Pollen, a high-end floral design and garden store, where many locals flock.

No Artificial Sweeteners: With the location settled, LaCascia went to work on the details. Not only did she intend for the environment to be trendy and homey, but she also wanted to make sure clients could come in without worrying about how sanitary items were and that they could also do a little shopping there. Yes, she wanted all this and more; she also wanted to have as minimal of an environmental impact as possible.

LaCascia, who calls herself a “pretty staunch environmentalist,” was surprised during her research to find out how easy a few environmental-conscious choices can be. “There are a lot of great products out there that are better for us and the environment,” she says. “It is a big part of the philosophy of the salon, even in the way that we designed the space by using recycled elements as often as possible and using no-VOC paints in the interior.”

LaCascia has also chosen the most environmentally friendly products she can. Polishes are formaldehyde-, toluene-, and DBP-free. The salon’s lotions and other service products are all-natural or organic. In each pedicure sevice, even the sugar scrub is custom-blended using organic brown sugar and a blend of four different moisturizing oils.

The environmentally friendly design and natural products come full circle in the salon’s name. “I chose the name Honey because I wanted an idea or visual that was pure and natural, much like we are at Honey Nail Salon,” says LaCascia. “Honey makes everything a little sweeter without being artificial, just like the perfect pedicure or manicure can make your life a little sweeter.”

Employees See How Sweet It Is: To find people to tend to the hive, LaCascia turned to a few different outlets. Some of her technicians she found through advertisements posted on Craigslist. She also used Essential Talent Solutions, an Atlanta-based agency that offers staffing solutions and placement services for the beauty industry, to find a few more.

Once employees were found, they had several days of training. “We had a massage therapist come in and work with our techs on proper massage techniques and how to hold their bodies correctly so as to avoid repetitive injuries,” says LaCascia. “We also provided them with a lot of literature to read on new products that we use, so they are comfortable and familiar with them.”

Employees are also educated about the products retailed in the salon and are given commission or bonuses based on the amount of products sold. Retail products include locally designed jewelry, bath and body products, and the in-house products.

Aside from their retail commission and bonuses, most employees are compensated through an hourly wage plus a commission. They work on a sliding scale, so a few make a straight commission, and all of them receive a discount on the boutique items.

Creating a Buzz: With the location, environment, and employees set, LaCascia took her business know-how and went to work on bringing in clients, which was no easy feat for a December opening. “I thought I could be open by July,” she says now. “I would never recommend anyone open a nail salon in the middle of winter.” Still, she didn’t let the cold weather put her into hibernation.

With her well-established mailing list from previous businesses, she did a mass mailing. She also went to work sending out press releases to local and national publications. Daily Candy, an electronic newsletter that sends out happenings to readers based on their location, was one of the places that picked up on a press release. It is also where most of Honey’s clients have found out about the salon. “Our PR has definitely paid off,” says LaCascia of her in-house public relations.

One of the aspects the local media has loved about Honey is its nature-inspired philosophy. “Atlanta is kind of going through an awakening in a way,” LaCascia says. “People are more aware of things that affect the environment, and I think the press is definitely picking up on businesses that are trying to alleviate the problems.”

With all of the media attention, clients come in from all over Atlanta. With just two other boutique salons in the Big Peach (but none with an environmental awareness like Honey, according to LaCascia), Honey treats these clients to something they can’t get elsewhere. And when clients come in, they can just sit back and relax and enjoy their treatments. Or hang out in their stylish friend Honey’s house.