It’s as if all the stars aligned when Vinh To was first introduced to the beauty business. A psychology and marketing student from California, he became acquainted with the nail industry after a trip to Ohio to visit a friend. “My friend’s family owned a couple of salons,” he says. “He told me what the techs were earning and I immediately saw the potential.”

AHEAD OF THE CURVE: Vinh To moved to Ohio after he graduated and settled in an affluent area outside of Toledo. He and his wife opened a nail salon and ran it as profitable business for five years. His background gave him a passion for staying in sync with the industry trends, and he realized if he wanted to stay competitive, he had to get ahead of the curve. Vinh To knew he couldn’t win a price war with discount salons, and he knew he offered better nail services than those being offered at the day spas. He decided to go after the clients who were willing to pay higher prices for their nail services if the experience included a relaxing atmosphere, an impeccable salon, and skilled, friendly techs.

“Salons that don’t adapt experience a loss in business,” says Vinh To. “Unless we continue to evolve, we won’t survive.” He evaluated his situation, read about what other salons were doing, and began to plan. His goal was to create a nail spa that appealed to a broad spectrum of clients and offered exceptional service. “I knew if I didn’t do it, someone else would,” he explains.

He knew his current, 1,200 sq. ft. salon was in a high-traffic, convenient location, so instead of relocating, he expanded his business into the vacant storefront next door, and in March 2006, he transformed his business from a nail salon into a nail spa.

He completely remodeled the now 2,800 sq. ft. storefront and renamed the salon after his two-year-old son, Jonathon Khoi. With the future client in mind, Vinh To chose colors that are warm and inviting, but not too feminine. “We choose bold blues and yellows, not pinks or reds, so the colors weren’t geared toward only one gender,” he says.

Salon Name: Jonathon Khoi Nail Spa

Location: Maumee, Ohio

Owner: Vinh To

Square Footage: 2,800

Years of Ownership: 1

Number of Employees: 6

Specialties: Pink-and-whites

Compensation: employees begin with a base pay and eventually earn commission

Other Services: pedicures, facials, waxing, massage

It took Vinh To to approximately 10 months to get his salon the way he had envisioned it. The new space has six pedicure chairs, 10 nail stations, a storage area with washer and dryer, employee break room and private bath, and a beautiful retail area that displays not only nail products, but also a skin-care line and novelty items. In addition, the nail spa has two multi-use rooms where clients can receive either a relaxing massage or an invigorating facial.

“Jonathan Khoi’s is run like a spa,” he says. “We have a receptionist at the front desk who greets the guests by name; they are offered a drink; their appointments are relaxed. It’s not just in and out.”

NAILS ARE HIS BREAD AND BUTTER: Manicures and pedicures still account for 90% of the business because the spa services, such as facials, waxing, and massage were added only this past year. Vinh To isn’t an absentee owner; he stays busy managing six employees, running the business, and working behind the table as a tech.

Vinh To says his biggest challenge is staffing. “We are very particular about who we hire. It’s hard to find quality employees who are professional and who do beautiful work,” he says. He hires his techs at an hourly rate, but eventually offers them a commission scale. His staff is like family to him, and he tries to provide a work environment that allows techs to reach their personal goals. He runs promotions and incentives that help build camaraderie among his employees. He encourages his staff to schedule breaks away from the table in order to get refreshed and refocused. He’s made that easier for them a break room where they can escape.

And he offers opportunities that come from working in the first nail spa in the Toledo area. “I knew I had to invest a lot, but because we are the first, we are the experts,” he says, adding that his salon is the one that gets the call when local media need a statement and it’s the one people recommend for nail services. A salon owner with a business mind and a commitment to stay on top is a perk that most techs covet.

His commitment to excellence extends to all areas of the salon. “We are clean, tranquil, and violation-free,” he says. His salon has never been cited by the state. He and his employees are proud of their no-violation record and let clients know of the spa’s achievement, which builds its reputation in the community. Because of his reputation and client satisfaction, he hasn’t had to advertise yet. Client referrals have kept business steady and growing. It used to be only about 50% of the clients made appointments before they left, now almost 95% of his clients rebook before they leave.

Should all salon owners consider expanding to a nail spa? “That depends on where they are in life,” he says. “If they plan to stay in the business for only five or 10 years, it won’t be worth it.” But salon owners who intend to stay in the business need to start looking at the nail industry with fresh eyes. Vinh To says before he expanded he ran a successful salon that was busy and professional. But he saw that discount salons had put many long-standing salons out of business. The new generation of clients wants a more user-friendly experience including lower prices and walk-in service.

A BLEND OF EXPERIENCES: Vinh To responded to clients’ demand for quality service, flexibility, and good customer service. He realized clients were looking for an experience that blended the traditional nail salon (genuine connection and excellent service) with the discount salon (flexible schedule and competitive pricing). Clients also want the luxury and indulgence of a day spa. He knew he could offer clients what they were looking for in Jonathon Khoi, and he doesn’t apologize that it comes with an increase in price. With fills at $23, and a full set at $33, he charges a fair rate on his services. “There’s a difference in price between use and the other salons,” he says, “but there’s also a difference in service. Our clients come to use for a reason.”

Vinh To has plans for the coming year that he hopes will provide even more reasons for clients to come to Jonathan Khoi. This year he plans to expand his business by offering winter-themed services such as peppermint and chocolate pedicures. He’ll also expand his menu to include services that will appeal to male clients.

He knows the discount salons will follow the trend and begin opening nail spas. However, he’s confident that client’s demand for quality will prevent these salons from slashing prices far below traditional salons. His advice to salon owners is to embrace the change and grow to meet the demand. “I know that eventually other salons will catch up to me,” he says. “So I need to keep the distance between us; I need to keep evolving and growing.”

Michelle Pratt is a freelance writer and licensed nail tech based in Johnson City, N.Y.




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