THE CLEAN PATH: When Roula Nassar was living in Los Angeles she often longed to be pampered with a manicure or pedicure. Every time she tried to relax and splurge she could never get over the nagging feeling that everything surrounding her wasn’t clean as it could be. No matter where she went - and she traveled to 55 countries throughout the world - she noticed, “cleanliness is an industry-wide problem.”

It was this notion that set her on the path to opening her own spa in Houston’s tony River Oaks district. Nassar knew it was a possible to provide high-end luxury services with an edge that any client could appreciate: cleanliness.

Her background in financial consulting and litigation support for the hospitality industry, although not quite a perfect match with the spa business world, prepared her for working with people. She had always been driven and said that it was her “love of entrepreneurship” that made her decided to open a spa that would address the need for a hospital-level clean environment.

Roula’s Nail Spa is 2,000 square feet of sterile, Zen-like luxury. Located near a shopping center, major medical complex, and business district, the spa has no shortage of well educated, wealthy clientele. Open for just over a year she has seen steady growth and now enjoys more than 2,500 clients who book appointments on a consistent basis.

The location Nassar chose fit her needs and wants perfectly. “I got really lucky; it was love at first sight,” she says. A restaurant she often dined at in Houston was to be the inspiration for the design of the interior.

As luck would have it, the location she found in River Oaks just one day after signing on with a commercial real estate company had previously been a spa and unbelievable was designed by the same person who had designed her favorite restaurant.

The luck didn’t stop there, however. Not only was the interior perfect, but the size also fit her dreams perfectly. She was looking for 2,100 square feet and the location was just under that at 2,034 square feet. She moved in and right away began making her spa dreams into reality.

A CALM DEMEANOR: The interior of Roula’s Nail Spa has a Japanese influence, incorporating a natural, calming Zen feel. Nassar says she wants her clients to immediately “come down a notch” when they enter, and one step onto the cork flooring helps to do just that.

Also visible from the front of the spa is her retail area, which not only stocks nail and facial products, but also sells items from small boutique brands. She also tries to stock local artist’s offerings, a tactic that not only supports the arts, but also makes a good profit.

All services are offered in separate areas located off of a central hallway. This is another factor that adds to the Zen-like tranquility of the spa. Artificial enhancements are done in a well-ventilated room while natural nail services are performed in an outdoor Zen garden. Pedicure clients step into a separate room filled with pedicures thrones.

Nassar says her whole concept revolved around cleanliness, and one look at the $18,000 dental sterilization center she uses for her implements makes this apparent to anyone who enters the salon.

The autoclaves were created to sterilize dental and surgical instruments and Nassar says that many of her clients who are in the medical field notice and appreciate the steps she takes. Each client gets her own set of newly sterilized implements.

THE RIGHT CLIENTELE: Although the spa’s cleanliness and sterility were Nassar’s first concern, she also has a knack for business and understands the importance of offering service and small touches that are unique and make clients feel special.

That’s a big part of the reason she has her own line of polish, and has had mini bottles of it made for her salon. Every client chooses a color and then takes it home along with home care kit.

Nassar also has her own line of products she uses in her unique services, including her latest, the Cherry Cognac Manicure and Pedicure.

Although her prices are somewhat similar to the competition that surrounds her, she is priced slightly lower than most of the high-end spas in Houston. This was a calculated move on her part.

Nassar began her business with a lower, competitive pricing scale in order to develop a client base. Now that she has her clients coming in she has plans to raise her prices in order to increase her revenue.

Sales have been strong and retail is growing steadily from 10% to 25% of her sales. However, she knows the equality and cleanliness she offers her clients can be priced higher without scaring off her client base.

The majority of her clients are professional women. Nassar knows there are “gazillionaires who don’t want to pay more than $20 for a pedicure.” It is not the wealthy clients she seeks; it is “the educated ones.”

She knows that just because someone has money it doesn’t mean they will see the value in paying more for a service because it is clear and performed to perfection. This is why she seeks out a client base that values her services for what they are, no matter the cost.

Because of her location she also has a large male clientele, mostly doctors and lawyers who work nearby. She finds they seek the pampering aspect of the manicure and pedicure services more than one might expect. “Times have change and men are more open to being pampered,” she explains.

Her spa has proven so successful that Nassar has plans to expand Roula’s Nail Spa into a chain of locations worldwide. She hopes to open locations in Los Angeles, New York, and Washington, D.C. She also would love to open salons in Paris, London, Tokyo, and Beirut, among the cities I’d like to visit,” she says.

If Nassar’s experience with spas in 55 countries and across the United States is any indication, a worldwide chain of sterile spas with unique services should be a welcome addition.

Salon Name: Roula’s Nail Spa

Location: Houston

Owner Roula Nassar (left)

Square footage: 2,034

Years of Ownership: 14 months

Number of Nail Techs/Employees: 5/11

Specialties: Natural nail services

Other Services: Waxing, Skin care, massage.

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