In 16 years in the nail business, I’ve been through every catastrophe an owner can imagine - from a fire that destroyed my salon to losing my partner. But i love the nail business and my clients - and when i finally gave up my “hands-on” job and focused only on management, i was able to serve everyone better - especially myself.
My life in the nail industry began in 1985 when i worked for a company in Michigan by the name of Masco Corporation. While it was a great company to work for, I felt i needed something different - i just didn’t know what. Both of my sisters had enrolled in a nail school. My mom always encouraged us to dabble in the beauty business. My sisters seemed so interested and happy learning nails and practicing on my mom and me. With the help of an understanding boss, I enrolled in nail school.
After completing school, I decided to take the plunge and open my own nail salon in Riverview, Mich. I opened VIP Nails in 1986, employing two of my fellow classmates. By now my sisters had decided that doing nails was not for them. Even though I took a chance opening a salon without knowing the industry or working with or for someone else, I would never recommend anyone else do this. You take a lot of hard knocks and make many unnecessary and costly mistakes. However, i did it and that was that.
I spent the next 16 years building a substantial personal clientele while trying to build the business. My mother came to VIP in 1986 as my partner. During these years, we worked together to grow the business and, in 1992, we expanded the salon from 1,400 square feet to 2,400 square feet. The nail staff grew from eight technicians to 12. During the next seven years my mother was such an asset to me and to our business In the meantime i was taking care of 30 to 35 clients per week and still handling all of the other aspects of the business with her, as well as running an appreciation program.
Then, in February 1999 my mother was diagnosed with cancer, we didn’t see the clues because the year before my father was diagnosed with cancer also. The family was totally consumed with my father’s cancer that we missed certain symptoms my mother showed. My father passed away on March 1, 1999 and my mother on March 19, 1999.
My whole world totally changed. We had a great manager and I truly needed her now. My mom had always taught me that when you are down or feeling sorry for yourself stay busy and try to work through it. I did just that. I threw myself back into my work just two weeks later.
Time went on and on. I tried to limit my clientele to three full days instead of five so that it would give me more time for paperwork, but it didn’t work. Clients were wondering why I didn’t pick them to stay since they were all long-time clients. The whole scenario didn’t work for me as owner.
I was still trying to balance clients weekly, while watching problems arise. I had to deal with them either in front of clients (which i tried to avoid) or in between clients (which i booked straight through). I could feel the dissention growing among my staff; they too were trying to deal with the loos of my mother and adjust to the changes in the salon.
Later that year, the building next to us came up for sale. I decided to purchase it and dedicate to my parents. What better way to remember the years my mom put into building VIP.
Running the Spa Too
The new VIP open in November 2000 with 18 nail technicians. This was a totally new facility with more than 4,000 square feet of space. I still was afraid to let go of my position as a nail technician, so I stayed on again working just the three days. It was a life I totally enjoyed. My clientele was like my family. For me than a year and a half, I continued in the new facility juggling duties and still going crazy. This was a big endeavor that I took on, not realizing what it really required. I now had hairdresser and created a spa. It required even more of me just to have the additional departments. My manager was helpful but again, she was not my partner or my mother. The change would come in June 2002.
I receive a phone call on June 14, 2002, at 11 p.m. From the Riverview Police Department. My building was engulfed in flames. I rushed to get there. Usually this is a 15 minute drive; it took 45 minutes to get through the crowds. I was escorted to the front of my building by the police as I watched it burn. My staff and clients were all holding each other, crying. It is the reason I made the biggest change in my career.
The night of the fire I promised employees that I would rebuild I couldn’t let the family that i built over the years just fall apart.
It took VIP burning down to force me to give up my clientele. I didn’t realize until I lost VIP what I had really lost all of those years limiting my growth as a salon owner. I hope other owners realize they can actually increase their business and be much more aware of what’s going on by stepping away from the table.
During the next five months and four days I spent every waking moment working to rebuild VIP so I’d have a salon for my employees and clients to come back to. We had four walls left - that was it. Everything that was brand new just a year and a half earlier was completely gone. I found my clients and employees a temporary site the Monday after the fire. They were working - and our clients were still getting their nails done.
VIP reopened exactly two years to the date of the last salon’s opening. In November 2002 I dedicated the new salon to employees and clients who waited and believe in me.
Today, I spend every day talking to customer, listening to my staff, interviewing, apprenticing, banking, buying supplies, and forecasting - but not doing nails. I help the salon when a nail tech is in trouble by jumping in. I feel much better about myself and the salon. I am less stressed out. The retail display are always filled and the supplies are always stocked. I have a computer system for commissions and I now have the time to work with my distributors to learn to learn how to market products better. We even have contest with prizes for the staff.
I feel much closer to my employees not now only because they have gone through so much with me, but because I really do have the time for them now. When i find a slight problem brewing (and believe me with 30 employees, problems do crop up) i immediately step in and address it before it grows.
My employee also know, however, not to “sweat the small stuff” after they too lost so much. We are a true team now, but a team does need a leader - a guide - not just a member. So as everyone kept telling me, good does come out of bad. I thank God no one was hurt. I can see that you grow by teaching others what you love and unfortunately, it took a fire for me to figure it out.
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