The original: In July 2001, former advertising art director and designer Kelly Hensley decided she wanted to get out of the rat race that is the advertising world. “After 15 years in advertising, I was ready for a change and there were no nail salons near my home,” notes Hensley of her San Francisco neighborhood. “Also, my neighborhood had transformed over the last five years from a mainly blue collar, elderly demographic to a gentrified, younger area for new families and singles. I thought it would be fun to create an airy salon that was clean, comfortable, relaxing, and with great magazines.”
Mani Pedi is situated on top of Potrero Hill, a sunny neighborhood community tucked away from the hustle and bustle of city life just minutes from downtown San Francisco. It boasts an amazing view of the city, but still has the feel of a neighborhood with down-home charm. “Our retail neighbors include an organic grocery, a popular deli, an independent bookstore, an ice cream parlor, a flower shop, and many hip restaurants, including Chez Papa, which was recently voted ‘Best Restaurant in San Francisco’ by Bon Appetit magazine,” says Hensley.
“Fate and timing played a big role in helping to find our location. Retail space is rarely available in Potrero Hill, but after one missed opportunity I dropped letters to other empty commercial spaces nearby. Helen, our landlady, had been asked over a dozen times to rent her late husband’s real estate office, but she had rejected all offers saying that she was not ready to move on. On the one-year anniversary of her husband’s death, she told me she got up, drank her coffee, and decided that her year of mourning had come to an end and she was ready to start again. She went downstairs to her mailbox and there was my letter sitting on top of the pile.”
Salon name: Mani Pedi
Location: Potrero Hill, San Francisco
Owner: Kelly Hensley (right)
Square footage: 1st ship: 900, 2nd shop: 1,150
Years of ownership: 1st shop: 1 ½ years, 2nd shop: 4 months
Employees: 27 total, 19 nail technicians, 8 front desk/administrative
Specialties: toe designs, Brazilian bikini waxing, walk-in massage, private parties
Since there were no nail salons in the area to compete with, Hensley set up the kind of shop where she would want to go get her nails done. “I was definitely striving for beach house décor with a comfortable, airy atmosphere,” she says. “A place where you can go with a friend and get pampered – yet don’t have to get dressed up or spend a lot of money.”
It seems that Hensley has created a discount salon like no other. The prices are less than half the price of most upscale salons and only a few dollars more than the discount salons, with a spa-type manicure and pedicure combo costing just $35. Mani Pedi stands out from other lower-priced salons. “Our customers are greeted by a professional receptionist, much like they would be in an upscale salon,” says Hensley. “We also serve complimentary green tea and mineral water, have the latest magazines for our clients to peruse, and are meticulous about cleanliness and sanitation.”
Add to that the salon’s design elements, which do not resemble your average discount salon at all. Manu Pedi features understated, natural lighting instead of fluorescent lights, hardwood floors, instead of industrial carpets, airy, open spaces, and a cozy inviting décor complete with custom-made nail stations. It feels as if you are in a bright, airy beach house, thus the name of the first location, Beach House.
“I was a designer for 15 years so the design process was the fun and easy part,” says Hensley. “I had the identity designed for the shop right from the start. I met with a guy to build our wood tables for two to make it look nice and cozy. The Beach House décor is androgynous – we have lots of male customers and I didn’t want them to feel uncomfortable in a ‘girlie’ shop.”
Then there were two: So what does she need with two salons right across the street from each other? The bungalow opened in December 2002 to accommodate more clients. “We decided to open a second location last summer when we were turning away between 10 to 20 customers a day,” says Hensley. “It was frustrating – for clients as well as my staff – not to be able to get everybody in.
“I had already begun looking for a second location when the owners of the building across the street called me and said their tenants had given notice and asked me if I would be interested in leasing the space,” she continues. “As I looked at the long line of people waiting to check in, I knew I had to say yes.”
Both shops are named Mani Pedi and share the same phone number. Clients are directed to the different buildings when they book appointments. The original location is known as the Beach House and the new location is called the Bungalow. “It’s sort of like an inn that has a name for each of its cottages,” claims Hensley. “The name of the cottage is not on the shingle out front, but it helps once you get there to know where to go.”
Mani Pedi’s new ads announce the new location by stating, “more spa chairs, more manicurists, more room.”
Says Hensley, “Clients love our new location, it’s a bit cozier and they love the fact that the new space has relieved any chaos we had because the original shop could not accommodate all of our clients.”
They both cater to clients (and employees): With two salons now open, Mani Pedi has even more to offer. About 70% of the salon’s business is based entirely on nails. (Beach House offers acrylic services, while the Bungalow is acrylic-free.) There is also waxing, tinting, and the Bungalow offers massage. Clients can make appointments for services, but walk-ins are still welcome – even for massage. And for those clients who are on the shy side, they can discreetly choose their bikini wax style by pointing to an illustration in a menu booklet.
The salon’s most popular treatment is the Peppermint Pedi, a premium pedicure that includes a 15-minute foot massage with a homemade Peppermint Pedi sugar scrub. With the new salon location, the menu now includes the Double Happiness, a full-body massage performed by two therapists at the same time. The service costs $80 for 55 minutes.
Another thing that helps Mani Pedi differentiate itself is the private parties. “We offer parties for birthdays, bridal showers, or friends who just want to have a unique and fun get-together,” says Hensley. Clients can reserve the shop any evening and have the place to themselves for up to two hours. Up to 30 guests can book the manicurists at $65 an hour and indulge in all of the nail services they like. She continues, “Our party fee includes shop rental, an evening assistant, and gratuity. In addition, we’re happy to order any extras – from fresh cut flowers and custom cakes to tarot card readers and henna tattoo artists.”
One new service is Babes in Arms, where new-mom groups can book an hour during the day on a weekday to get pedicures while they hold or nurse their babies. They come in between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. with groups of six to 10 moms, to get pampered.
The employees of Mani Pedi have a great place to work. In addition to holiday and birthday bonuses, spot bonuses are given for high sales and great idea. They also receive complimentary services during off-peak hours and have staff functions. “Another thing that sets us apart from an employee’s perspective is if a customer doesn’t tip, simply due to being cheap, we will pay out a standard tip to the nail tech,” says Hensley, who also provides fresh fruit plates on the weekends during the busy summer months and complimentary breakfast foods, sandwich makings, and sodas.
“In terms of sales, we are definitely up from last year, but since we haven’t been open that long we have no history to track,” says Hensley. “I can say one thing, our growth is largely due to word of mouth and, of course, our good press.” Mani Pedi has been written up in San Francisco Magazine, the San Francisco Chronicle, San Francisco Bay Guardian, and many others.
For reprint and licensing requests for this article, Click here.