WINDS OF CHANGE: Last fall, Darlene Feric came to a point in her life where she knew it was exactly what that meant for her. She was a booth renter with a strong group of nail techs at Awesome Nails in Grayslake, ILL., and had helped owner Mary Metscaviz win the 2001-2002 Salon of the Year Award. She had also strengthened her own reputation as a nail tech, making NAILS’ Top 25 list three years in a row.

What was next for her?

More than anything, she wanted to make a change so that she’d be more available for her family, especially her three teenage kids. And it was actually her oldest daughter who helped set the process in motion.

Feric and her daughter were walking in downtown Antioch, where they live, when her daughter pointed to an empty shop and said, “Hey mom, this would make a really cute salon, and it says it’s for rent.” Feric reluctantly took down the phone number.

She eventually called the number, and asked her longtime friend and Awesome Nails associate Stacy Jelinek to check out the space with her. They quickly took to the cozy 417-sq.-ft. space. Feric and Jelinek decided it would be better if they became partners and took on the challenge as a team. Not only had the two been working together for the past 12 years, but they also both lived in Antioch, about five minutes away from the location. Their new salon wouldn’t directly compete with Awesome Nails, either, since it was nine miles away in a separate community.

Leaving Awesome Nails and Metscaviz was the most difficult part of the change. “I enjoyed working at Awesome Nails very much, and miss the camaraderie with the others there. But I talk to Mary almost every day,” says Feric.

A HAPPY NEW YEAR: Escape opened its doors on January 2, 2002. The salon is located on a storybook main street in a picturesque downtown area lines with old buildings that house antique stores, restaurants, and other shops, with apartments on top. “It’s a down-to-earth, real people, old-fashioned town,” Feric says.

Feric and Jelinek wanted their salon’s look to match the quaint setting. “We were careful not to make it too modern – there are no modern stores in this area,” says Feric. They started out by rag rolling the walls with gray-lavender paint for a soft, uneven look.

Feric and Jelinek were selective about the furniture they included in the salon because of the limited space. The three nail stations are glass-topped tables made of beechwood. They also have two basic pedicure stations – one recliner and one throne. Dividers with chiffon draping add to separate the stations and the soft feel of the salon.

COMMUNITY TIES: Between the old clients who followed Feric to her new salon and the new clients coming in from Antioch, Escape has been bustling with business. The village of Antioch is a close-knit lake community that also attracts a lot of vacationers – all of whom make for good customers. Feric and Jelinek are well connected to the community through their children’s schools and extracurricular groups, and these contacts bring in business as well.

“We do a lot of our kid’s teachers’ nails, so you know your kids aren’t going to be causing trouble in school – if they did we’d hear about it,” says Feric with a laugh. “It’s a really nice way to keep communication open.” Neighbors and locals frequently stop in to chat and say hello. It’s the kind of town “where everybody knows your name,” and that sense of community trickles into the quaint salon.

The salon’s specialty is pink-and-whites, and it’s the only place in the area that offers them. Because of the salon’s exclusive services, as well as the level of training the two techs have received, its prices are slightly higher that neighboring nail salons.

The salon does a good bit of retail, selling professional products almost exclusively. “I want to offer them something that they can’t get at Sally’s or Walgreen’s,” says Feric.

And they’re always willing to add new products. Feric and Jelinek make their own exfoliating hand treatment and scent to fit the mood the client desires. They also sell soaps, having taken over the distribution from another local store. Customers looking for the soaps have become nail customers too, says Feric.

Already, Feric and Jelinek are looking to expand. They want to grow their retail section, without creating clutter. “We want it to be open and inviting.” They definitely want to stay in downtown Antioch, and already have someone keeping an eye out for bigger spaces.

ON THE SIDE: You would think Feric has her hands full with three kids and a salon to run, but somehow she also finds time to educate and stay active in the industry. “I really enjoy helping other nail techs learn something new, or helping them achieve their goals,” says Feric.

She began educating with EZ Flow a year ago, and recently became a master artist educator for the company. Because ferric can schedule her classes arounf her salon hours, she always gives priority to servicing her client. But she stresses the importance of education – because “you can never know everything” – and makes it a point to continue classes herself.

While owning their own salon has been an exciting challenge and opportunity for both Feric and Jelinek, they will both tell you the best perk about opening Escape is having the freedom to devote more time to their families.

“Stacy and I have sons who are the same age, and owning the salon gives us the opportunity to spend time with our children. We work hard, but when we need a day off, we’re there for each other and our clients understand,” says Feric.

Salon Name: Escape Nail Spa

Location: Antioch, Ill.

Owners: Darlene Feric, Stacy Jelinek

Square Footage: 417

Years of Ownership: 6 months

Number of Nail Techs/Employees: 2

Specialties: pink-and-whites, spa pedicures

Escape retails products from several manufacturers – and makes its own.

For reprint and licensing requests for this article, Click here.