While we wouldn’t recommend drinking them, this Melbourne, Fla.- based spa boasts a Balinese feel and a nail bar that serves up manicures and pedicures that sound good enough to drink. (You even soak your fingers in cut-down bar glasses — the one time when it’s OK to put your fingers in your glass.)

Salon Name: Essential Spa

Location: Melbourne, Fla

Owner: Kimberly Lesser

Square Footage: 900

Years of Ownership: 1 ½

Number of nail techs: 5

Number of employees: 35

Compensation structure: employees (varying between hourly and commission)

Specialities: The Basic Bliss

Manicure/Pedicure and the Hot Milk & Honey Manicure/Pedicure (Lucky Magazinefeatured the spa’s Hot Milk & Honey Pedicure in its February 2001 issue)

Other services: Full service spa/salon.

A TROPICAL NAIL BAR: It is pretty safe to say that at this point, most people in the nail industry are familiar with the term “nail bar.” There are plenty of them in Britain and even some here in the United States. Most nail bars consist of a long table (some straight, some curved) where technicians sit on one side and customers sit on the other.

Kimberly Lesser has taken that idea one step further. Lesser, who has owned Essentials Spa in Melbourne, Fla., for almost a year and a half, recently opened the Essentials Nail Bar within the salon portion of the spa.

“Our nail bar was developed after we discovered many facilities had nail bars but they were basic nail stationslined up side by side. We wanted to replicate the bar experience,” says Lesser, who worked with Roxanne Brillante of As Nature Intended in Melbourne, Fla., on the design of the nail bar. And that bar experience that she boasts about comes complete with bar stools, bar glasses, liquor bottles, and drinkable service names like the Pina Colada Pleaser, 5th Avenue Cosmo, Rita on the Rocks, and A Glass of Bubbly.

Lesser includes staff members in selecting new names for services. “We wanted our menu to stand out, offer variety, and be different,” she says. “Your menu is your initial representation of who and what you are. If our menu said ‘Manicure $40’ what would that tell the client? How interesting is that? We want our clients to have choices, to try different things, and most importantly to never get bored!”

The nail bar follows the eclectic, West Indies/Bali, tropical theme that is car­ried throughout the entire spa. The manicures at Essentials Nail Bar are “served” in actual margarita, champagne, martini, and other regular bar glasses that are shortened at the stem, making them stubby enough for clients to comfortably soak their nails in the solutions. And the solutions themselves are poured out of actual liquor bottles, like a regular drink would be.

“Our objective was to serve up different manicures — to get away from the mundane manicure—at a reasonable price of course,” adds Lesser. “We actually have it set up so that one nail tech can work on two clients simultaneously. Four clients can sit at the nail bar, with two nail techs servicing them. We like to present it like ‘happy hour’ where you buy one nail bar manicure and get the second for $5 off, figuring the friends can split the bill. It’s been a great success! Clients are blown away by this unique and fun way of offering manicures.”

The nail bar sits in the busy, social salon, while the pedicure thrones are in a separate room off the salon. “We have three Solace Spa Pedicure thrones,” says Lesser, noting that man­icures and pedicures can be performed simultaneously in the thrones. “They are the deluxe models that recline, massage, heat up, and offer complete comfort while our clients enjoy their pedicure services.” Nail services make up approximately 20% of the spa’s total business.

GOING TO EXTREMES: Lesser, a licensed esthetician, took two years of post-graduate study, extending her education at the Dermal Institute in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. “I also spent more than 1,000 hours on the Internet studying various resort, day, and clinical spas around the world,” she says. “I am highly trained in the realms of skin care, analysis, microdermabrasion, and peels. I did not become a licensed esthetician to practice clinically, but rather as an educational stepping stone to further my knowledge about the spa industry.”

She also worked with Kay Morroz of Salon and Spa Consultants in Phoenix, who is known for working with prestigious spas such as The Red Door and Canyon Ranch. And she spent many hours shadowing top spa directors at large-scale spas, studying and learning every aspect of the spa environment. (Lesser admits that even with all the independent research and working with a spa consultant, there are still things she learned along the way.)

The spa is located on a busy six-lane highway between a hotel and a five- story medical facility. “When we were looking for a location, we knew the property was available, and after doing much research about the surrounding communities, drive-by traffic, number of hotel rooms, and physicians willing to work with our spa, we went for it!” says Lesser. “We pull clients from both the hotel and the doctors’ offices.

“My vice president who has significant input in the business, is a board-certified physician, and has ownership interest in more than 40 businesses. He owns several U.S. patents and has patents pending, making him an exceptional resource for our company” she adds.

The spa does approximately 25%- 35% in retail sales compared to service sales, offering products that are usually only found in upscale salons or doctors’ offices. “We have a rather large retail area compared to most facilities because we wanted to be more than just a spa/salon,” says Lesser. The spa offers everything from unique hair care and skin care lines to take- home spa kits, jeweled hair accessories, and body art kits.

Employees of the spa receive 50% of their health insurance premium paid, as well as disability, dental, life insurance, and profit sharing. In addition, training is an ongoing process. “The higher trained the technician, receptionist, housekeeper, and management team, the more efficient we are and the higher quality service we can offer our clients,” she says.

GIVING MORE TO CLIENTS: Essentials Spa is open seven days a week in the spirit of true flexibility for its clients. In addition to this, the spa has its own website (www.essentials-spa.com) where clients can log on to confirm or cancel appointments (new appointments must still be made over the phone), take a virtual tour of the salon, check out the hottest beauty trends, and buy a wide variety of products.

“We receive approximately four to seven e-mails confirming or cancelling appointments per day, and we know as more clients become aware of this capability they will use it,” she says, adding that she is also going to be adding online booking over a secure server to the site within the year.

“Our website is currently being revamped to be more user-friendly as far as retailing products goes,” notes Lesser. “Most of our online business is selling gift certificates to out-of- state buyers for local clients. Right now we sell a fair amount of products online, but we feel this will greatly increase when our new virtual storefront is up and running within the next three to six months.”

In addition to the extra services that its website offers clients, Essentials also boasts a rewards program, called Perk Points, where with every dollar spent at the spa a perk point is earned. These points can be redeemed for discounts on retail products or even free spa services. Currently clients can trade in 1500 Perk Points for a free pedicure and 5000 points for a half day at the spa, but Lesser is revamping the system to make it easier to exchange points for complimentary services.

The spa also hosts Spa Sundays and Funday Mondays. “This is our way of picking up slow days by offering complimentary upgrades with specific’ services,” says Lesser. For example, clients on Sundays and Mondays can receive a complimentary paraffin dip with any manicure or pedicure. “It has been so successful for us, that when we originally started with Spa Sundays, we had to roll the fun over to Mondays to accommodate everyone that wanted to get in on Sundays.”

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