INDEPENDENT WOMAN: Seven years ago, when 19-year-old Erika Kirkland set out from Miami to New York it was to pursue a career in fashion merchandising — not nails. While attending school, she worked at a variety of retail establishments including Henri Bendel, Anthropologic, and the Gap. Four years later, after enrolling in the Fashion Institute of Technology’s Cosmetic and Fragrance program, Kirkland discovered her fascination with the beauty industry—and she dreamed of starting her own beauty company.

Salon Name: Polish Nail Emporium
Location: 64 Bond St, Brooklyn, N.Y
Owner: Erika Kirkland
Square Footage: approx. 250
Years of Ownership: one (opened April 5, 2000)
Number of Nail Techs: 4
Specialties: Pedicures
Other Services: a variety of manicure and pedicure services full of natural ingredients with tummy-tempting names
Compensation Structure: Independent contractor


While working as a receptionist at New York’s trendy Bliss Spa, a Brooklyn resident called requesting a manicure and pedicure appointment. She expressed her frustrations to Kirkland over the lack of a great nail spa closer to home. This is when Kirkland, also living in Brooklyn and facing the same frustrations, had an idea for a nail spa in Brooklyn, and enrolled in Christine Valmy’s Nail Specialty Program to get her nail license.

To test the waters of her novel idea, she decided to start out in her own neighbo

urhood, Fort Greene, Brooklyn. She converted her 135-sq.-ft. studio apartment into a mini nail salon and practiced on anyone she could get her hands on. Last April, when her clientele outgrew her small quarters, she moved her salon, Polish Nail Emporium, into its present home — which lies on the border of three Brooklyn neighbourhoods.

“We are located in Downtown Brooklyn on a side street that has become a destination since we have been there,” says Kirkland of the area where Polish now resides. “Only people who know about us tend to find us because we just have a neat little sign on the door. We are surrounded by lower-end nail salons that are filthy and charge $5 for a manicure.

“We are known for our customer service, sanitation, our attention to detail, and we are appointment only. As far as Polish (as the salon is known) is concerned, our competition stems from salons and spas in Manhattan.”

The tiny minimalist salon (it is about 250-sq.-ft.) is open Wednesday through Sunday and accommodates its hours to fit its clients’ needs. “For the most part we are open early afternoon to late evening,” says Kirkland. “Our clientele tends to be people ‘in the know’ — industry types. We have lots of MTV, HBO, and Conde Nast people. Musicians, writers, and editors all frequent Polish. I have a celebrity client roster and do photo shoots for the beauty magazines.”

Erika Kirkland of Polish Nail Emporium in Brooklyn, NY

Erika Kirkland of Polish Nail Emporium in Brooklyn, NY

HOMESPUN CONCOCTIONS: Like many other nail salons in today’s market, Polish is an all-natural salon — choos­ing to focus on natural hand and foot services instead of artificial ones. Kirk­land spent time researching natural ingredients to incorporate into her services. Some of the best treatments are derived from her Bahamian grandmother Agnes’ natural beauty regimes. “My grandma was a cook in the Bahamas so I’m used to researching ingredients and making up my own creations,” says Kirkland, who uses everything from milk and honey to oatmeal batter to soy, ginger, and carrots in her specialty services.

Kirkland’s service menu reads like an eclectic restaurant menu. Some of her specialties include the Oatmeal Almond Crunch Pedicure, Lemango Manicure, Pineapple Upside Down Pedicure, Honey Latte Pedicure, and Creme Brulee Manicure. “I write well and tend to come up with stuff out of the blue,” says Kirkland of her scrumptious-sounding, tummy-tempting service descriptions. “In one of my past lives I must have been a kick-butt copywriter,” she adds laughing.

“The pedicures have to be my most popular service,” she notes. “But all of the yummy stuff really attracts clients. We have been called a gourmet nail salon because of our use of fruits and vegetables in order to beautify the hands and feet”

The premise behind Polish is that it “provides nail care and grooming in a fun and happy environment.” To keep the services and ingredients as the main attraction, the salon is intimate — there are three pedicure stations and two manicure stations. Polish has trade-marked most of its service names as well as the yellow, grey, and silver colour theme that can be found throughout the salon, on all of its printed materials, and on its website.

MARKET SAVVY: When you think about it, Kirkland has quickly made a name for herself and her salon. It has been just over a year and she has already been featured in magazines that include Mademoiselle, W, and Lucky. So how does she do it? A combination of things, really.

“At first I did all the PR myself and fortunately my writing and services caught the attention of a lot of the press,” says Kirkland, who now has a “fab” publicist. “Also I think my presentation was always professional — I didn’t deal with any magazines that forced me to undercut my business with favours. I was just friendly, accessible, and full of interesting ideas for them to use. I am now used as a beauty expert consistently because of the respect I have earned.”

But it takes more than just putting yourself out there to the press. And Kirkland has found that as well. Staying on top of trends is equally as important to knowing how to promote yourself. Because when you can spot the trends, you have something extra to offer the press.

“We actually get insider tips from some of the high profile makeup companies— MAC, NARS, Tony & Tina—in reference to color,” she says. “And I spend a lot of time just reading and observing people, places, and things. At the Fashion Institute of Technology I was very good at forecasting trends, especially in beauty”

She reads a lot. She reads Women’s Wear Daily, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal And she is also fortunate enough to travel the world. “I also take note of historical events — What was happening in beauty at the time of the depression? How does Revlon’s current trouble relate to where I’m going? Who is the next great Estee Lauder? — all these things impact everything in our business.

Future plans for Polish include additional locations, as well as products and e-commerce. And if Kirkland’s first year in the industry shows us anything, it seems this won’t be the last we here about Polish.

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