Salon-goers in the Chicago area know this salon’s number. Digits, etcetera has tapped into something more than the typical salon services. Smack in the middle of a bustling arts district, this salon has its clients bathing in beauty—literally.

Salon Name: Digits, etcetera

Location: Chicago

Owners: Susan and Julie Traina, Suzanne Mason

Square Footage: 1,250

Years of Ownership: I

Number of Nail Techs/Employees: 5 Specialties: House Combo, which includes a manicure and pedicure, Peppermint Milk Bath, Rose Pedal Pedicure, and Pumpkin Pedicure.

Compensation Structure: 45% con mission on services, 10% commission on products

LOCATION IS KEY: We all know Chicago is famous for its restaurants and museums. And now, thanks to a trio of smart-minded businesswomen, the Windy City may also be famous for its beauty services.

Digits, etcetera, a full-service salon that specializes in nail services, could just be the key that opens the door to this new phenomenon. A conceptually designed salon housed in a loft-like space in Chicago’s up-and-coming Wicker Park district, Digits prides itself on offering unique services in a unique atmosphere.

Owned by Suzanne Mason and sis­ters Susan and Julie Traina, Digits appeared on the beauty scene one year ago and has been setting trends ever since. As a result, these smart businesswomen have seen their small investment turn into huge profits.

“Wicker Park is the most high-traffic area in Chicago and the focus of all innovative concepts for new business,” says Susan, who also owns a Japanese restaurant in the area. “It is consistently growing with clothing, shoe, and home furnishing stores, trendy restaurants and nightclubs, and art galleries. Our salon was the missing element.”

Already a successful restaurant owner, Susan approached her partners with the idea for a nail salon.

“I approached them with the concept of a nail salon with a shabby chic design that would offer an extensive array of nail services,” she explains.

The women converted the space — which was formerly a roofing company — into their ideal salon.

Although none of the three women are nail techs, they are all longstanding businesswomen in their community and Mason is a hairdresser.

“Our goal was to create a place for women who don’t want to spend a ton of time and money, but want the upkeep,” says Mason.

IN AND OUT: Part of the salon’s appeal is its fast services at affordable prices. The House Combo, one of the salon’s most popular services, includes a manicure and pedicure that promises to have clients in and out of the salon within 60 minutes.

The salon also offers luxurious services where clients can spend more time in the salon relaxing. Keeping the stressed and tense working woman in mind, the owners developed a salon menu that varies from a Peppermint Milk Bath Pedicure — which includes a glass of wine or sake — to manicures and pedicures with reflexology.

“By working with innovative manufacturing companies, we are able to stay ahead of the game by offering the newest colors and trends m nails. And by keeping our pulse on what’s happening in the fashion industry, we are able to set the trends not follow them,” says Susan.

By staying on the forefront of trendy nail services, the trio came up with a seasonal menu, which incorporates themes into its services. In October, they offer a Pumpkin Pedicure; in February, they offer a Rose Pedal Pedicure; in winter, they offer a Lush Manicure for dry skin, and during the summer, they offer a cooling Cucumber Manicure.

WOODEN WONDER: As you enter Digits, the first thing your eyes are drawn to are the exposed brick walls, wood-beamed ceiling, and the concrete and wooden floors stained a deep cherry red. The wall opposite the brick wall is painted a combination of moss green and pale limestone green. The receptionist stands behind a nail drying bar to greet clients rather than a conventional reception desk.

“The drying bar was the first of its kind in Chicago,” says Susan. “After you check out you can place your hands m drying pods to ensure perfectly dried nails. We believe the drying time is the most important part of the manicure.”

Keeping in sync with a wooden theme, the nail stations are wooden tables with a white Plexiglas top and plush chairs for the client and black vinyl chairs for the nail tech.

“We went for a comfort-meets-industrial feel for our nail stations,” explains Susan. “We even have toolboxes to hold the techs’ implements.”

Instead of typical pedicure thrones, the owners opted for custom-made pedicure benches with custom-made velvet plush cushions and white porcelain and stainless steel whirlpool pedicure sinks.

“We were trying to stay away from a sterile salon feel and make the client feel more comfortable during her service,” explains Susan.

With its unique services and setting, Digits has attracted a clientele that includes young professionals, artists, and business owners.

“About 25% of our clientele is male,” says Susan. “And so far, we have more than 60% repeat business,” adds Mason.

FOR SALE: Digits has two walls housed with shelves from top to bottom filled with retail items from polish to cuticle lotion. But instead of referring to the space as “the retail area,” the owners call it their product store.

“Our product store stretches across the first 14 feet of the salon on both sides,” says Susan. “We carry everything including nail, hair, body, and skin care products. We carry five lines of polish with more than 400 shades to choose from and we’ll order any color requested. Our retail sales make up about 15% of our total sales.”

So far, the biggest challenge for the trio has been developing a staff from scratch and running the salon without salon experience themselves.

“It is one thing to be within the beauty industry or to have the knowledge of running a business, but to apply that knowledge to a salon is a true challenge,” says Susan.

The salon currently has four nail techs and one in training who is about to graduate from cosmetology school. On hand is Eunice, a seasoned nail artist who specializes in acrylic designs.

“We allow our booth renters to manage themselves, create their own schedule, be responsible for ordering product, and make their own business decisions, which benefits the client and the salon,” says Susan.

To draw clientele, the owners advertise in the local media including Chicago Magazine, and regularly send postcards, samples, and coupons out to their 1,600-person mailing list.

With years of successful business ownership between them, Chicago can expect more successful business ventures from this trio.

“Creating a chain of Digits is our intention” says Susan. “We have not pinpointed an area of Chicago yet where the concept would excel, but we are always looking.”

By Vanessa Jezin

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

Read more about