In the span of 20 years, Star Nail International president Tony Cuccio has managed to turn a sidewalk sale stint into a $250 million dollar business. The year 2001 marks the anniversary of humble beginnings for the man whose image has enthralled the beauty industry tor two decades, Cuccio has managed to build his company on his own terms. Without the help of loans or anyone else except his wife, Roberta, Cuccio has created a company that he believes has positively helped nail technicians and the nail industry forge into the beauty industry’s limelight. Two years ago, a simple concept pedicure slippers turned a seemingly innocuous sundry item into one of the company’s biggest hits, racking up sales of $1.4 million in pedicure slippers and helped launch Cuccio Naturalé, a comprehensive natural nail care line that tools in a whopping additional $2 million its first year A NAILS editor asked Cuccio to reminisce and give our readers a glimpse into the future.

NAILS: In case there’s anyone who doesn’t know die story, tell us how you got involved in the nail business.

Tony Cuccio: My brother wife, and I started selling cosmetics and nail polish on the Venice Beach boardwalk. Then, we were the first to bring private label nail polish to California, and ironically, that’s what got us into the nail business. We then hired a dental chemist to start making acrylics, and my wife and I started servicing salons from a briefcase. In 1987, we turned over all the direct salon business to full-service dealers.

NAILS: How did you come up with the concept for Cuccio Naturalé?

Cuccio: About two years ago, I was going to Hong Kong, and I called up one of my biggest customers and said, “Give me an item that’s hot.” He sent me a pair of slippers that popped up in the front I came up with the concept, of having the back, of the slipper cut off. It was a new design for these disposable slippers. After collaborating with my advertising agency to develop a simple design for the packaging and ad campaign and the ads started running, the orders started flooding in. Then, I started seeing the move to natural nails.

The one area I saw growing the fastest and where I wanted to be a leader was natural nails. So, I took the name Cuccio — because we had already done well using it with the slippers — and I came up with a natural nail care and hand care line from Italy.

But the major reason for doing it was the need to have nail technicians not only take care of natural nails, but take care of the hand — and focus on the hand. The real reason this line has done so well is because it has given nail technicians a way to get into natural nails and hand care by adding seven new services that they can charge for. We created all new services like pigmentation removal, deep-moisturizing antioxidant oil treatments, and non-surgical hand lifts. The thing we did was provide a product line that gives salons unique services to offer — and allow them to charge a premium for those services.

NAILS: Where do you see the nail industry headed?

Cuccio: If I had to name the three fastest-growing services in the nail business, I’d say natural nails, men’s nail services, and pedicures, which I’m calling foot care. Salons are evolving into spas and it reflects a philosophy change of the American woman. Women want to go to a place with an atmosphere that’s relaxing, soothing, and gets them out of their hectic environment for a couple of hours. They don’t just want to come in and just have a beauty treatment or have their nails done. They want the relaxation and people catering to them, so it’s like taking a small break when they can’t afford to take a two-week vacation. That’s the big potential for nail technicians now.

NAILS: What products do you have in the works to keep up with this spa trend?

Cuccio: By spring, we’re going to have a foot care line. The key here is not to call it a pedicure line because it’s not going to be just about pedicures. The foot care line that we’re putting together will take care of not only toenails, but the whole foot.

NAILS: What has been your biggest triumph?

Cuccio: Starting and marketing the Cuccio Naturalé line, which is being used in the top day spas in the world right now and has changed the perception of my company and me personally.

NAILS: What advice would you give to someone starting out in the industry?

Cuccio: I’ve given a lot of nail technicians, among other people, opportunities to get to the next level in this industry I have four examples that I think are inspirational. I have many employees who have been with me for more than 15 years and one of them is Christina Jahn. She started with me in 1985, right out of college, and she’s now head of Star Nail’s marketing department. Last year we gave her 5% of the company stock, which makes her an owner of Star Nail, Another example is Janice Lonardo, who has been with Star Nail for 10 years. She started out as a nail technician, became a regional salesperson, and she’s now director of education. Kim Tanner started out with her own nail salon and is now covering all of Canada for Star Nail International. She’s been with us for 18 years. Angle Herna is from the Bronx and her dream 10 years ago was to travel to the Caribbean, Puerto Rico, and South America and to handle all the Latin market. She’s built the market in Puerto Rico, she does seminars with me she’s one of the best at giving seminars. Her dream came true in November when we gave her Central America exclusively. Now she’s moving to Guatemala, making your first million is fun, but helping other people achieve their dreams is more fun.

NAILS: How do you think your personal image has influenced the industry?

Cuccio: I think the first lesson I’ve taught business people in this industry is to not judge a book by its cover. I know it’s a cliché, but; can’t just look at people and try to sum them up. You never can tell. Before you reach an opinion, base it on a person’s knowledge, not their looks. Thank God my competition never took me seriously!

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