Nestled in a historic area of Omaha, Neb., Academy of Nails offers clients and technicians the best. Not only can clients step into the salon and have a pedicure, nail tech can also learn about the latest innovations and sanitation practices at the state’s not only licensed nail school.
It was while working as a technician in an Omaha salon that owner Amy Waskal first realized the need for a school in the area. She had always made it a point to attend educational classes, but soon realized that an occasional seminar wasn’t the answer to her or her fellow technicians’ needs. She began giving classes out of a hair salon, but space soon became limited. That was when she found out about her current 1,600 sq. foot location.
Waskal soon began offering classes there and realized that she not only wanted to teach, she also wanted to have her own clientele. Besides, the space was so huge, she had more than enough room for a salon and an academy. Sven years later, Academy of Nails not only attracts a sizable clientele, but also has is fair share of students.
For years, Waskal has preached about the importance of sanitation and professionalism in the nail industry. “I stress professional products, being professional, and not doing anything to your clients you wouldn’t want done to you, such as using a dirty implement,” she says. The recent passing of legislation requiring licensure of nail technicians in Nebraska pleases her, but she knows her students and technicians are more than ready for the coming changes.
“The licensing is a benefit, but my technicians are well-educated,” she says. “The sanitation thing is a must and they’re really, really good at it.”
Nebraska’s new attitude toward nail technicians is certainly a far cry from when Waskal first started out 14 years ago. “I was pretty much self-taught. To sanitize back when I started was really unheard of. I had to teach myself to do it,” she says. Besides teaching at the academy, Waskal also goes on the road as an educator, where she gives technicians the how-tos on retailing merchandise and creating perfect nails.
A MIX OF OLD AND NEW
Located in downtown Omaha’s Old Market, a three-block radius filled with art galleries, restaurants, and horse-drawn buggies, the salon mirrors the area’s historic, old-time ambience.
Upon entering the salon, clients find themselves face to face with an old grandfather clock. Next to it, a bright floral couch helps give the salon a cheery and inviting look. Clients might be surprised to see one couch during the summer and another in the winter. That’s because Waskal switches furniture according to the season. When cold weather starts beckoning, she moves her bright couch back to the classroom area and a mauve couch with hand-carved armrests takes its place. Nearby, a large wooden side-board holds towels and products, and also separates the salon from the classroom. An antique cash register, which no longer works, is used to store money. Three white marble technician tables, gray carpeting, and soft pink drapes help complete the “stark, but soft” antique look Waskal was striving for.
Most of the items in the salon, from the oversized armchairs that double as pedicure thrones to the display tables that feature the products she uses, were picked up from antique stores in the area, as well as from her grandmother. “We decided to go with this look because of cost. We always walk through the Market and see what other do. It’s very ecletic,” she says. The look seems to be working. Clients – and students – frequently say they feel relaxed and right at home in the salon.
Although the salon’s décor is certainly in line with the Market’s old-time look, the classroom area is mixture of old and new. Waskal has tables and a podium set up, which she uses for her lectures.
Perfect Clients, Perfect Location
Opening a salon in the area made sense. After all, Waskal grew up there, and her grandmother owns – and lives in – part of the Market. Downtown Omaha also happens to attract plenty of business people, and thanks to a couple of nearby colleges, the area lures its fair share of students. Those demographics are what make up the salon’s clientele. In fact, 25% of Waskal’s clients are men, and they love pedicures. “Give a guy a pedicure and he’s yours for life,” she says. Another plus about the location is the Middle Eastern restaurant next door. While clients wait to be serviced, they can opt to order something from the menu, and their food is brought to them. Waskal also offers clients coffee, tea, and soft drinks.
Since the salon attracts so many clients, Waskal does not usually accept walk-ins. “Typically, we’re appointment only. Seventy percent of our clients are long timers and then everything else just fills in,” she says. These long timers also refer people to the salon, and she thanks them by having them draw from a jar laden with discounts on fills and pedicures, among other services.
Waskal makes it a point of making clients feel welcome. Upon entering the salon, they are warmly greeted by each technician. In fact, a male client recently paid a visit, and seemed uncomfortable among so many women, but the techs quickly put him at ease. “We want everyone to feel at home,” she says. Clients are not only made to feel welcome, they’re also kept in the nail care know with a quarterly newsletter that includes tips, birthday announcements, and contests.
Is that why clients seem to love the salon so much? Maybe it is also due to the fact that Waskal strives to make them happy. “When it comes to nails, we go with what they want,” she says. What clients seem to want are short, natural nails, as well as pedicures and acrylics. Technicians have also been getting lots of requests for French manicures.
All About Teamwork
Waskal admits that one of the hardest aspects of owning a salon is actually running it. “Sometimes I throw my hands up in the air and wonder what I’m doing,” she says. “It’s a challenge running a salon, but it’s a lot of fun and there are lots of rewards.”
One of those challenges is dealing with employees. “When I first started, I tried to be close friends with all of them,” she says. “You have this vision and you want everyone to have that same vision.” It took some time, but she is happy to report that all of her technicians now share her outlook.
It’s also especially tough offering classes, but Waskal wouldn’t have it any other way. “I’m pretty lucky that I’m still in business with the school because people don’t have to take my classes,” she says. Her school, in fact, seems to be a hit. As many as 30 nail students are enrolled at any given time, and Waskal allows them to come in at their convenience. Students can take as many hours of class time as they’d like; of those hours, 30 are spent in the classroom and the rest of the time is spent practicing on models. Upon successful completion of a course, students are given certificates. Classes offered range from acrylics to airbrushing – with a sanitary, professional emphasis, of course.
Waskal’s classroom setup will not likely change with the state’s licensing legislation that goes into effect January 2000, requiring 150 to 300 hours of education. One change she does foresee is the flexibility students currently have in regards to their hours. Instead, they will have to adhere to regular class hours but she believes that all the changes – state-mandated ones included – are for the best. “People will feel better about the fact that their technicians have had experience and education doing nails,” she says.
Since Waskal is so occupied with her classes, she usually doesn’t have time to work on nails. However, she will step in when a technician is out sick or just plain busy. She currently employs four technicians, and one of them, Stefanie Schaff, happens to be her mother and business partner. She says a good thing about working with Schaff, who joined the salon four years ago, is the fact that the two can have a normal mother-daughter relationship complete with arguments, and they’ll work fine together the following day. They don’t work together all the time, however. When Waskal is in, Schaff will take the day off. On busier days, both of them will come in. Waskal is actually in the salon three full days a week. During that time, she handles all the mailings, bookwork, and appointments.
The salon has room for more technicians, and Waskal is planning to hire two or more within the next few months. For the most part, she plans to take hiring more slowly. All of her technicians, with the exception of Schaff, attended the academy before being hired, so she knows they are dedicated to their craft.
Each nail tech specializes in her own service. “My mom does all the natural nails and pedicures. She’s awesome at pedicures,” Waskal says. “I do more of the nail enhancements.” If a client prefers a technician, the others do not take it to heart. “We let our clients know that we won’t be offended if they change techs. We all work together as a team,” she says.
In addition to working with clients, the technicians also help out in the classroom. Just as each one has her own specialty in the salon, each one also has her niche in the classroom. Schaff, for instance, gives classes on pedicures and natural nail care.
Waskal is certainly aware of her technicians’ commitment and dedication, and she shows her appreciation by regularly handing them gifts during meetings and offering holiday bonuses.
The salon charges $25 for a pedicure, $14 for a manicure, and $40 for a full set. Waskal says business has increased 10% each year, and she credits that to the salon’s commitment to quality and education. “Our service time might be a bit slower than the others, but the work that’s going out is good. We’re trying to achieve perfection,” she says. “We go above and beyond putting nails on our clients and sending them out the door. We educate them. We want them to know everything.”
Business is so good that Waskal is venturing into new territory. She currently retails skin care products, and she’s planning to offer skin and massage services within the next few months. “Lots of clients ask for these services,” she says. On top of her already busy schedule, she plans to handle facials, since she’s also a cosmetologist. Plans are also in the works to install a fitness room and a tanning booth, but she’s definitely ruling out a hair salon since there is already one in the area. Besides, she’s good friends with the owner, and clients who go for a haircut are frequently referred to Waskal’s salon when they’re interested in getting a manicure.
In addition to her current location, Waskal is also seriously considering opening another salon by January in western Omaha.
Despite all of her success, Waskal keeps it all in stride. After all, it was her love of fashion and making people feel better that first got her started in the business, and she hasn’t forgotten it. Judging by the amount of clients and students the salon attracts, they are also aware of the hard work she’s put into maintaining a top-notch salon and academy.
All of the salon’s technicians with the exception of owner Amy Waskal’s mom, Stefanie Schaff, studied at the academy prior to being hired. (left to right) Annie Minor, Cheryl Houghton, Malynda Desanti, Waskal, and Schaff.
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