Owner: Rebecca (Becky) Moore
Location: Eirlanger, Ky.
Number of years in business: 7
Staff size: 6 (5 nail technicians)
Highlights: Offers mehndi, custom-designed furnishings, products not commonly found in area. Strong focus on creative retailing and continuing education.
Rebecca (Becky) Moore has come a long way since she dragged her appointment: book and the few credit history records she had at age 22 to her bank in Erlanger, Ky., to apply for a small business loan. And small was the key word. Even though the bank's employees knew her by her first name, she waited a week for the call congratulating her on a $2,500 line of credit.
"I had used Community Bank my entire life, so my parents and friends encouraged me to apply for the loan," Moore says. "I wanted to start my own salon without anyone else's help."
As it turned out, the loan was just enough to open Just Nails, the area's first nails-only salon in 1990. Since then, Moore has redecorated a few times and expanded her original 400-square-foot room to a posh salon measuring more than 1,300 square feet with storage space, a private pedicure area, and other amenities. Her original furnishings consisted of two plastic tables that came with free black director's chairs purchased at a local discount store, the cordless phone from her bedroom, an answering machine that was a Christmas present from her sister, her boom box, whatever she could salvage from her parents' garage, and her manicuring chair, a gift from a dedicated group of clients.
Today, Moore still sits in that very chair because it has great sentimental value, though the rest of her salon has undergone a metamorphosis. Filled with one-of-a-kind furnishings, it would seem that Moore has spent a small fortune on unique decor. Instead, her gifted husband Craig put his artistic talents to work.
The creative surroundings sometimes count against the salon in the conservative neighborhood. "I think potential clients can be kind of intimidated at first because the salon and all of the employees are on the cutting edge. If it's hot, if its fashion forward, we've got it in the salon or we have it on," says Moore, who started offering mehndi body tattooing a year ago. "It can be frustrating because I feel like I have something unique to offer my clients, who are hard to win over. But once we get them in the salon, they stay because they recognize that we love nails and work hard to do them well."
A Flair for Fashion, a Passion for Nails
Despite her early love for nails, Moore decided to follow a different career path at first. Bitten by the fashion bug, she moved to Houston to work in a fashion boutique. There she learned many of the customer service and marketing principles she uses today. However, it wasn't long before she was overwhelmed by the popularity of the nail trade in the Lone Star state. "Texas was way ahead of Kentucky in nail technology, so I learned what I could and moved back to Kentucky with a head start," she explains.
Moore turned down a regional retail position with the boutique to move back home, and started nail school on her birthday. She built a friendship with her instructor, who was an expert in fiberglass nails and taught her the application techniques.
Since fiberglass was a new product category at the time, the skills brought Moore some notoriety. "At the time, nails in Kentucky meant super thick, super long acrylics. Now I was teaching nail technicians how to do these thin, neat-looking nails. I made a name for myself."
She eventually became an educator for Backscratchers Salon Systems. "I loved being an educator and traveling to all the tradeshows to work in the booth and teaching classes," she says.
Though Moore is no longer a manufacturer's educator, she believes strongly in continuing education. Each one of the salon's nail technicians is a Creative Nail Design Master Technician and also holds educational certificates from IBD for gels, Backscratchers for fiberglass, as well as reflexology and airbrushing. Moore gladly pays for all classes and tradeshows.
Moore also volunteers her time as a mentor and teacher to local nail school students. "When 1 was just starting out, I wish I had someone explain the basics, like why it might be easier to start off as an employee to build clientele and then become a booth renter later if that was my desire," she says. She also teaches about proper sanitation, how to spot MMA nails and remove them, and how to use drills properly.
Five nail technicians work at steel, wood, and glass nail tables. Craig made two different designs because the tables were built at different times and Moore liked having the diversity.
A Salon of Her Own
After Moore dedicated all of her resources to starting her salon and received the loan, she began to face other dilemmas. "1 didn't realize what went into running a salon," she says, explaining that until one year ago, Kentucky did not grant business licenses for nails-only salons.
"You had to post a cosmetology manager's license in your salon in order to open the doors. My nail school teacher lent me her license to post, as well as her expertise, but many other nail technicians in the area didn't have friends that would do that." The strategy gave her a jump on much of the competition in the area until last year when the law was changed.
Once her salon was open and starting to become profitable, Moore wanted to hire other nail technicians. At first she decided to try booth renting, thinking that would make it easier for her to run the new business and would keep her from having to do payroll. It was a bad decision. "There was no unity among the staff, no teamwork, and nothing was uniform. Things would get broken or damaged because the booth renters had no vested interest in the business," she says.
Moore decided to hire employees and today offers a strong benefits package, including vacation and sick time, continuing education, tradeshows, insurance (medical, dental, and professional liability), incentive contests with prizes, and other special privileges. However, she says that the hardest part about running her salon is finding and keeping good employees.
Every Just Nails nail technician is required to follow the sanitation creed (posted in the salon) and the employee manual, which is provided to each new hire. "Since I switched to hiring employees I have enjoyed the camaraderie in the salon. We work together as a team," says Moore.
The Pottery Barn Meets Nails
Moore's own eclectic personality is the heartbeat of Just Nails. When she first rented the $400 space, it was in bad shape, but had potential. The building was old with no central air and only steam heat. The walls were water-stained, there were cobwebs in the corners, and the bathroom needed serious help.
Since then, Moore and her husband Craig have renovated several times. Not surprisingly the salon was the impetus for their introduction. Friends got the two together after learning that Moore needed inexpensive renovation help and Craig was looking for an opportunity to put his artistic talents to work.
The couple dated for five years and were married just three years ago. "He is the artist," Moore says. "I would never have had a salon of this caliber without him."
Four years after the grand opening, the business next to Just Nails moved and Moore secured an extra 500 square feet for the salon and added the private pedicure area. Another couple of years passed before Moore was able to add the extra square footage that is her break room where she keeps the tea and other refreshments the salon offers its clients during services, as well as a storage room.
For the latest decor, Moore was inspired by what she saw in Pottery Barn stores and the interior design magazines — blending new pieces with old accents. Craig built more furniture and did all of the sponge painting and frescoes throughout the salon. He knocked down walls, built the break room, storage area, and the private pedicure area. He also built custom picture frames, coat racks, a sink, and the retail displays made from steel and glass in the reception area.
Six nail tables now grace the salon. All are made from glass, wood, and steel and are of two different designs. The reception desk also has a steel base, but the top is made from particle board, one of the most inexpensive woods available. He also laid chip board, another inexpensive wood, on the bathroom floor.
Other special touches throughout Just Nails are the steel retail shelves by the reception desk that Craig artfully "suspended." "I didn't see him build them, so I have no idea how he did it, but you can't tell how they are attached to the wall. It looks like they are floating," she explains.
Moore never tires of redecorating — adding new pieces and moving others around every two weeks. "The nail technicians always tease me that they can't ever find anything, but updating the retail displays is my passion," she says. "Our clients are always looking at them and wondering what we will do next. It is a smart business move because it focuses their attention on what you are trying to sell." And sell she does — lipsticks, lip liners, polish, and even hand-painted barrettes account for at least 30% of the salon's profits.
Moore's dedication is born out of a strong desire to provide everyone with the best. "It has taken me a few years of maturing and settling down not to react too strongly after something bad happens, like a nail table getting chipped, something spilling on the couch, or a broken frame. It is hard for me to let things go because Craig and I did all of this together and the salon is the result of a lot of hard work. We want it to be perfect for our clients and staff."
For reprint and licensing requests for this article, Click here.