Made-to-order sunny weather; your favorite industry celebrities, a glamorous awards ceremony a VIP cocktail reception... sounds like the Academy Awards, right? No ... close, though. On November 2-3, NAILS Show’97 railed out the red carpet for exhibitors, attendees, and guests with a high-class forum for new product introductions, meetings, education, competitions, and of course, awards. So if you couldn’t make the cable car tour or even roam the show floor; fear not. Our well-placed cameras captured many sights that will show you exactly how much fun you missed.

Success Is What you Make It

NAILS Magazine and Nailco Salon Marketplace hosted the third-annual Salon of the Year Awards by honoring some of the nation’s finest salons and nail technicians.

This year’s Salon of the Year Awards proved that persistence pays off. Shari Finger; who was a runner-up last year; swept both Salon of the Year With 5+ Nail Technicians and Nail Technician of the Year awards, Peter Ventrone and Linda Champion, owner and nail manager of Golden Shears Hair Nails & More, took first in Salon of the Year With 1-4 Nail Technicians, after receiving a runner-up award in 1996, NAILS and Nailco Salon Market­place presented 200 formally clad attendees with a lavish banquet and awards ceremony that also paid tribute to NAILS’ Top 25 Competitors of 1996.


NAILS wishes to pay tribute to those salons and nail technicians receiving Honorable Mention in this year’s Salon of the Year Awards:


Cuticles Nail Salon, Indialantic, Fla.

Owner: Faith Glionna

Brenda’s A Perfect ‘10’Nail Salon, Ashland, Ohio

Owner: Brenda Whisler

All About Nails, Northampton, Pa.

Owner: Rebecca Moore


Currie Hair Skin Nails, Glen Mills, Pa.

Owner: Randy Currie

The Nail Shop of Carrollwood, Tampa, Fla.

Owner: Cathryn Myers

The Charles Penzone, Grand Salon


Owner: Charles Penzone


Jill Hackbarth, Park Avenue Salon

Mequon, Wis.

Christopher Truong, Glamour Nails

Chesapeake, Va.

Claudine Morgan, At Your Fingertips

Fayetteville, N.C


Shari Finger, Finger’s Nail Studios

Owner: Shari Finger

Location: W. Dundee, Ill.

Years Doing Nails: 10

Age: 36

Years in Business: 9

Staff Size: 8 (8 nail technicians)

Winning Words: Shari Finger when (trying to) acknowledge her second award of the night —Nail Technician of the Year.

“Two years ago, when the editors at NAILS Magazine called Shari Finger to say she was a finalist in the 1996 Salon of the Year Awards, Finger said, “You must be mistaken.” She never imagined her homey salon, located in the heart of the Midwest, would place within the top three in a national contest. A year later, Finger experienced the ultimate surprise when not only Finger’s Nail Studios won first place, but Finger herself was also named Nail Technician of the Year.

Finger was not fully comfortable promoting herself in the nail technician division. “When I entered the salon category, it was as a tribute to my staff, but entering my own name for the best nail technician made me feel a bit odd,” Finger says. “Then I realized it might give me the chance to help promote changes in the industry, changes toward more professionalism, better business practices, and higher quality technical skills. I realized I want to be a leader in my field.”

Finger has been a leader in her field and a mentor to many technicians since she stumbled into the nail business 10 years ago. After giving birth to her first son in 1987, she left her job in the graphic arts industry. She loved staying home with Jonathan but soon realized she needed to be away from home to enjoy being at home. She took a job as a receptionist in a nails-only salon near her home and was intrigued. After watching the technicians do nails by day, Finger went home and practiced by night.

“With licensing laws only a dream in Illinois, nail education was nearly impossible to find. I attended every product class and read trade magazines. Those were my only sources of education,” Finger recalls. “One day at the salon I saw a cover of NAILS Magazine where there were all these open bottles of polish. Somehow, looking at that cover stirred both my love for nails and for graphic arts. Ever since that time, one of my dreams has been to have my nail work graphically designed on a magazine cover.”

Finger stirred her confidence and went to work doing nails in a day spa, only to find out nails weren’t high on their priority list. The salon owner didn’t advertise, and the nail stations were located in private rooms, not visible to salon customers. She left after six months and decided to take a chance on her own.

In 1988, with one table in a rented room of a hair salon in W. Dundee, Ill., Finger opened for business. She pulled in customers from a small ad in the she could compete with the best in the phone book, word of mouth, and hair clients. She used skills from a prior career in computer graphics to create her first logo and added retail.

This inspired Finger to open her own educational program, offering training for beginners and continuing education for veterans. Trainees received a complete kit of nail products, implements, and a training manual. Finger selected individuals from the classes who would fit into her salon and offered them jobs.

Finger continued to experiment and educate herself in as many areas of the industry as possible, and then joined the competition circuit to see how good she could be. It didn’t take her long to prove she should country — taking home the first place prize in only her third try.

In 1990, Finger set up her client list on a database and added paraffin units and a pedicure station. After obtaining a bridal mailing list, Finger kicked off a bridal advertising campaign. She and the staff actively solicited the market, and they landed an exclusive agreement with a large bridal store.

The following year, all independent contractors became employees, and the first employee manual was created. Finger’s training program had reached a new level, now offering a training program for other salons and classes for nail technicians wanting to fine-tune their skills. The staff trailblazed in the competition arena, with Finger, taking multiple awards in all categories.

Finger, who opened a second salon in Algonquin in 1989, doubled it in 1992, purchasing additional equipment from a going-out-of-business sale. She introduced airbrushing to her clients, and added jewelry to the retail line.

In 1993, Finger moved her original salon to its present location. She introduced a client newsletter called Finger Prints, expanded Yellow Page advertising, designed a new logo, and implemented a Christmas bonus program for her employees.

When Illinois finally passed its licensing law in 1994, she turned her training program into an apprentice program. Many of her students have gone on to become award winners and salon owners. “I am very proud of the high percentage of students who have stayed in the industry,” boasts Finger, who now goes to schools and talks to technicians about nail competitions and nails in the real world.

She tells students, “Success is what you make it. I started out with a makeshift manicure table and a passion for nails. And because I was doing something that I enjoyed and set goals, and then met those goals, I was able to build a successful nail business. I am stubborn and the harder it gets, the harder I work. My nail business was built on a good reputation, the best staff I could put together, and never accepting anything but the best nails.”

Kristi Brown, senior nail technician at Finger’s salon, agrees. “We wouldn’t be doing the same quality work around here if Shari didn’t expect it from us. She has set a standard for excellence and we follow it”

During 1994, Finger added tanning to the service menu. The salon extended its hours during the holidays and sold gift baskets and certificates.

The following year, due to growth within the community, the Algonquin salon was no longer situated in the heart of town. After failed negotiations for another location in the area, Finger left at the end of the lease, moving her Algonquin employees and all but one client to the newer shop in W. Dundee. She tried some new promotions: Finger’s Race Car tooled around town while radio ads played on the air. In addition, Finger became a regular guest on WRMN radio station, discussing nail problems and trends.

In 1996, Finger borrowed money for the salon and purchased the W. Dundee property. She remodeled the entire salon and sold the suntan beds to make room for more nail tables and a coffee bar. She added new employee benefits including vacation time and paid education. The Yellow Page ad was expanded, using a 4-color photograph—the only one of its kind in the beauty section. That same year, Finger Prints was recognized in NAILS Magazine’s Graphics Contest, and the salon was chosen as a runner- up in the Salon of the Year Awards. After competing for seven years, Finger retired and set new goals to judge and direct the competitions.

In 1997 the computer system was updated and new training manual was developed. After qualifying as a Salon of the Year runner-up, Finger designed another new logo, updating the look and adding the slogan, “Award Winning Salon.”

Brown speculates, “Now that the salon has taken home the gold, it might be time to change the slogan to “Salon of the Year.’ I am so proud of Shari. This didn’t happen overnight. She’s worked hard and deserves the recognition.”

The day after the awards, she began thinking about new goals to set, but came up empty-handed. “It was like, where do we go from here?” She felt confused on the way home from San Francisco, but, by the time of her next staff meeting, she had it all figured out.

She told her staff, “We can’t let our guard down just because of this award—we have to stay on top. Instead of saying, ‘Hey, look at what we’ve achieved,’ let’s say, ‘Look at what we are capable of doing.’” Rejuvenated, the award-winning group kicked into gear and began implementing ideas for new techniques and programs.

Peggy Brach, senior nail technician and salon manager, said, “We feel an obligation to our clients who hear about the award and realize they are going to the best-rated salon in the country. We want them to see and feel something special here.”

As for Finger, the award is her way of acknowledging her staff for their hard work and dedication to the salon. “This is for the days when one of the staff is sick and someone jumps in to cover her hours so clients will not be inconvenienced. This is for the nail technician who fits in a client with a broken nail even though it’s time to go home. And this is for those who take a client’s polish off and prep her, to help another technician stay on schedule. This is for Kristi, Peggy, Theresa, Kelli, Chandra, Laurie and Kendra!”

RUNNER-UP: Nail Technician of the Year

Michele Baker

Salon: Euro Stylecutters, Lutz, Fla.

Years Doing Nails: 7

Age: 40

Winning Words: In the last five years I’ve changed my dentist once, my doctor once, and my cleaning lady 100 times, but have not once changed my nail technician.” —Baker’s client

Champion Nail Tech Shares Her Secrets

Sometimes the more skilled a nail technician becomes, the less inclined she is to help others. This is clearly not the case with Michele Baker, who is pretty much typified by her motto: Education is worthless if you don’t share it with someone.

As if in proof of her generous nature, Baker relates a story: When she was a runner-up in the 1996 Technician of the Year competition, she was approached for advice by another entrant, who hadn’t made it to the finals, on how to improve her application. Baker dispensed advice cheerfully and it worked. The technician turned out to be Melinda Borrego, the other runner-up in this year’s Nail Technician of the Year competition.

The list of reasons why Baker deserves special recognition is long, but must begin with words of praise from those who know her best — her clients. “Michele will never let a client leave with work that she believes is less than perfect. I am normally thrilled with my nails about halfway through my appointment, but there is always something extra that Michele feels she can do to make my nails even better,” says client Laurie Diamond. Her client, Angie Fox, says as far as she’s concerned “Michele is not only Nail Technician of the Year, but of the century.”

An accomplished competitor, Baker has placed on NAILS’ Top 25 Competitors list every year since its inception (she’s one of only two people to do that) and is currently ranked 9th.

Baker puts her competitive spirit to work in her private life, as well. She recently took up the sport of boxing, which she says is great not just for the health aspects, but as a stress reliever. “When something is bothering me, I think about it while I do two or three rounds on the speed bag or while I’m sparring with the trainer. I sleep great now,” she says. And she’s in such good shape that when she’s buffing nails to a high sheen under competition pressure, her arms don’t even get tired.

RUNNER-UP: Nail Technician of the Year

Melinda Borrego

Salon: Mindyfingers, Granby, Conn.

Years Doing Nails: 10

Ages 46

Winning Words: “The customer is doing us the favor of allowing us to do her nails, not the other way around.”

Mindy Makes It Fun

 “When I was 5 years old, my mom threw a birthday party for me and everyone pretended I was Queen for a Day. That’s what I felt like being a finalist,” says Melinda “Mindy” Borrego. The trip to San Francisco was wonderful, she says, but sharing the experience with her clients has been the best part.

It’s the nature of the nail business that products, techniques, and clients’ needs are always changing, and Borrego makes it her mission to keep on top of it all. She does her homework, attending classes, shows, and competitions, and studying trade journals so she can offer her clients the broadest range of services.

“It’s important to me to properly prescribe’ a service to a customer, rather than simply perform the service she thinks she wants. Instant gratification is not always the wisest course of action,” explains Borrego in her entry essay. When you read the words written by her clients on her behalf, it’s obvious she puts this philosophy into practice.

“I have all the confidence in the world that when Mindy is performing a fill, she is going beyond the cosmetic — she is always evaluating the condition of my nails,” writes long-time client Joanne Mayornick, who says Mindy knows what works best for her. Another client, Ellen Stoltz, puts it a little differently: “Though her decisions may not always be popular, each customer believes that Mind/s interest remains with the customer.”

When she’s not managing the salon or tending to clients, she works as an educator for Cosmic, training new and veteran nail technicians and working tradeshows. To keep up on the latest nail news, she’s an active participant on the Internet and in the AOL nailtech chat room.

Looking forward, her project for 1998 is to lobby hard for licensing in Con­necticut. “I hope my status as a finalist will give me added credibility when I go up against the legislators,” she says.

RUNNER-UP: Salon of the Year With 5+ Nail Technicians

Nail Clinic

Location: Avon, Ohio

Owners: Lori Gillespie, Michelle Barna,

Laurie Piskur

Years in Business: 13

Staff Size: 15 (11 nail technicians)

Winning Words: “We came away a runner-up, but with a renewed sense for the future and filled with pride at what we have accomplished.”

Committed to Quality

TQM (Total Quality Management) is a business strategy you expect to find in the higher echelons of the corporate world. But for Avon, Ohio-based Nail Clinic, implementing the ideology behind TQM has been a leading factor in the salon’s success. TQM is more a philosophy than a business plan, say owners Lori Gillespie, Michelle Bama, and Laurie Piskur. “Optimum customer service is the ultimate goal of TQM,” says Piskur. “This is achieved through quality of service, quality of product, and quality of employees.”

To help improve customer satisfaction and gain better insight into their needs, the salon conducts periodic client surveys. Responses from one survey, for example, got a pedicure program in place. “Even though we’re constantly striving to find new customers, we don’t want to forget about our faithful and loyal ones, so we implemented a pedicure club where after five pedicures, the client gets a sixth one free,” says Piskur.

Years ago, Piskur (who worked in retail management) was a faithful client of Barna who talked her into going to nail school. Piskur was recruited as a nail technician at Nail Clinic and quickly moved up the ranks to salon manager, educational coordinator, and finally to business partner.

Originally from Michigan, sisters Lori and Michelle were raised in the beauty industry. In 1985, Michelle persuaded Lori to team up with her and open Nail Clinic. It has never been difficult to share the responsibilities of managing the salon, say the owners. Each has fostered each others’ personal growth and picked up the slack for any shortcomings.

“In the process of composing and compiling our entry, we realized this was the perfect opportunity to review our accomplishments, change a few of our procedures, and make plans for our future,” says Piskur.

“Successfully becoming a finalist was an emotional roller coaster ride!” she says. “Elation, on being chosen. Anxiety while awaiting the final results. Flattery to be one of such an elite group. A brief moment of disappointment not to be number one. And finally, a renewed enthusiasm for what we have accomplished and what is yet to come.”

RUNNER-UP: Salon of the Year With 5+ Nail Technicians

Nail Depot

Location: Deerfield Beach, Fla. (headquarters)

Owners: Greg and Rose Tosti

Years in Business: 9

Staff Size: 150 (6 locations)

Winning Words: “Third time’s a charm...”‘ — Greg Tosti, salon co-owner and two-time runner-up for Salon of the Year.

Growing, growing Strong

The expression “resting on your laurels” definitely does not apply to Greg and Rose Tosti. I After becoming a runner-up in NAILS’ 1996 Salon of the Year Awards and ranking #8 in NAILS Top 25 Salon Chains, the husband-and-wife owners of Nail Depot, headquartered in Deer- field Beach, Fla., have opened up two more salons and moved into the #7 position in NAILS Top 25 Salon Chains in 1997-1998. All this with a 1-year-old daughter and a second child on the Way.

The couple were beauty school sweethearts — Greg managed his parents’ three schools and Rose was a nail instructor at one. The Tostis opened their first nail salon in 1989 in Boca Raton, Fla.

“We started out with six nail technicians and in a few months we were up to 10, then a year later we had 17 in all,” remembers Rose.

Due to the area’s high demand for nail services, the Tostis now have six locations, about 8-11 miles apart, which are open six days a week. No matter which location a client visits, she is assured the same quality service at a discount price. All Nail Depot technicians must have a minimum two years’ experience and receive continuous training and testing.

To set themselves apart even more from the competition and to provide their customers with optimum sanitation, the Tostis have introduced the Autoclave Sterilization System for implements in three of their salons as a test. “We feel this is going a step further for our customers and no other salon in our area is doing it,” says Rose.

Being a runner-up for two years in a row has been a learning experience for the Tostis. After reading the article on the winning entry for Salons With 8+ Nail Technicians in 1996, the Tostis realized the importance of getting involved with community and fund-raising events to help bolster team spirit and to give back to their community. So, they took part in Breast Cancer Awareness Day with each technician donating $5 and at Christmas they participated in the Toys for Tots drive. Then, after attending a class given by the 1997 Salon of the Year Award winner in the same category, the Tostis got ideas on how to improve their salon newsletter and how valuable it is to hire someone to help out with promotions.

“All in all, love for the nail business, good people, high standards, and a genuine affection for our clients — these are what separates Nail Depot from all the others,” say the Tostis.


Golden Shears Hair, Nails & More

Location: Runnemede, N.J.

Owner: Peter Ventrone

Manager: Linda Champion

Years in Business: 18

Staff Size: 19 (4 nail technicians)

Winning Words: “Twenty-two years covered in nail dust and it all comes to this ...”  —Linda Champion, upon receiving the award.

Practice Makes Perfect

When salon owner Peter Ventrone met nail technician Linda Champion, he had no idea what was in store for him. Not only did he find a companion, but a wizard of a business manager with the drive and passion to become an industry winner.

“I am so proud of Linda. She is so gifted and has a keen sense of the salon business,” says Ventrone who started doing hair in New York in 1964.

After being named runner-up in the 1996 Salon of the Year Awards, Champion was determined to do more. “From that moment on I was driven to become number one in the industry. Regardless of the award, I was still inspired to get the salon, the nail department, and myself into a Salon of the Year mode,” recalls Champion.

She took a list of her ideas and expenses to Ventrone who trusted her judgment and approved all the changes. Together they planned to remodel the two-story interior, give a facelift to the exterior, and revamp their logo and printed materials. They labelled 1997 “The year of the rebirth of Golden Shears.”

“To hire construction workers, interior designers, advertising agents, graphic designers, and consultants would have been too easy. We found it more rewarding to do it our way — that is, the hard Ii way,” said Champion.

Ventrone and a friend handled the j construction while Champion designed a new logo, business cards, menu, newsletters, guides, manuals, and promotional materials. She used a rendering of the building to create a theme and establish recognition.

Although Ventrone had already expanded the salon in 1994 by remodelling the second floor, a growing nail business dictated yet another change. The consultation and cosmetics areas were relocated to accommodate a new nail station upstairs called The Parlour.

In addition to new nail tables, a polish-change area was designed so that the pedicure spa would not be tied up. They also invested in their second custom-designed V-shaped nail table that they placed downstairs in view of the hair stations.

While Ventrone added finishing touches on the Victorian-style exterior, Champion made plans to expand their service menu to include deluxe spa pedicures and Mehndi (henna) hand and foot art. They expanded the retail inventory to include new lotions, personal nail care kits with professional implements for clients to bring along for their service or to use at home, and toe rings to promote prettier feet.

During the salon restructuring, Ventrone continued to cut and style hair while Champion continued to do nails and make regular visits to New York City where she purchased wholesale jewelry and other items for retail sale.

“Peter and I have been shopping for the salon in the fashion district and going to fashion accessory shows for years. The merchandise we purchased w as high quality and sold very well, but we always thought the wholesale prices were too high. Then one day when I was on a shopping trip, I had an idea. I stopped a UPS driver and asked him to give me the names and locations of out-of- the-way designer shops. He turned me on to an accessory outlet that has turned out to be an incredible source for us,” says Champion.

Today, one of the hottest growth areas in the salon is retail sales. The couple purchase one-of-a-kind pieces of jewelry and handbags at such reasonable prices that they are able to pass the savings on to their customers.

“When Linda comes back from a shopping trip, she lays the items on a table. Before she can price them and put them on the shelf, clients start rummaging through the pile. Sometimes most of the merchandise is sold before it’s ever displayed,” says Ventrone.

After just three months, the renovation was complete. But the happy couple didn’t just sit back and bask in their accomplishments. They continued to upgrade their services and motivate and educate themselves and their staff. Champion continued to educate at local beauty colleges and judge nail competitions.

When the big night arrived and Golden Shears was announced the winner, Ventrone gave the floor to Champion, who said, “I was tired of sitting back and watching everyone else win when I knew I could do this. When I helped to improve the salon, I improved my life as well. It was a joint effort, and this goes to prove that Peter and I have a great balance between us. When I worked for other people, they never listened to my dreams — Peter listened and gave me the opportunity to prove myself?’

Another highlight for Champion was that her father, who has been fighting liver cancer in New Jersey, was feeling well enough to applaud her triumph. “He has been my inspiration since childhood. He was always painting, shaping, or carving something. He had such an eye for perfection and detail. I guess he gave me a love for crafting. We used to joke that while he was covered in sawdust, I was covered in nail dust.”

When the couple returned to the salon, they quickly put together a photo album for their clients from NAILS Show and the awards ceremony and had a commemorative banner designed for the salon’s exterior.

“This has been a tremendous boost for the salon. In fact, the success of the nail department has encouraged the stylists. The hair staff already has two coloring classes and a cutting class scheduled for next month,” Ventrone said.

As for Champion, who has reached the end of one journey, a new goal looms on the horizon. “Now I need to get Peter to change the salon name from Golden Shears to Golden Touch. Maybe one more nail station and he’ll go for it.”

RUNNER-UP: Salon of the Year With 1 - 4 Nail Technicians

Green Door Day Spa

Location: Manchester Center, Vt.

Owner: Ruth Gurry

Years in Business: 4

Staff Size: 11 (3 nail technicians)

Winning Words: “Since the inception of the salon, I have been a firm believer in education, improving, offering clients sound advice, and the finest products and services served in a scrupulously sanitary environment”—Ruth Gurry

The Scent of Success

Since winning Salon of the Year last year, you would think that Ruth Gurry would take a much-deserved break-relax and enjoy the spoils. But that is not Gurry’s way. “It is getting harder and harder for me to stay behind my nail table because I have so much that I want to do,” says the Green Door Day Spa owner, who besides managing her salon, also runs a nail education program, teaches aromatherapy, donates to numerous charities, is a mother of two, and a wife.

In the last year, Green Door Day Spa added heated shoulder wraps to fight off the Vermont cold, glycolic face and hand treatments, a new homemade pedicure foot masque, and various body wraps and treatments infused with aromatherapy. “Introducing aromatherapy into people’s lives has been the most rewarding thing I have ever done,” says Gurry, who believes in the practice of using essential oils from plants.

Gurry’s bridal business has been another focus of her energies. Bridal parties are invited to partake in traditional hair and makeup services, as well as nail services, massage, and aromatherapy services designed to maximize the bliss (and minimize the stress) of the wedding day.

“Our bridal business is booming and the entire staff is on hand to consult and perform the special services that the bridal party requires,” she says, adding that many brides try out the spa’s creative nail art.

It is easy for Gurry to put so much of herself into her spa and her community, as she will tell you emphatically: “I believe in what I do and like to share it with people to give them a little happiness.”

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