Even in February Ft. Lauderdale is hot and sticky. It was so humid when I was there (I was visiting the Bermans of Hair Care Nail Supplies) that the lens of my camera fogged up completely and I couldn’t take any outdoor photos. Easy for me, a Southern Californian, to complain about a little humidity in February, hmm?

Nails are huge in Florida in every sense of the word. Florida ranks third in the number of licensed nail technicians and nail salons. Florida is home to more nail salons chains and more top 25 competitors then any other state. Besides being a huge business, nails are literally huge. Women in Florida wear their nails long, bold, bright. They aren’t afraid of wild colors, extreme lengths, or offbeat shapes. You see artificial nails in Florida like you see tans -- everybody has them. When I asked my nail technician if she’d seen an upswing in clients wanting natural manicures, she looked at me quizzically and said, “Not at all.”

I visited Nails Plum for this column, #16 on the 1997 Top 100 Salons list, where it has been a fixture for years. Owner Barstow oversees a staff of 27 nail technicians. Deceptively small for the business volume it handles, the salon does not do assembly-line work. The setup encourages clients to visit with each other, and the happy chatter drowns out all peripheral noise. One client had brought in her new baby this day and everyone took a turn trying to win a smile from the kid.

Keeping such a huge group of workers happy and productive is no small task for Barstow, but she focuses on training (the salon had recently gone through Creative Nail Design’s Masters training), and a comfy environment (there’s a kitchen and break room, and Barstow has given up her own office to build a skin care area), and she tries to accommodate each individual’s needs. Becky, who did my nails had recently returned to Nails Plum when her husband, who is in the Navy, was transferred back to Florida. He was deployed again for six months right after they learned they were expecting their first child. Becky decided she wanted to return to work and Barstow worked her right back into the schedule. She loves doing nails and intends to take a year off, then come back to Nails Plum. It looks like she’ll be welcome back with open arms.

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