NAILS first heard of Ciao Bella when nail technician Dynise Rein- bold submitted the salons printed materials to the magazines 1996 Graphics Contest. The judges’ responses were, quite simply, “Wow!” Intrigued by the salon’s materials, NAILS’ editors wondered if the salon itself lived up to its promo­tional promises. Our only recourse was to make the two-hour drive from the Los Angeles area to San Diego to check out the salon— exactly what the owners hope for from everyone who sees the salon’s marketing pieces.

Not only did the salon live up to its promise of sophisticated simplicity, but there was a sense of familiarity upon entering the salon. The soothing beige color of the promotional materials mimicked the salon’s earthy cream tones accented with dark browns and black; the salons logo of a Roman pillar reflects the salon’s design.

“In conceptualizing the design of Ciao Bella, the thought was elegant yet modest, classic yet contemporary, and vigorous yet relaxing. Influenced by European spas, we created this Mediterranean haven,” says Angelo Moulios, who owns the salon with his wife, Linda.

The Mediterranean influences are found in the salon’s reception area: an Italian leather couch, wrought iron chairs with grape leaf upholstery, and a bust of a Greek god. To enter the working area of the salon, clients pass through a lighted archway with Roman pillars on each side. The golden-hued slate floor complements the ambiance. “The archway was designed toassist clients in making the transition from everyday trials and tribulations to a retreat of pampering and submission to their beauty needs,” says Angelo, who, with Linda, spent years planning the salon.

Located near San Diego, Ciao Bella is tucked away from the main thorough-fare in a business park that, while easily accessible, is devoid of harried shoppers. In designing the salon, Angelo and Linda took advantage of their corner space by positioning the salon at a 45-degree angle to the entrance to maximize use of natural light from the abundant windows.

Depend on Good People, Not Good Looks

Ciao Bella doesn’t try to get by on its good looks alone. From the moment a client crosses the threshold, her needs — emotional as well as physical — are of paramount concern to the salon staff. The staff at Ciao Bella brings new meaning to the phrase “reception area,” greeting clients by name as soon as they enter the salon. After checking the client in, the receptionist offers her a drink from the espresso bar or a cold drink from the refrigerator. While they wait, clients relax and enjoy the fresh flowers in the reception area. Or they can peruse the retail area or read the makeup and skin care pamphlets displayed on the coffee table between the couch and chairs. Product testers are also set out for them to try. A discreetly placed sign alerts clients to free skin care consultations and a complementary cosmetic makeover.

Regular clients are greeted like valued friends; new clients, too, are made welcome. Before their first service, new clients fill out a salon questionnaire designed to acquaint their service provider with their history and their current needs.

Ciao Bella’s emphasis on customer service comes from the top. “I’ve been doing hair for 18 years and I always looked for-ward to opening my own salon,” says Linda. “In other salons I longed for a team atmosphere. My vision for Ciao Bella started with treating my clients the same way I treat my family and friends — with warmth, respect, and care.”

Regardless of what question you ask Angelo or Linda, the answer always relates somehow to their team of salon professionals. “We are very team-oriented, very family-oriented,” says Angelo. “We all do it together. I believe that is why we’ve been so successful.”

That team orientation is why they shied away from booth rental, choosing instead to make everyone in the salon an employee. “Booth rental works for the individual, not the overall business. And not everyone can work independently; everyone needs leaders and mentors,” says Linda.

The “team” means everything to Angelo and Linda, and they make a large investment of both time and money in their personnel. To them, their team is an extended family. “We like to help our staff grow and develop the right ethics and beliefs. We want to give them experience in dealing with success in a healthy manner,” says Angelo.

The couple promotes a balanced life to their employees, sometimes marking an employee off the books if they feel he or she needs a break. Says Linda, “We call it ‘watching your gas gauge.’ Some of our people would stay all day and put all their energy into work. In the long run that’s bad. They need to take care of themselves. We don’t allow them to work more than their scheduled hours, and we talk to them about exercise and diet—we encourage a balance of mind, body, and soul.”

Nail technician Dynise Reinbold, for one, appreciates their concern. “I work hard, and Angelo and Linda know it. If I want a day off or two or three weeks, they don’t question it. They want us to be happy.”

Reinbold, who left a booth-rental salon to come to Ciao Bella, says she took a cut in pay, but says “the sacrifice was well worth it.” She likes the energy and education found at the salon, and the feet that Angelo and Linda are so young. “We all go out dancing; everyone at the salon is very social outside of work.”

Linda credits both the education and the social events with the high energy at the salon. “We hold three big parties a year for our staff, and we do a lot of things together throughout the year,” she says. While socializing is encouraged, social climbing is not. “Gossip and negativity are grounds for divorce from Ciao Bella,” says Linda. “We hold employees responsible for their feelings. They can’t just have a problem; they need to offer solutions to their problems.” In fact, Linda says she will never have an employee break room in her salon again: “Not only is the break room the messiest area in the salon, it attracts negativity. All it takes is one person in a bad mood and suddenly the room fills with negative feelings.”

Both Linda and Angelo remain accessible to their employees through daily one-on-one meetings with each and every one of their 19 employees. These meetings help keep the team in harmony, they report, as well as keep the salon growing. Linda explains, “Everyone has goals and everyone knows everyone else’s goals. We check in daily to see how they are progressing.”

In addition to the daily meetings, there are weekly staff meetings where everyone discusses salon issues and participates in decision-making. Linda also holds weekly training sessions, and the salon has a 15-month training program for new employees. “Everyone goes through our training program, working as an assistant until they graduate,” she explains.

To ensure the training and communication pay off, Ciao Bella has a mystery shopper program. Once a week a mystery shopper books a service from the salon, all the while evaluating everything from how the phone is answered to how the employee did the service, to how the coffee was. “For example, a stylist could be marked down for not asking about the client or for upgrading her service without a purpose,” says Angelo. The mystery shopper program works because sometimes long time clients participate. “In everything that we do we always want to improve performance. No one, including myself, has reached the pinnacle. We try to teach people to forget about making money and focus on providing service — that’s when the money comes,” he says.

Fruits of Hard Labor Most Savored

From the beginning, Linda and Angelo have been on a mission, a mission to bring professionalism to the salon industry. “We want to leave our mark on the industry by showing people that hairstylists and nail technicians are stable, intelligent people. Creativity is great, but their energy needs to be focused. We’re showing the industry you can get people with high I.Q.s who are professional, stable, and balanced,” says Linda.

When they first opened the salon, however, they were dismayed to find that their employees didn’t appreciate all they were getting. “We were proud of what we had and we wanted everyone to enjoy it. We didn’t make it hard enough to get a job, we were paying too much in commission, and we weren’t specific about what we wanted. Now I won’t hire anyone unless they pursue me. The interview process lasts as long as four months. If someone lasts that long, I know they want the job and will appreciate it when they have it,” says Linda.

The salon’s hiring standards explain why the salon currently has only one nail technician; developing relationships with employees, instead of merely providing space to booth-renters, is the Moulios’ focus. “We have a large demand for nail services, but we’ve had a problem finding people in the industry who aren’t booth-renters,” says Linda. Reinbold works about 50 hours a week and clients wait as long as three weeks to get in. “The job came with a full clientele; I haven’t run a promotion in years,” she says.

Any takers?

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