Winner: Salon With 1-3 Nail Technicians
Location: Manchester, Vt.
Owner: Ruth Gurry
Years in business: 3
Staff size: 11 (3 nail technicians)
Five years ago, Ruth Gurry wasn’t sure what she wanted to do with the rest of her life. Working as a secretary on Wall Street for Merill Lynch, she was reluctant to relocate to the West Coast when her boss was transferred, so she and her husband --- who was also at a crossroads-decided to move from New York to Manchester, Vt., with their two kids and open a restaurant. For a time, Gurry acted as chef, but business was slow, and Gurry knew she needed to find a steady job. Even though she had vast secretarial experience, she didn’t know computers and was further hampered by a hearing disability. At 45, she was intimidated at the thought of starting all over in the business world. Then she saw a friend wearing nail art and thought, “Why not? Doing nails would be fun.”
It wasn’t fun at first---at least, not finding good training and getting started in salon. With no nearby schools, Gurry had no choice but to stay with her brother in New York to attend school there. The school taught nail extensions only--- no manicures--- and didn’t use a workbook, but Gurry found a textbook on her own and spent hours studying outside the classroom. After several months, she finished the course and passed the Vermont State Board exam only to have her new career and almost before it started. By the end of her first day on the job in a local salon, Gurry was ready to pack it in. The tension of dealing with less-than-pleasant clients, coupled with her own insecurities, made her question her decision to do nails.
Fortunately, Gurry stuck it out, turning to education rather than giving up. BY studying the trade magazines and attending seminars, she says she gained the knowledge and self-confidence she needed. “The magazines not only offered timely articles and practical advice, they got me moving. Every time there was a seminar on anything having to do with nails, I was in my car. I found out about the problems that develop in the nail business and how to deal with them,” says Gurry. She soon decided she wanted to teach nail technicians and open a school. The Vermont Institute of Nail Technology is Gurry’s baby, where she still teaches new nail technicians the art and science of creating beautiful nails.
First, however, she knew she needed to open her own salon if she wanted control over her time and ambitions. She went back to school to learn about running a business, then found a tiny space under a real estate office with enough room for her manicure table, pedicure station, and a hutch for products. She was in business! At the same time, she hired a public relations expert to contact high schools and salons, searching for people interested in learning to do nails. Her salon and her school were on their way.
While Manchester is a small town---population 3,600--- the ski and summer months bring lots of tourists and seasonal residents. With them, these people brought to Gurry glowing reports of their spa experiences. “They said it was too bad we don’t have something like this in Manchester,” remembers Gurry. She knew day spas were an up-and-coming salon concept and she and the other nail technician she worked with began dreaming of how they would set up their day spa. It was just a daydream, really, says Gurry, until her husband found a newly available space that was large, light, and freshly painted. Six months later that daydream was her new day job when Green Door Day Spa opened for business. As word spread about the new day spa, nail technicians and hairstylists contacted Gurry, wanting to join her team. In addition, a licensed sports therapist joined and offered relaxation and beauty techniques. Then a European-trained esthetician came on board, bringing her own special line products.
Products are very important at Green Door where the staff tests everything before Gurry puts it on the retail display. Their criteria is simple: The products must be natural, preservative-free formulated with essential oils and botanicals, and fit the day spa’s atmosphere.
Stepping into Green Door Day Spa is like stepping into a garden. Aromatic oils diffused throughout the salon scent the air, while flowers and greenery fill the nooks and crannies of the green and white salo. Gurry credits aromatherapy for a large part of Green Door’s success and says it will be the basis for future expansion. “The right blend of aromas can create an ambiance of well-being that will pay off in profitable new opportunities,” she says. One such opportunity is the recently debuted Blending Bar, where clients and consultants can customize an individual line of personal beauty products; essential oils are, of course, incorporated into the products. Gurry also recently added a deluxe shower in the massage room, which allowed her to introduce a whole new range of services from body loofah therapy to body facials.
These new services aren’t just Gurry’s brainstorms; they are the offerings of her clients and her staff. One of Gurry’s best business assets is her ability to listen, and she encourages clients to share their experiences at other spas and tell her what they offer that she doesn’t. “My customers are my friends,” she says, “and friends listen to friends.” She encourages the staff to speak out, too. She tells them not to take their problems home, and she installed a suggestion box, which she empties every night and takes the entries home to read.
From a salon with space for one to a day spa with 11 employees--- including three nail technicians, a pedicurist, a reflexologist, three hairstylists, an esthetician, and a massage therapist--- Gurry has found her niche--- not just her salon’s niche as a day spa, but her niche in life. “even when the pace gets so hectic and I can’t stop to eat, it’s my happiest time. I wish I had started when I was much younger; there are so many things I would still like to do.” But at just 50 years old, there’s still plenty of time.
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