The Second Time's a Charm

byJoLynn M. Vensel | December 1, 1994

If at first you do succeed, make it happen again. That’s what Esther Herman and her daughter, Kathy Haller, co-owners of both Elegante Nails salons in Arlington, Texas, did. The mother/daughter team first opened Elegante Nails in November 1980. With the combination of Herman’s business finesse and Haller’s nail expertise, it didn’t take long for business to soar. Then, in October 1984, still riding the wave of success, they opened up another Elegante Nails in southwest Arlington, about six miles away.

“The nail business in 1984 was rapidly growing and we had already established a good reputation,” says Herman. “We knew if we opened a second salon we would retain about 50 of our regular clients who lived closer, plus pick up new ones,” she says. Both salons are located in upper-middle class areas and cater to many career women.

“We felt opening the second salon would be a smart business move since there weren’t any top-notch salons in the area,” she adds. Since Herman lives in southwest Arlington, she knew the demographics, and knew that if there were good salons in the area, clients wouldn’t drive all the way to her original salon to get their nails done.

Once the seed was planted, it took Herman and Haller only four months to open the salon. “I don’t sit on things,” says Herman, who adds that financing the salon was a lot easier and faster since they had an already established business.

Some Things Remain the Same, Others Change

Satisfied with the foot traffic and accessibility offered by a strip mall, Herman and Haller chose the same type of location for their second salon. “The strip mall we’re in offers good visibility and referrals from nearby businesses, such as restaurants, a hair salon, and the largest women-only gym in Arlington,” says Herman. In addition, the rent is reasonable and there is plenty of parking, she notes.

Although they didn’t do it for the first salon, Herman and Haller planned a grand opening celebration for their second salon, which included a ribbon cutting ceremony with members of the chamber of commerce in attendance. With experience as their guide, they knew what they were doing the second time around. “We had everything in place so much faster---workstation design, business cards, appointment book, decor, retail products, signage, everything. It was much simpler. There wasn’t any indecision,” remembers Herman. “It was a comfort to know that even though we were committing to a high overhead, we already had the business to handle it.”

Both salons are about 1,200 square feet, but are laid out differently. The newer salon is squarer in shape than the other one, which is more rectangular, so the positioning of the nail technicians is different. That seemingly small detail creates a different salon environment to work in. The salon’s workstations are situated around the room, close to each other, and the cash register and the retail display are located in the center.

Says Herman, “Because of the close proximity of the workstations, the salon has a cozier atmosphere where everyone is visiting. The other salon is spread out more, and is not as conducive to socializing.” The atmosphere is such that if a client walks in and her technician is finishing a service, and another technician has time, she will prepare the client’s nails. “The salon’s layout allows everyone to be conscious of what is going on. There is a great unity and support,” says Herman.

As a result, the salon also has a livelier staff, she says. Part of the reason is the closer workstations---technicians are able to play off each other’s ideas, she adds.

High-tech equipment, such as an air-exchange system and a pedicure spa, distinguished the salon from its older sister salon, which eventually added these amenities. The mauve and green color scheme is common to both, as is the Victorian decor. “Eventually we are going to refurbish the salon with wallpaper and accessories to give it a heavier Victorian look, like the other salon,” says Herman.

One constant at both locations is top-notch customer service. Little things like writing “thank you” across the service ticket and taking the client’s handbag and car keys over to the polish dryer add the finishing touches. “We’re so steeped about customer service, and our technicians are very experienced---that’s where our edge is,” Herman asserts.

 Promoting and Managing Two Successful Salons

Since artificial nails were relatively new service back in 1980, advertising for the first salon was geared toward simply educating people about them, says Herman. But with the newer salon, the advertising focused on the convenience of a second location, she says. The advertising was much easier and less costly, she adds.

Management also ran more smoothly with the opening of the second salon. Says Herman. “Unlike our first salon, we had work rules in place when we opened, and we had a manager and an assistant manager, who both do nails. Having work rules is important because everyone wants to know what the guidelines and the parameters are. When you’re working side by side, these are extremely important because they place everyone at an equal level and everyone knows what is expected.”

According to Herman, the salon has reaped the benefits of being the second child “because there is better communication and we have learned so much from the trials and tribulations we encountered with the first one.”

One of those trials involved switching from independent contractors to employees who were paid a sliding scale commission only (the technician is paid a percentage of her weekly revenue). “Having independent contractors didn’t work,” says Herman, “because they got behind in paying their taxes, which made them very unhappy and affected everyone. Also, by making the switch to employees, we were able to maintain standards and establish hours.”

Herman enjoys juggling the two salons and is kept very busy buying and distributing products and supplies for both. She also does the payroll (there are 19 technicians total for both salons). Due to the salon’s stability, she really isn’t needed full time at either location. In addition to doing nails, Haller manages the original salon while she’s there. And Herman goes there four nights a week to manage. Both salons are open Monday and Saturday, 9 a.m-6p.m and Tuesday through Friday, 9 a.m-8p.m.

“I think the nail business is wonderful because it’s such a happy business---physical enhancement for people,” says Herman. “Our technicians have excellent technical skills and we encourage continuing education. Kathy’s motto is to compete with yourself and try to do better each day.”

Is a third salon in the future? “An expanded salon project is in the planning stages,” says Herman, “but the location won’t be in Arlington because we don’t want to compete with our other salons.” Herman would love to franchise “because I think we have a real good thing going. We have a good balance---nail technicians making good money and clients receiving quality nail care and customer service.” What more could a salon owner ask for?

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