Donald, Neil, and Greg Anderson are all nail technicians who’ve teamed up to make Emerald Beauty Salon in Tustin, Calif., a lively place for customers to get away from it all. The three brothers have a lifetime of practice at working together for the good of their clients. They were just kids when their parents decided they’d make a great team — working at the family business, Anderson Candies.
“We all had to work there. No excuses!” says Greg, 32. “Since I’m the youngest, I got stuck wearing the silly costumes to attract the customers. Every holiday, it was something different.”
“Yeah, he loved wearing that Easter Bunny costume,” says big brother Neil, 35.
“Greg has always been the theatrical one,” adds Donald, 36, the oldest of the brothers and owner of the salon since 1990. “He used to do garage plays for the neighbourhood and charge 250 for admission.” But silly costumes aside, there were some good aspects to the candy business, Neil says, patting his stomach. “I was the official taster.”
Sitting in the salon with these three good-looking guys and watching them laugh, kid each other, and finish each other’s sentences, it seems that they’ve always been best buddies Was there ever a time when they didn’t get along? They laugh. “Oh, when we were kids, we did used to fight,” Neil says. “Growing up together, we hated each other. I was really picky about my room. If one of them entered my room, I’d dust my record collection for fingerprints!” After a while, the constant togetherness at the candy store got to be a bit much. “I got a part-time job at a gas station just to get away from my brothers some of the time,” Neil says.
But the brothers outgrew the sibling rivalry and the bunny costumes and moved on to other pursuits. In 1980, Donald was driving a delivery truck and studying business administration, Neil was training to be a flight attendant, and Greg was working at a glass-cutting factory. Then, Donald, the natural leader of the trio, decided he wanted to spend more time with his wife, Lucy — by joining her in becoming a nail technician. “It was love,” jokes Neil, that drew Donald to the career that eventually attracted all three brothers. Donald started working at Nails Unique in Orange, Calif., and it wasn’t long before Neil joined the salon as a receptionist.
Friends in Europe soon recruited Donald, Lucy, and Neil to help launch a salon in the Netherlands. The experience convinced Neil to move out from behind the receptionist’s desk and become a nail technician. “After being part of the excitement of getting a new salon off the ground, I knew this was the career for me,” says Neil.
And after watching his older brothers team up, could Greg be far behind? “I was still working as a glass cutter, and my boss was always yelling at me,” he says. “I really looked up to both my brothers, and I started noticing (after they returned to the United States in 1983) that they were becoming really successful as nail technicians. I looked at Donald and I saw that he had a stack of checks at his station and girls around him all the time! When you’re a nail technician, it’s like every hour you have a little party at your station, and then the customer leaves you a check!” He joined his brothers at Nails Unique in 1983.
What did their parents think of all three brothers going into this predominantly female profession? “Oh, they hated it at first,” Donald says of his father, an electrical engineer, and mother, the head of a hospital pathology department. “But our parents really stood behind us.” Greg and Neil agree. “Now they think it’s great,” says Greg.
After a brief time working together at Nails Unique, the brothers worked in different salons for several years. Then, in 1990, Donald bought Emerald Beauty Salon. “It wasn’t long before we were all back together again,” Neil says with a laugh. Greg joined his brother in 1992. Neil came along last year.
“We have 30 people who work here,” says Donald. “We try to make this a nice place to work.” It’s also a nice place to be a customer. Located in a cute, upscale shopping area (next to a trendy Greek restaurant and a cinnamon bun shop that oozes wonderful aromas), the salon is spacious and spotless, with fresh coffee brewing in the corner.
Do the brothers keep their stations close together so they can chat during the day? ‘That would be too much togetherness!” says Neil. Donald’s station is close to the front entrance. Neil and Greg are in separate corners at the back of the salon. Reminiscent of high school, perhaps? “Yep. We had to be separated,” Neil says of himself and his younger brother. “We got too loud!” “Donald is our mediator,” Greg adds.
KEYS TO SUCCESS
One of the things that keeps the team on track, the brothers explain, is the self-discipline necessary to make it in a business where you’re often your own motivator. “Hey, I get paid every day. I can schedule days off. There’s no time clock,” says Greg, explaining the freedoms available to many nail technicians. But while there may be no boss standing over them with a time card, Donald explains, a client appointment can’t be missed. “You only do that once,” he says.
“We only want motivated people to apply here,” Donald says. “On the job application we ask, ‘Are you looking for a job or a career?’ If they say a job, we don’t want them. To do well in this field, you have to be self-reliant and self-motivated.”
The second secret to the brothers’ success is a commitment to continuing education and training. “I have a passion to see people do good nails,” says Neil, who, in addition to working a full schedule as a nail technician, is a manufacturer’s educator “It’s important to share with others and to talk with other business owners. I really feel like I’m giving something back to the industry. The path to running an excellent nail salon has already been paved. Now we need to help others along.”
As an instructor, Neil says, one of the things he tries to in still in new technicians is the self-discipline that big brother Donald passed on to him. “Neil is a lot of fun, but he is also very disciplined,” says Greg. “He would be a great drill instructor. I’ve seen him do a set of nails every hour on the hour for 13 hours straight.”
Along with the need for discipline, Neil adds, is the need to keep on top of new trends and advances in products. “If you don’t keep educating yourself and learning new techniques, you become a dinosaur pretty fast in this business,” he says.
One of the brothers’ concerns is that inadequate training and an increase in discounting have led to problem salons. “We tell our customers that we fix new sets for $7,” Greg says. “We are very careful about sanitation and proper technique here,” Neil adds. “Our clients sometimes tell us about discount salons they’ve tried — and they always come back to us. One client got a discount pedicure and the technician used the same tub of water that had just been used on a previous client. There’s a real lack of education out there,” he says. “I tell my customers to wake up and smell the coffee. You get what you pay for.”
And what do customers at Emerald Beauty Salon pay for? The brothers specialize in creating subtle, natural-looking acrylic nails, Neil says. “I like the powder- and-liquid method of doing acrylic nails. I don’t do airbrushing or things like that. Most of my customers are businesswomen, and the fancy designs wouldn’t be appropriate.
“Disneyland is close to here — only about seven miles away,” he continues, “and we do nails for a lot of Disney employees.” Disney doesn’t allow employees to wear flashy or very long nails, he explains. “We usually do a French manicure or beige polish. Something subtle.”
The brothers admit they’re a bit of an oddity in this mostly female profession. Each, by himself, has already beaten the odds. According to NAILS 1994 Fact Book, only 2.2% of nail technicians are male, and the average nail technician has been doing nails for slightly less than five years. “Between us, we have about 37 years of experience,” Neil says.
Despite their years in the business, Donald, Neil, and Greg are all still young. And handsome. Do they ever have to contend with clients’ jealous husbands? Ironically, they say, they are usually spared having to deal with irritated spouses because of a too-familiar stereotype. “I have one client whose husband insists I’m gay because I do nails,” Neil says with a laugh. “Even some of the women say, ‘So... you’re married?’” Adds Greg, the only one of the brothers who is single, “This is a great job because we get to meet all these beautiful women.”
Speaking of jealousy, what about the home front? Can a man who works with beautiful women all day remain happily married? “You do have to be pretty secure in your marriage,” Neil explains. “After all, we get paid for holding women’s hands.”
Neil feels that good communication and knowing where to draw the line are the keys. “We don’t make house calls,” he says. “Why ask for trouble?”
“Donald’s wife, Lucy, works in the salon, and that makes it really nice for them as a couple,” Greg says. “In this business, if your wife finds a woman’s phone number in your pocket, she understands.”
It’s also true that the husband and wife who share each other’s passions have a better chance at happiness, Neil says. “My wife supports me in my work as a nail technician and in the real estate business I’m involved in. And I’ve just started working with her in developing motivational seminars, so we always have lots to talk about.”
Not that there aren’t temptations. “One woman came in for a pedicure, and she had nothing on under a very short dress,” Neil says. “We got her a gown in a hurry! And some clients want to use you. One woman invited me to stop by her place if I ever got tired and wanted to take a nap.” The trick is to always be professional — while not offending the client, the brothers say. “We flirt with our clients,” Neil says, “but we don’t jeopardize our marriages.”
In the end, it’s family that’s most important to Donald, Neil, and Greg. Whether it’s building a good marriage, nurturing a new business, or wearing a bunny costume for the good of the team, the Anderson family is in it together. “Our relationship is something special,” says Donald. “We’re close friends.”
“Donald has opened a door for us here,” says Neil.
“And when one of my brothers opens a door,” adds Greg, “I’m right behind him!”
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