Owners of the largest salons in Las Vegas say the right location, the right people, and a desirable atmosphere helped them achieve their size, but after that it was just plain hard work.

Perhaps it comes as no surprise that Las Vegas, Nev., which attracts 1.8 million tourists each month, is home to nine of the 10 largest hotels in the United States. The vacation getaway is well-known for its huge gambling casinos, international celebrity shows, and unearthly warm weather. So it should stand to reason that a town known for its extravagance is home to some of the biggest salons in the country.

In NAILS’ 1993 Top 100 Salons report, 13 Las Vegas salons made the list. That’s more Top 100 salons than in any other city, let alone any other state. (For a complete list, see the NAILS 1993 Fact Book.)

Las Vegas is not just a vacation paradise anymore---the city, population 838,882, attracts 2,400 new residents each month, which creates a wide open market for nail salons in a city whose residents love to look good. Several of the big salon owners are themselves transplants from other states.

 “Las Vegas is a city of glitz and glamour,” says Marion Durk, owner of Concept salon (12 technicians). “Beautiful women are a dime a dozen here.” Durk says her customers view nail services not as a luxury, but as a necessity. She explains that because many Las Vegas residents work in the public eye---in restaurants, hotels, casinos, and retail outlets---their hands and nails have to be well-groomed.

Paula Phillips, owner of Artistic Nail Design (15 technicians) agrees: “Everyone loves having their nails done. Women here are very conscious of their appearance because this is traditionally a service-oriented city.”

Several other salon owners attribute their growth to the lack of discount salons in Las Vegas, which they say means less competition.

But in most cases, the large size of these salons can be attributed to simple economics. Las Vegas is a booth rental town, and nail salons have found that to afford advertising and a receptionist, both of which help salons grow and prosper, they have to have more renters to cover the overhead.

Brenda Leaver, co-owner of A Hair & Nail Cottage, also cites high space rent as another reason to have a larger salon.

But just opening a salon with a lot of technicians is certainly no guarantee that a lot of clients will come. What are their secrets to success? The common denominators for these salons are the right location, the right people and the right atmosphere.

All but one of the Top 100 salons in Las Vegas are located in shopping centers with strong anchor stores such as Wal-Mart, Ross, Vons, Tj Maxx, or Smiths. Most are located near affluent residential areas rather than near the strip or downtown areas, where most of the hotels and casinos are.

In addition to the right location, each salon has created an environment that appeals to its clientele. As these salons demonstrate, there is no “dress for success” code for a salon. Each salon has a distinct look that expresses the owner’s preference and personality. There are no blank white walls in these salons. From high-tech black to soothing creams to country charm, each salon has a visual appeal that invites clients to come in and relax.

Location and decor mean nothing, however, if you don’t have the right people. These owners and their staffs believe in servicing customers, not just doing their nails. Each salon has its own personal touches, but a few basic rules consistent with all the salons include greeting clients and making sure they’re helped as soon as they enter the salon, offering refreshments, and never hurrying a client.


Ultra Salon (23 technicians) owners Don and Kathy Smith had 64 enclosed work areas built in their 10,500-square-foot salon. Each space has four walls, a window, and a door. Kathy likens renting a station at Ultra Salon to renting an apartment.

Says Kathy, “The salon appeals to independent operators who want to be in business for themselves but don’t want or can’t afford the overhead and hassles of their own salon.”

Although the setup appears isolating, clients like the privacy, says Kathy. “They can talk about anything with their technician and they don’t have to worry about anyone overhearing them. The technicians like it because they can operate as their own business, and they don’t have to be involved in salon politics.”

Ultra Salon is located on the second floor of a shopping center and is accessed by elevator through the Smith’s retail beauty supply o the first floor. Kathy says the arrangement is ideal because the retail beauty center downstairs attracts customers for the salon. Although the salon does not profit from the beauty center’s sales, the Smiths do pay to advertise the salon and beauty center. The Smiths also pay for a salon receptionist.


Bob Couch wanted to create a restful getaway, so he designed an open floor plan with plenty of space between workstations. His salon, Fox & Co. Hair & Nail Studio (19 technicians), has a greenery-filled fountain in the center and plants scattered throughout the salon. Workstations are turned away from each other to give clients a sense of privacy.

 “I went to all types of salons---big and little—in Las Vegas, Los Angeles, San Diego, and San Jose. There were only a handful that did not treat clients like school kids by lining them up in rows. I knew that the concept of soft colors, open space, and lots of greenery would appeal to clients.”

To ensure that his salon is restful for clients, Couch has one strict rule for technicians and stylists: “You’re the first one to know there’s a problem, I’m the second person, and no one else better know,” he says.

 “Some people think grandiose size creates success, but you have to have something that takes it to another level. There’s got to be something the client remembers and feels good about,” he says. “I have an excellent mix of people who treat their customers well. They’re not late for appointments and they do quality work.”

Couch is planning to expand Fox & Co. another 2,000 square feet at its current location, and he is actively pursuing a second location on the other side of town.


The first year for A Hair & Nail Cottage was rough, admits co-owner Brenda Leaver. She opened with 10 nail stations, but only she and one other technician had an established clientele. “There wasn’t another salon anywhere around us and the demand for nails is just incredible,” says Leaver. “It wasn’t long before we needed more space.”

When the suite next door became available, Leaver leased the space and added hair services. She soon took over another suite and added more nail stations. The salon, which just celebrated its seventh anniversary, now has 18 nail technicians and 12 hairstylists, and is planning to add an esthetician by Christmas 1993.

 “It’s a lot easier with a smaller shop because there’s less cleaning and so on. But you can’t afford to pay a full-time receptionist with just 10 people,” says Leaver, explaining why she expanded. “The rent is pretty high everywhere in Las Vegas, close to $2 per square foot, so I found that a small salon is just not profitable.” To retain the feel of a small salon, Leaver kept the walls between each suite and limited the number of operators in each room to 10.

Leaver attributes much of the salon’s success to the individuals who work there: “I have a really good group of people. Everyone wants to be professional.” Many of the technicians have been with her since day one, and she is very careful when adding new operators. “I never hire anyone I don’t know anything about. They have to have a good reference.”


If you’re not looking for it, it’s easy to miss Yost Studios. Tucked away in a business complex, the 4,000-square-foot salon recently finished remodelling, which included adding an outside entrance and an exterior sign. Though the salon is well-hidden, it’s well-known among its clientele, and they do an excellent job of spreading the word, says owner Mickey Yost.

Yost Studios has been open five years and now has 17 nail technicians and 25 hairstylists. Once you meet Yost, you can see where his success stems from. An energetic and busy hairstylist, he has that rare ability to focus completely on the task at hand, no matter what else is clamouring for attention.

 “The biggest challenge is keeping the personalities together,” says Yost.

Much of Yost’s success comes from knowing how to delegate. He has a full-time receptionist, Christine, who greets clients, answers phones, orders products, retails products, books new appointments, and supervises salon repairs. His wife handles the day-to-day bookkeeping and payroll, and an accountant handles the rest of the books. Yost manages the staff, in addition to personally servicing 22 hair clients each day.

Yost has no plans to expand further, and says the salon’s growth has always been due to demand, not his desire to do things on a grand scale. “Every time I find a good person who fits, we make the space.”


When Penny Johnson purchased Nails for You 4 ½ years ago, there were five nail technicians. She immediately started promoting the salon by using coupons on the backs of grocery receipts, radio advertising, and “passing out lots of business cards,” she says. Within one year she had 16 nail technicians working in the salon.

 “I’m very particular about who joins the salon. They must keep up their appearance and they have to demonstrate their nail art,” she says.

Johnson, who has a full appointment book herself, says finding time to do it all is a challenge. She gets very involved with her technicians, baking birthday cakes and making sure each one has something under the Christmas tree. “I’m a mother hen,” she cheerfully admits.

Johnson says she has a large emotional investment in the salon and believes that the people, not the location, is what makes or breaks a salon. Because of that, she makes sure she is available to her staff at all times. “The salon is everything to me. All the technicians have my home number and can call anytime. I want to see them all do well. Pamper and give more and you’ll get a lot back,” she advises.


Artistic Nail Design opened in October 1992 and went from five technicians to 12 in just two weeks. Owner Paula Phillips attributes her salon’s fast growth to being in the right place at the right time: “We’re in a densely populated area (this is the first shopping center in the northwest corner of Las Vegas) and no one wants to drive all the way into town to get their nails done.”

Phillips says 45,000 cars a day drive by the shopping center, which is home to a Wal-Mart, a fitness center, and numerous other shops. Clients from the fitness center come in their gym clothes to book appointments. The demand for nails in her area has led her to add three more nail technicians, for a total of 15.

The most difficult aspect of operating a large salon for Phillips is making sure that new technicians fit into the salon’s atmosphere. She advises other salon owners not to rush when looking for a technician to fill a station. “Look for someone who will be personable with clients. Look for openness and warmth. If they’re quiet and won’t talk to you, they probably won’t talk to clients,” she says.

Phillips asks each new technician to know the salon’s handbook and be familiar with the salon’s handbook and be familiar with the salon’s general policies. Although she can’t dictate rules to independent contractors, she says it helps if a new technician knows what to expect.

Clients like Artistic Nail Design because it’s clean and quiet, says Phillips. “There’s no loud music or soap operas playing on TV. Clients are always taken care of right when they walk in.” Phillips has a policy of never turning a client away, and she likes to hire some technicians who are still building a clientele so they can accommodate walk-ins. While she herself used to have a full appointment book, she has cut back to doing nails two to four hours a day and dedicates the rest of her time to greeting clients, checking technicians’ work, offering refreshments, booking appointments, resolving technician conflicts, and maintaining the books.


How much work is it keeping a salon running smoothly with 14 nail technicians, 36 hairstylists, three estheticians, and four masseuses? Jack Coskey could probably tell you---if he had the time. He owns and manages Scandals Salon and Day Spa from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. five days a week, and barely had more than a five-minute break to discuss his salon’s success. He is busy greeting clients, answering phones, booking appointments, and managing the staff.

Coskey estimates that 4,000 clients visit Scandals each week, and he likes to be on hand to greet each one. Of course, one man can’t do everything which is why there are three receptionists running the front desk.

Coskey’s job is made easier with the salon’s $70,000 phone system with 12 lines and 75 extensions, auto attendant, and voice mail. The salon is also fully computerized---there is even a scanner similar to those you see in grocery stores for retail sales and tracking inventory.

Coskey knew little about the beauty industry before he and his wife opened the salon, but they did a lot of research. “It’s not just something we jumped into. When you invest a half-million dollars, you do a lot of research,” he says.

Coskey relocated Scandals a year ago to a shopping center across the street from its original location. With the help of Belvedere Company (a salon furnishings and interior design company), he designed the salon layout and hired a subcontractor to build the salon to his specifications. Instead of giving up his old location, he kept it and renamed it Rapscallions. Rapscallions currently has nine nail technicians, but Coskey foresees it growing to 13 technicians in the near future.

For the convenience of his clients, Coskey has an arrangement with a nearby car wash, which picks up a client’s car, washes and waxes it, and returns it to the salon before the client’s service is completed. Clients can also enjoy a variety of fresh bakery items, sandwiches, and beverages at Scandals’ Cafe Capricho’s.



Deanna Tucker, owner of The Nail Patch (11 technicians), says clients come for the relaxing decor, country music, and the chatty, casual atmosphere. Her reasons for opening her own salon were simple: “I felt it would be a good experience for me. I like doing nails and I wanted to get into my own salon, run it the way I want, do the books the way I think best, and decorate it the way I like.”

So, with her mother, Nancy Harkess, Tucker found the ideal location in a shopping center next to a grocery store. With the help of a few friends, she tore out walls and countertops, painted, installed tile and sinks, put up ceiling fans, and had carpeting installed. She does nails 40 hours a week and spends another 10 to 20 hours managing the salon. Harkness manages the books.

The Nail Patch doesn’t have a receptionist, but Tucker’s station is next to the front door and she greets clients as they enter. The salon atmosphere is casual, and when the radio isn’t playing, the television is usually on. There’s a phone at each station and technicians take turns answering.

 “Trying to keep everyone happy is the biggest difficulty,” says Tucker. “Everyone works a lot of hours so it’s a challenge to keep everyone in harmony.” She says keeping the salon clean takes more time than anything else.


The first person you see when you enter Concept salon is Marion Durk, the well-dressed owner whose own grooming speaks well for her salon’s services. Durks greets each customer and notifies the technician of the client’s arrival through the intercom system.

The next thing you notice is the soothing cream decor that gives the salon a fresh and clean look. Glass retail display cases on either side of the entrance and at the reception desk invite customers to browse while they wait.

After 30 years as a hairstylist, Durk decided to get out from behind the chair and get behind the desk as a salon owner. She opened Concept salon 3 ½ years ago. Durk wasn’t prepared for the large demand for nail services, and had to remodel after being open less than one year to make space for more nail stations. The salon now has 12 nail technicians , 18 hairstylist, and one esthetician.

Concept is across the street from one Top 100 salon and just a half mile down the street from another, but Durk says she doesn’t have to compete for clientele. The majority of new customers are referred by regulars, nd most clients crossover for more than one service.

Management of the salon is a full time job, and Durk says she spends her days answering phones, booking appointments, and selling retail products. “Management of the salon is very hard. There are always problems and personality conflicts, but I just deal with them as they come up.”

A self-admitted clean freak, Durk says that even though a cleaning crew comes each evening, she also spends a portion of each day spot-cleaning the salon. And every Saturday night she stays late with the cleaning staff to scrub each station from top to bottom.



While Edie Engstrom was negotiating the lease for her new salon, the enormity of what she was taking on hit her. “The more I thought about it, the more I realized that I didn’t want to be in the salon six days a week,” she says. Engstrom remembered that Donna Perez, a nail technician she went to beauty school with, had planned on opening a salon as well, so Engstrom contacted her to see if she was interested in a partnership. That was five years ago, and the owners of Santa Fe Tan & Nails haven’t looked back.

Santa Fe Tan & Nails has 12 nail technicians, one hairstylist, and four tanning beds. Engstrom says they were prepared to support the salon financially for a few months, but it filled with technicians and clients almost immediately.

Fortunately for them, there were no competing nail salons in their area. To keep things that way, Engstrom negotiated an exclusivity clause into the lease, which guaranteed that no salons offering nails, skin care, or tanning could open in the same shopping center. That, and the large grocery store that moved into the center, has spelled continued success for the salon.

Perez and Engstrom both like the freedom and flexibility that a partnership offers them. How do they split the responsibilities? Engstrom handles the bookkeeping and Perez collects the rents and makes the deposit each week, but otherwise they share management responsibilities equally. Whoever is in the salon when a problem arises handles it, says Engstrom.

Santa Fe Tan & Nails has a low turnover rate, says Engstrom, because there is never a lack of clients. “In fact, we had to turn seven full sets away last Friday because we were all booked up,” she says.

Engstrom and Perez work to make technicians happy. “Donna and I don’t take walk-ins ourselves unless no one else is available because we don’t want to take business from our renters,” says Engstrom.

The salon offers technicians one week’s free rent for vacation each year and a few week’s free rent for technicians on maternity leave. They also try to help new technicians by reducing their rent in exchange for help at the reception desk. An additional bonus is free tanning for renters.


 “Walk-Ins Welcome” reads the banner hanging below the Paula’s Nail Garden sign, and walk in they do. Owner Paula Bayer says walk-ins account for at least 25% of salon business. This isn’t just luck: Before realizing her 10-year dream of owning her own salon, Bayer did some homework and found a location in a shopping center off of busy Sahara Boulevard.

She says it was scary when she first opened, but within one week she had five technicians working with her. She says choosing the right technicians has made managing the salon much easier and has contributed to its success. “I look for people who fit the salon. I want someone who’s established and a little older. I can’t have a lot of turnover because a salon gets a reputation really quick,” says Bayer, who judges applicants by their appearance, size of client base, and number of years in the business. Paula’s Nail Garden now has 11 technicians.

It’s also helped that Paula’s nail Garden and the hair salon next door refers clients to each other. Bayer has thought about opening a second salon, but says her success comes from her being in the salon, accessible to clients. “It’s mine and I’ve created it. I own it and people like me her,” she says.


Judi and Mario Sabatini originally didn’t plan to purchase a salon when they moved to Las Vegas from New York in October 1992, but when they saw an ad for the sale of Chippenails, they decided to take a look. “It was really busy and the technicians were nice,” says Judi.

 “I thought would be a good way to build my clientele,” says Judi, a hairstylist. Since the salon’s two hair stations were in the back of the salon behind a wall, the first item on the Sabatini’s agenda was to remodel. They knocked out the wall, removed one of the hair stations, and moved the other to the front of the salon so Judi would have high visibility with the nail clients.

The 13-station salon currently has 10 nail technicians, and the Sabatinis plan to add more when the time is right. “I want it to be as comfortable as a smaller salon. I don’t want customers to feel like they’re in a ‘get ‘em in, get ‘em out’ shop. I’ve worked for a large beauty salons in the past and that’s not how I want mine to be,” says Judi.

The salon attracts a lot of walk-ins, and many of them return as regular customers. Judi attributes that to the salon’s reasonable prices. “This is a lower income area and our prices have really helped. I like that because I want to deal with working people,” she says.

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