When the “green revolution” and its accompanying environmentally friendly products hit the professional beauty industry in the late 1980s, Kim and Robert Greenberg, principals of the i Natural Skin Care & Cosmetics chain, were already years ahead of the competition. In 1970, Glamour magazine ran an advertisement touting a four-pack of i Natural products that included items such as strawberry cleanser and a grapefruit freshener. This exclusive offer was i Natural’s introduction to the marketplace.
Says Robert, who took over management of the company in 1975, “We were told that we had to make up 5,000 kits in order for Glamour to service its readers. What happened was that 40,000 people sent in money for the kits.”
Based on this initial success, the first i Natural salon opened a year later in Manhattan next to Bloomingdales. “The shop emphasized the naturalness of our product line by using slogans such as ‘Good Enough to Eat’ and ‘As Close to Nature as Products Can Be.’ Both the store and the product line received extensive publicity in almost every major magazine,” says Robert.
Within two years, the company began franchising and expanded its product line to include a variety of natural-based skin care and makeup products. While these salons experienced immediate growth and profitability, the Greenbergs never stopped searching for new sources of revenue.
Says Robert, “In the early 1980s, we noticed that there weren’t any places to go to get a manicure other than a few beauty salons. Plus, when you’re in a mall location that’s open 72-76 hours per week and you are only selling product, any retailer will tell you there’s going to be downtime. We wanted to add some programs that would enhance our business, so we began experimenting with nails.”
Actually, as Robert happily admits, “The reason i Natural is in the nail business is because of my wife, Kim. She kept saying it could really work.”
In 1980, Kim was running an i Natural salon in West Hartfold, Conn. The 600-square-foot shop was located in one of the top 20 malls in the country. Despite the salon’s success, Kim still wanted to boost the salon’s volume. For her, the solution was obvious.
“I thought it was natural to have another beauty-related business within the business,” says Kim. “We were paying the same rent and we had plenty of space, so why not utilize it? I happened to be in the store training one of my cosmetics technicians to do nails and people started coming in saying, ‘I didn’t know you did nails.’
The Greenbergs immediately recognized an important characteristic of nail service consumers. If you provide them with a stimulating atmosphere, they’ll buy on the spot.
“Nail clients are typically thought of as ‘destination customers.’ What makes i Natural different from other nail salons is that people see our activity and book an appointment at that very moment,” says Robert. “We’ve taken the manicurist out of the back of the salon and put our nail services on display in a classy, upbeat way. We’ve turned the business around from just being a destination.”
Approximately 90% of i Natural salons are located in shopping malls. The other 10% are in equally visible locations. Regardless of which setting you pass by, you’re guaranteed to witness one thing---a traffic jam.
“When you walk into a mall salon and you see as many as eight or 10 nail tables busy, it generates impulse business. I call it ‘theater’. There’s a lot of activity in our stores, and that creates more activity. We don’t even have to run ads to get new clientele. We give the manicurist immediate exposure to get all the mall traffic,” says Robert.
Not only do nail technicians take center stage at i Natural, so do nail products. “Our stores are fully displayed with products, rather than having a few testers in a case near the cash register. The displays remind customers and staff that products are available and should be tried,” says Robert.
I Natural is introducing what it calls a nail bar. Says Robert, “A nail bar is a complete presentation of nail accessory items. We try to make it very easy for the consumer to take home products. In a separate, freestanding area of the store, everything from nail hardeners and tools to files and orangewood sticks will be available.”
FORMULA FOR SUCCESS
Individual salon profits are not the only thing growing within the i Natural chain---the number of outlets is multiplying. Today there are approximately 100 i Natural salons across the United States, Canada, United Arab Emirates, Australia, Kuwait, and Taiwan. That number should top 100 shortly. How do the Greenbergs ensure that each salon maintains a high level of performance?
“To be successful on an ongoing basis, you have to create excitement,” says Robert. “That’s our job. It’s hard for an owner to manage and do everything. I Natural utilizes a teamwork approach where the shop owners are the captains and the parent company is the support center.”
To facilitate this process, the company regularly holds regional and national meetings, plus, as Robert explains, “We run monthly and bi-monthly promotional programs for each of the stores. Being located in major malls with large staffs (20-25 employees) in a relatively small space, we need to keep the stores upbeat and fun for both the staff and customers.”
Another key ingredient is consistency. “We’re constantly reviewing the products our stores use, because there are so many in the nail care business. While we allow our stores to carry additional polishes to satisfy their client’s requests, we make sure the technicians are qualified in the areas the company wants to promote, such as gel, acrylic, or tip applications,” says Robert.
One thing the company doesn’t condone is the specialist who insists on using her own choice of products. “We try to avoid the specialist, because she isn’t necessarily a team player. If a customer wants to book an appointment with a different technician, she should get the same quality of service. We try to keep the type of program and product each technician uses consistent throughout the chain,” says Robert.
While consistency is paramount, keeping abreast of ever-changing fashion trends is equally important. “If customers feel you’re keeping up with current products and introducing them to new things in nails and cosmetics, you create a professional environment that’s stimulating,” says Kim.
That, in essence, is what the i stands for in i Natural. Individuality---both from the nail technicians’ and customers’ viewpoints. Regardless of what location you visit, i Natural salons go out of their way to make clients feel special... individual.
CREATE A GET-AWAY
Owner/manager Julie Isolda of i Natural in Orange Park Mall, Orange Park, Fla., constantly reminds her staff that clients are after much more than a manicure. “Nail technicians need to know that clients are not only coming in for nails, but as a getaway,” says Isolda.
“Clients often have bad days and they want to be pampered,” she adds. “I tell my staff that as soon as clients sit down, communicate with them. You have to tune into your clients. Certainly, nails are the most important thing, but it’s vitally important that you have a good relationship with your clients, too.”
Isolda’s formula apparently is working. When she opened the shop nine years ago, nail services were not on the menu. Today, they constitute 70% of the salon’s revenue.
“Taking care of the customer and keeping her satisfied is the goal of every one of my nail technicians. When I leave the shop it goes on working just like I’m still there,” says Isolda.
ASK, THEN LISTEN
Julie Salah-Borg is the general manager of four i Natural salons located in major malls around the Detroit area. Like Isolda, she concentrates on customers’ needs.
“I think there is a major difference between the average cosmetics counter person or makeup consultant and the i Natural staff,” says Salah-Borg. “We ask the right questions and we take our time with customers. We find out a little about them and what they are looking for. We play on their needs and feelings.”
Salah-Borg dislikes salespeople who try to tell customers what’s best for them---like it or not.
“A good salesperson is a good listener,” she says. “She makes her suggestions after hearing what the customer has to say. Then she can show her different nail styles and let the customer decide. The customer is always right. She deserves the best possible service.”
BE FUN AND REFRESHING
Carol Schauer not only owns and manages an i Natural salon in Vancouver Mall, Vancouver, Wash., she’s also its resident storyteller. She says her biggest compliment is when a customer says she loves coming to her salon because it’s so much fun.
“We’d all like to go on a three day cruise,” says Schauer, “but who can afford to do that? When customers come into i Natural for a day of beauty or even for just a half-hour, I want them to go away feeling refreshed.”
How does she accomplish this sometimes not-so-easy task? “Our niche is that we have fun,” she says. “I go around and talk to everybody who comes into the store. And even thought the nail stations are in different areas, when someone is telling a story, everybody is involved. We’re real down to earth.”
Schauer’s strategy has another important benefit---her employees have melded into a cohesive unit of team players. “I have a staff right now that hasn’t changed in more than a year. We’re family oriented and there’s a lot of support for each other.”
GIVE “KILLER SERVICE’
One place you’ll never find owner Elaine Wasserman is in the back of the salon. “I think people feel comfortable having an owner around,” says Wasserman. “I like to get out there and work the floor and relate with people. Our regular clients are almost like family to us.”
Wasserman and her eight nail technicians at i Natural in Chestnut Hill Mall, Chestnut Hill, Mass., created this familial bond by offering “killer service.” “It’s little things like buttoning a person’s coat because we don’t want her to use her nails, or getting out her car keys. If a regular Wednesday client misses her. We might find out she’s in the hospital, so we send her a little hand and body lotion just to make her feel she’s missed,” says Wasserman.
To help every nail client look and feel better even after she exits the salon, Wasserman and staff always apply a complimentary dash of makeup. “We like to put makeup on everybody whether they are buying or not. That way when they leave, they feel great and they’re a good advertisement for us,” says Wasserman.
SUPPORT THE COMMUNITY
As if she isn’t busy enough running two shops (Methuen Mall, Methuen, Mass., The Mall at Rockingham Park, Salem, N.H.), owner Maureen Sillery still squeezes in numerous out-of-salon promotional events. These business boosters let the surrounding community know what’s new in nails and more.
“Last week I did a couple of fashion shows,” says Sillery. “One was geared toward prom teens. I did all the nails and makeup. Another was at a country club with more than 250 women. We talked about nails, skin care, and facials. Plus, in the Methuen Mall salon, we’re doing a prom fashion show for 10 local high schools that will be aired on the radio.”
To make the most of her promotions, Sillery has developed a coupon offer. “We give coupons for $2 off manicures and $2 off skin care products. That way we can capture both the service and the retail markets.” Says Sillery.
Being active in the community as well as staying visible in the bustling mall environments has made a lasting impression on her growing clientele. “They think of i Natural as ‘Maureen.’ I know everybody by name and try to give them personalized attention. The personality of our salon is just making everyone feel comfortable,” says Sillery.
Not only does Kim Greenberg own and run an i Natural salon in Arsenal Marketplace, Watertown, Mass., she also serves as the company’s vice president. This dual role provides her with a unique insight on charting a path to success.
“Last weekend we flew in a group of multiple store owners to evaluate and review the product line,” says Kim. “We discussed new things that are coming out and changes that should be made. We also talked about pricing and promotions. These are owner-operators who are actually out there selling in their stores. Who better to lead us in the direction we should be heading?”
And just where is i Natural’s compass pointing? “We’re committed to supporting all the other i Natural owners and to helping them achieve all their goals,” says Kim.
i Natural Cosmetics Corporate Snapshot
Company Principals: Robert and Kim Greenberg
Size of Operation: 433 nail technicians at 100 salons
Franchising Information: i Natural has a program that can put you in business or convert your existing salon into an i Natural salon. No special professional licensing or salon experience is required. i Natural has an advertising agency that wil help you develop a marketing and sales program designed for your area.
Estimated Start-up Financing: if you are starting from scratch with no salon of your own, the estimated start-up cost is $35,000 in cash, although additional financing may be needed. This will be for the salon space itself, furnishings and decorations. If you already own a salon with furnishings, the salon will need to be refurbished as an i Natural salon, and costs will vary depending on the condition of your existing salon.
Contact Information: If you are interested in finding out how to own an i Natural salon, call Ira Rashap at (800) 9-MAKEUP.
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