Combine a good balance of business acumen, technical expertise, excellent established location and a loyal clientele, and you would probably come up with Nails Plus.           

Located in the heart of Manhattan, between 6th and 7th avenues on 36th Street, just on the boundary line of the world-famous Garment District, this 10-year old salon has managed to sustain its following of over 1,000 regular clients by offering friendly professional service and a pleasant atmosphere.   

Current owners Esther Zafra and Martha Marin are sisters. They purchased Nails Plus in September 1986 from the salon’s founder Maria May.   

Maria opened the first Nails Plus salon as a single-person operation in the old York Hotel, just off 7th Avenue, in New York about 10 years ago and catered primarily to the nail needs of the hotel’s patrons and the professional businesswomen of Manhattan.   

Esther had been an original employee of Maria’s coming to work for her after graduating from the Robert Fiance School as a manicurist. She was there for about a year, then left to go on her own, working in other salons for about seven years.

Over the years Maria had expanded her staff and operation to include 14 manicurists, one esthetician and three waxing girls. To meet the growing clientele and staff needs, Maria moved to the present 2,400-square-foot second floor location four years ago.

About two or three years ago, Esther was approached by Maria to take over when she decided to retire and return to South America.

When Esther was given the opportunity to purchase the business, she decided to make a number of improvements in order to remain competitive and grow. To accomplish this, she needed someone with a strong business background, so Esther approached Martha and her husband about buying into the business with her.

Martha had spent 15 years as an administrative assistant in a major banking services company. After applying her expertise to the investigation of the financial background and potential of Nails Plus, she agreed to join Esther in the purchase.

Over the 14 months since the purchase, Martha has been steadily phasing into the operation new accounting and record keeping procedures for the employees as individuals and the business as a whole.

One of her first moves was to have each employee fill out a job application and background information sheet, so accurate records could be kept on the employment history and work records of the employees. The purpose was not only to satisfy governmental regulations, but to verify employment histories of past and present employees.

“I had a call from a bank recently regarding the loan application of a woman that had claimed to have been an employee here for three years, I couldn’t find any verifiable records of this anywhere and couldn’t be too much help to her in this matter,” confided Martha. “I felt really bad about this, but there was nothing I could do.

“At first, many of the employees were afraid that we were going to make wholesale changes in the way the business had been run,” Martha acknowledged, adding, “Some of them had been with Maria for many years and were sort of set in their ways.

“But Esther and I decided that it was not to our advantage to try to change the way many of our manicurists do their jobs, other than to encourage them to keep abreast of the latest techniques and supplies available. What we did do was to improve the working conditions in the salon through more lighting, better work stations, clean up area, break area, etc.,” Martha said.

“We have short and long term goals for the shop that include new equipment, services and products for our clientele,” she stressed. They have already added a professionally trained hairdresser to the staff and are looking at adding a very selected fashion jewelry and cosmetics section in the shop. Martha explained that this will complement the manicuring, pedicuring, waxing and facial services currently offered.

Since the changes have been gradual and mostly designed to improve the day-to-day, behind-the-scenes business operations, the employees have not been affected too greatly. What has happened, has been the fostering of a new sense of teamwork and camaraderie.

Each manicurist can choose what materials to work with, since there are no specified product lines they must use at present, Esther emphasized. “Because each of our girls has, through their own experiences, cultivated a strong trust with their regular clientele regarding certain products, it is best not to tamper with this system. Many people have developed preferences for certain products and would get very unhappy if we changed.

“Our clientele was and still is primarily models, executives, secretaries and other garment district people or business people from the area. Most of them are steady regular customers who over the years have developed a consistent staggered appointment schedule for the services they require. Most have their nails done at least once a week (except during market weeks) and facial, pedicures or waxings at least once a month (except during the winter months),” Esther reported.

All of the 14 manicurists have cultivated a steady appointment book of regular customers who specifically ask for them. Because of the salon’s reputation for professional quality work, word-of-mouth advertising via referrals is the strongest form of advertising for Nails Plus. “We get very few walk-ins because of this,” Martha emphasized.

Like most metropolitan nail salons, almost 90 percent of the clientele is female, but they are seeing more and more professional men coming in for manicures or other treatments as part of their professional or corporate image building/maintenance programs.

Because most of their customers do not live in Manhattan, the salon is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Work schedules for most of the manicurists are flexible and based on their regularly scheduled appointments. This way they can take care of personal business and still get their work done.

The ethnic background of the employees is like the United Nations, typical of New York, Martha noted. “But,” she emphasized, “all have been hired for their work experience, attitude and their personality.” Included in the group are a Puerto Rican, two Russians, two Romanians, three Columbians, two Santo Dominicans, two Haitians, and one Mexican. The hairdresser is from Italy and the receptionist is Greek.

Since New York is one of the few states without licensing regulations for manicurists, the work being done by some quasi-manicurists in the area has caused nail-related diseases or problems for some people seen by Nails Plus. When the Nails Plus staff resolves these problems, except where medical attention is warranted, they usually have a long-term customer afterwards. Most of these people come as referrals from other satisfied Nails Plus customers.

Esther and Martha also have picked up customers and additional technicians from two other nearby salons that have gone out of business in recent years.

Martha is confident the salon will have a strong, prosperous future. “We are encouraging our people and are ourselves taking seminars, workshops and reading any pertinent material on the manicuring business we can get. Everybody reads NAILS Magazine every month, because it is the best source of information around.”  

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