Brenda Roberts-Brown is the epitome of the successful, civic-minded, driven business woman. Her nail salon, Bren’s Nails, is located in an upscale, fashionable downtown district of Chicago, known as the Gold Coast, and caters to the professional, upwardly mobile career woman.
Her interests extend beyond the salon to a variety of civic projects including voter registration drives, professional women’s groups and city and state politics.
Through it all is one common theme dominating Brenda’s activities and whirlwind style: a dedication to education. For Brenda, it is a way of life, one interwoven with her career in the nail industry.
“I prefer to view myself as an educator in the nail industry,” remarked Brenda during a recent telephone interview, “not just as a nail technician or salon owner. You see I firmly believe in education, in continuing and in sharing. If you want to be a professional in any business, you need education.”
Prior to her successful career in nail care, Brenda was a public school teacher, a profession that gave her the training and desire to pursue her career and to help others. She currently utilizes that training by offering educational seminars to full service salon owners in her area, a comprehensive training program for nail technicians, and education of the public through work with women’s groups and civic organizations ... and by educating her clients.
“I believe an educated public is very important for the future of the nail industry,” said Brenda, her soft, southern drawl revealing her Atlanta roots. “And I firmly believe that an educated client is always a good client. So I educate them on taking care of their nails, on how their nails should look. Even if I don’t do them, I feel that it is important for the client to recognize what good work is and to be able to tell another technician how to do their nails.
“All of my salon clients know the procedures, know what a good nail should look like,” added Brenda. “I make a point of educating them, of explaining things to them.”
Which is not to imply that she lectures or acts like a doddering schoolmarm. The contrary is true. Her style of personable, energetic enthusiasm is very effective in bringing her point across.
Developed through years of teaching and speaking before groups, her style is at the core of her success, evidenced by the technician training program.
The product knowledge and techniques taught are patterned after several successful nail programs Brenda has gone through and continues to stay in touch with: schools in California, in New York, and product classes from a number of manufacturers.
“What I often find with these students is that they lack the basics of manicuring ... they really seem to skip that part in school. These students are more interested in learning what they think are the money making services.”
Her emphasis is often on the “forgotten” art of manicuring, depending on the individual’s needs.
“When a student enrolls in my program,” said Brenda, “the first thing I do is to test them to see where they are, and then take them from there. I can determine their level by a performance exam and a written test.”
In addition to the extensive training program, Brenda offers a separate session for hair salons interested in learning nail care. This aspect was pursued because of interest indicated by a survey of salon owners in the Chicago area.
“The response to the survey and this program has been very strong,” said Brenda. “Many of the salon owners and managers calling and going through this program haven’t had training at all in nail care. When they went through beauty school, the emphasis was solely on hair.”
This three hour class, held twice a month, concentrates on a number of areas the full service salon owner is interested in, she said. “I teach them what to look for in a nail professional, how to judge their work, and answer questions on just about the full range of offering nail care in the salon.”
In a very real sense, Brenda is training and educating her future competition. As Illinois does not require a separate license for nail technicians, any education presents her style and success to someone else’s advantage. She, however, doesn’t prefer to look at it that way.
“Yes,” she laughed, as if the question has come up again and again, “I am helping my competition, but you can only do so many hands, and to be honest, I don’t want to go behind someone else’s bad work.”
This attitude works for her, individually and in the salon. It sets the pace and reflects the way her clientele acts.”
For example, Brenda claims that “you will not hear any gossip in my salon.
“The clientele drawn from this area is very stable and very career oriented,” she explained. “And consequently there is literally no gossip in the salon ... at least none that would resemble gossip in other salons.
“What generally happens is that my clients network through the salon. They come in and leave business cards, leave brochures, leave information on different civic and professional organizations.”
Many of her clients work with each other or end up using the services of each other. It’s difficult to describe, but they do network in my salon.”
Brenda pursued this type of clientele and planned for this interaction when she first thought of opening a salon. She identified the particular area she wanted and the type of client she wanted. After a feasibility study, and after reviewing the city’s 25 year master plan, Brenda decided on a business/residential/hotel complex comprised of five interconnected buildings. She opened her salon five years ago on a Concourse level, allowing residents, business people and hotel guests to frequent her salon without leaving the complex.
“My basic concept was to appeal to a certain client,” said Brenda. “I wanted the business woman, the career woman who wanted the convenience of quality nail care. That was the primary consideration when I conducted my feasibility study dealing with opening a salon.”
Further commercial growth is planned for her corner of the city, with several hotels already under construction virtually across the street.
Beige in color with custom made tables and furniture, Brenda’s three station salon presents a “very relaxed atmosphere that is still professional in appearance.”
“Also, she added, “I have a beautiful view of Lake Michigan from the salon.”
As her clients generally work in this downtown area, salon hours are 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., with Brenda often taking the late shift.
The salon’s reputation and success, according to Brenda, is based on offering a full and complete range of quality nail care services performed quickly and efficiently.
“I’ve worked very hard at establishing a reputation for having the finest nail salon in this area.
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