Franchising as the future route for professional salons? While it may seem farfetched to some, an Atlanta, Georgia, couple seems well on the road to “unlimited” success via the franchising route.

The key to this successful approach for Richard and Laura Clark, owners of The Perfect Nail, is the determination to maintain the high standards of quality work and personal service with which they started their first shop in 1981. From three on their staff a year ago, the Clarks have grown to over 35 employees. Today they own two salons in Atlanta, have three franchised and expect to go regional by mid-1986.

As part of their plans, the Clarks envision owning and/or franchising some 10 locations in Atlanta by the end of 1986, followed by regional franchised units in such locations as Nashville, Tennessee, and Charlotte, North Carolina.

To achieve these goals, the Clarks emphasized that “We intend to be super-picky in selecting anyone interested in franchising with us. That’s absolutely the key to maintaining the quality standards and high personal service levels we feel have brought us success in the first place.”

As a result, both contend, “We won’t accept just anyone to have a franchise, in fact, probably tilting more toward the “if-in-doubt-don’t’ principle when we are uncertain.”

So deeply concerned about the high standards for manicurists/master cosmetologists, the Clarks have been active on a state level in seeing to the re-writing of the Georgia law governing licensing.

They are also active members of the Georgia Nail and Beauty Association, urging everyone seriously committed to the industry to follow the same course in making certain their own states have adequate, appropriate laws governing the profession, then following this by starting and/or joining (if already in existence) a state association dealing with the industry.

The Clarks’ describe Atlanta as “a very fashion conscious upscale city,” noting the number of professional working women is rising dramatically. Presently, this group accounts for about half of the female customers frequenting The Perfect Nail.

All of the Clark’s employees work on straight commission. “They don’t lack for work in our salons, so they know they can make a good living, work in clean, pleasant surroundings and meet some of the greatest people imaginable,” said Laura.

From the outset, the Clarks reported that “We’ve been blessed with some absolutely super clients and the word of mouth from them brings in even more of exactly the same type of wonderful people.”

Professionalism, quality work, personal service are all the combined philosophy for the Clarks, who also feel that an attractive salon committed to cleanliness and pleasant atmosphere are basic requirements.

This dedication is one they carry with them from the beginning, where The Perfect Nail occupied an extremely limited space in the back of a cosmetics chain store. But even then, Laura knew immediately that the 12-hour days she was putting in meant she was right on target with her belief that a nails salon was needed in their burgeoning section of Atlanta.

As a former dental assistant who had worked with acrylics materials in that field, Laura recognized the value of precise technique and total professionalism where sculptured nails were concerned.

“It’s truly a specialized work, requiring optimum quality from start to finish,” she declared, indicating that this belief led her and husband, Richard, a former salesman, to concentrate on quality workmanship and professional personal service as the foundation of their business. Not surprisingly, this determination for excellence soon catapulted them into a successful business, requiring larger quarters, and the hiring of those who shared the Clarks’ concept of quality work. It was this growing success, and the on-the-job training conducted by Laura, that pushed the couple toward franchising.

“Once we realized the direction we were headed, we really did some soul-searching before we decided that was the direction we wanted to go,” explained Laura.

In addition to the hiring and training concerns, an area that Laura has strong feelings about, she is also very involved with the actual decor of the salon.

“I’m extremely meticulous about everything we do in our shops for our customers, so I insist on our employees having exactly this same measure of concern. Our shops convey these same concerns.”

Laura personally designed their main salon of 1600 square feet in Abernathy Square on the north side of Atlanta.

The interior decor is done in shades of silvery grey and plum, and in an Art Deco period with indirect flush ceiling lights, augmented by swivel-necked lamps at each of the 18 stations.

The stations themselves were custom made in grey pin-striped formica from Laura’s design, resembling a curved desk with four drawers. The comfortable swivel caster chairs are upholstered in vinyl with cloth inserts “and were purchased with comfort and good looks in mind.”

The floor-to-ceiling glass front allows ample light and affords the public a view of the shop “that puts newcomers at ease even before they walk in,” explained Laura.

At the back of the salon, separate rooms have been designed for pedicures, facials, office and storage space. In each rear corner, displays have been set up for beauty, facial and skin care accessories.

This interior design scheme is carried over into each of their own salons and in all franchised salons as well. “We subscribe to the old Howard Johnson theory for all of our Perfect Nail salons,” noted Laura, adding “With the exception of the exterior, which is subject to local restrictions, anyone walking in to a Perfect Nail salon anywhere will find the same basic interior decor and layout.”

At the Perfect Nail, complete nail care is emphasized including both sculptured acrylic nails and silk, linen wrap work. Both pedicures and manicures are done, as well as skin care treatments ranging from eye care and makeup to hair removal by wax. Body contouring includes body wrapping, body massaging and ear piercing.

As their plans for franchising progress along a carefully-developed concept worked out by Dick Clark, the couple emphasized, “We will always insist our franchised salons operate like a team with us and adhere to our standards at all times.”

In fact, the Clarks intend not only to select those who will be allowed to purchase franchises, but then will approve sites selected for franchised salons, will make certain the interiors are identical to the one in Abernathy Square Laura Decorated/designed.

As for site locations, the Clarks are strong believers in “seeking out the high traffic sections and that usually ends up meaning shopping centers.”

In the case of one of the three existing franchised salons currently, the Stone Mountain, Georgia, salon is not in a shopping center, for a freestanding building offered a better high traffic setting there, they discovered.

“That typifies why each franchise will be individual in the decisions being made to make certain it’s the best possible for the area selected,” both reported.

To make certain business is optimized at all salons, the Clarks have initiated a referral system among existing franchisee, feeling this helps promote all The Perfect Nail locations.

From the outset, the Clarks have been believers in the dual promotion concept. First and foremost, they feel the longer they are in business, the more word-of-mouth serves as the number one method of “advertising.”

Secondly, they carefully evaluate all types of advertising and promotions, including selective use of the Yellow Pages, as well as some radio, discount couponing via cooperative mailings.

“These all have value if done properly, at the right time and in the right place,” they agreed.

Laura’s mother, Mary Jethrow, operates The Perfect Nail salon in St. Petersburg, Florida, “And I taught her myself,” Laura reported. To her, that Florida shop typifies the continuity, uniformity of quality, service, attractiveness the Clarks believe will help their franchising goals be realized.

“And I don’t feel we’re going to be the sole winners as franchising of The Perfect Nail takes off,” Dick declared. “Those getting the franchise, the people working for them, the customers, all of us will win mutually and that’s why we intend to be sticklers to our principles for operations for our two salons and for every franchised one we approved for operation,” he said.

Reflecting, the Clarks observed, “That’s really the heart of what will make franchising of our idea for operating a quality salon really flourish long-term,” they concluded.

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