The Three Entrepreneurs

Cooperative management enables three businesses to work together as one very successful full-service salon.

The day that seemed as if it would never end is finally over. The whir of the computers fades to silence as one by one, they’re switched off, office doors click quietly shut, footsteps sound in the corridors, and the welcoming tone of the elevator resonates in the hall. She leans back, relishing the silence and thinking about the pleasant evening that lies ahead. All day, between the complaints of her irate boss, the constant ringing of the telephone, and one meeting after another, she had fantasized about walking out and booking a flight to a remote, tropical island. She realizes, of course, that this is ridiculous and that there is another option that is almost as good... and it is just on the other side of town, on the lower east side of Milwaukee.

Salon Location: 1234 N. Prospect, Milwaukee, WI 53202

Owners/Managers: About Nails Etc!, Vernita Gray; Faces II, Cheryl Conely; Euro Hair Tech, James Kaddatz.

Hours: Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. (evening appointments available)

Services: Manicures, pedicures, tips, euro facials, paraffin treatment for faces and hands, waxing, hair, eyelashes, brow waxing and touching, and massages.

Products: Mavala Nail Care Line, Euro Skin Care Line (private label), Smith & Vandiver Bath Line, jewelry (including the new ring watches)

Number of Employees: 12

Insurance: Complete medical coverage after 90 days.

Training: All technicians required to attend tradeshows (expenses covered). Gray participates to train technicians, showing them what she knows and giving them her client overflow. Technicians are encouraged to attend educational classes.

Tips for Success: Believe in yourself, never give up, practice!

The frazzled client makes her way toward a tree-lined street where, amidst stately Victorian homes built in the mid-1800s, The Ultimate Salon awaits. The full-service salon is situated in a renovated Victorian home that once housed Milwaukee’s 8th mayor, Bryan Kilbourn. Stepping through the door is like stepping back in time, and it’s easy to forget about everyday problems.

Vernita Gray and Cheryl Conely had this concept in mind when they opened The Ultimate Salon on June 1, 1990. What they envisioned was a place where their clients could truly relax and be completely pampered.

The richly furnished, yet homey interior warms the spirit and seems to initiate stimulating, honest exchanges between all within. Vibrant greens and golds and soft mauves and grays enhance the Italianate-style Victorian furnishings of the renovated home that houses their dream salon. Amidst this luxury, clients of The Ultimate Salon can put their worries aside, knowing they are getting the best of three experienced professionals.

The Ultimate Salon is actually three small, full-service salons working as one to give Milwaukeeans the four star treatment. The three salons include About Nails Etc!, owned and managed by Vernita Gray; Faces II, owned and operated by Cheryl Conely; and Euro Hair Tech, owned and managed by James Kaddatz.


Gray met Conely when she leased space in Conely’s salon. Conely offers makeup application and lessons, waxing treatments, massages, and image consulting, and retails a private-label line of cosmetics and related products. When Gray’s lease was up, she decided she wanted to open her own salon. Conely convinced her that they would make a great team, and together they came up with the idea for The Ultimate Salon. Euro Hair Tech completed the trio. Kaddatz, like Gray and Conely, works closely with his clients to create just the look they want to achieve. An image consultant for the past eight years, he specializes in hair coloring and perming.

“It’s too bad that other people did not come up with the idea sooner,” says Gray, referring to the concept of three separate businesses operating under the same roof. “The Ultimate Salon is so well organized that it feels like one business. We all pull together, sharing clients and referring business to each other. Each of us knows what the others do as we have all worked together in the past and we have a lot of respect for each other.”

Despite the fact that each manager runs a completely separate business entity and has a different background and area of expertise, they work together to provide the type of service that keeps their clients coming back for more. Once a month, Gray, Conely, and Kaddatz meet to discuss the challenges of their own businesses and how improvements can be made that will benefit the overall operations of The Ultimate Salon. In addition, the entire staff meets every two to three months. This enables employees to voice their opinions and concerns and opens communication between the three salons.

Employees are hired separately for each salon by its respective manager. There are four full-time employees in each salon, including the manager. In addition, all three salons share a common receptionist. On weekends, Gray employs a part-time receptionist who operates About Nails Etc! upstairs. The other two salons are located downstairs. “We do so much more business over the weekends, and because the house is so large, it is not practical for all three salons to share a receptionist,” says Gray.


The cooperation between the three managers is essential to perpetuate the image of a full-service salon. Advertising is a combined effort of the three businesses under the umbrella of The Ultimate Salon and the three split the costs equally. All advertising, whether it is direct mail or newspaper or magazine advertisements, promotes the services of all three operations. Advertising is geared toward highlighting a specific season, color, etc.

Additionally, the three businesses are consistent in terms of their dress codes. “All employees must be neat and well-dressed. No jeans are allowed, but everyone is encouraged to dress comfortably,” says Gray. The result is a casually professional working environment. Instead of taking advantage of the flexible guidelines set by the salons’ owners, employees are careful to choose stylish clothing that enhances the luxurious setting. Technicians are required to wear lab coats for a more polished look.

Rent for each salon is paid separately by each manager to the lessor of the building. Utilities are included in the rent. The three managers do share the expense of a cleaning service for common areas, including the reception area, the kitchen, and the hallways. Separate arrangements are made for areas not shared, such as the facial and pedicure rooms.


Vernita Gray was originally a makeup artist. Not satisfied, she wanted to do the “whole piece,” skin and nail care. Knowing nothing about nails, she obtained a position with a salon that sent her to a school in Chicago. Gray has been doing nails ever since. Gray’s work has been shown in the Isn’t Life Grand Catalog and she has done composites for models. She has steadily built a loyal clientele including models, politicians, and local entertainers. Among Gray’s more well-known clients are Andy Williams and Loretta Chandler from the television show Fame.

But The Ultimate Salon is not just for the “rich and famous.” Gray caters to the working woman and her philosophy of “being good to yourself is no luxury... it’s a necessity,” keeps them coming back. Gray emphasizes necessity, and she educates clients on how to enhance their natural beauty. Gray works closely with clients and offers each one her own personalized training course. Says Gray, “Full sets of tips and fiberglass nails are in demand, but manicures are becoming more and more popular. I believe that once the client understands what’s involved in caring for her natural nails, she begins to eagerly work with you to grow her own. It’s what every woman wants — to have her own healthy, beautiful nails.” Gray also retails a complete nail care line that promotes natural nail growth.

Gray has a cheerleader’s enthusiasm for her profession. She says, “If you’re into the total care of a person’s well-being, this is the career for you.” Indeed, Gray seems to know just how to provide her clients with the extra care and attention they require. In fact, she seems to thrive on it.

Maybe it’s not a tropical island getaway, but The Ultimate Salon might be the next best thing.

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