Big Sky Country's Secret Place

Montana’s The Secret Garden offers a spa-like atmosphere, therapeutic paraffin dips, and even nail art to the residents of this remote town.

Not just where the deer and the antelope play, Montana’s The Secret Garden offers a spa-like atmosphere, therapeutic paraffin dips, and even nail art to the residents of this remote town.

NEW CHALLENGES: Originally from sunny San Diego, Maureen Turpin did not know whether she would be able to have a successful nail business in Billings, Mont. However, she soon found that her services were sorely needed. In this part of the country, temperatures dropping 20 degrees in a matter of hours is not uncommon. “When I was in San Diego, the majority of my clients who would come in for repairs would normally have minor chips in their nails. Here, I see clients who have full-on breaks,” says Turpin. Scraping ice off windshields, shoveling snow, and pulling on frozen door handles, Turpin’s clients come in with all sorts of breaks and tears.

Turpin says that she works a lot harder in Billings than she did in San Diego and the standard of living is lower so she charges $5-$10 less; however, she still runs a profitable business. With only two high-end salons and fewer than 10 nails-only salons in all of Billings, Turpin has developed a loyal clientele. “People live very far apart from each other. Some of my clients will drive 1½ hours to get their nails done” she says. “I’ve found word of mouth the best way to advertise my salon.”

Salon Name: The Secret Garden

Location: Billings, Mont

Owner: Maureen Turpin

Square Footage: 600

Years of Ownership: I

Number of Nail Techs/Employees: 2

Specialties: acrylics — pink and whites

Other Services: spa pedicures paraffin, nail art (handpainting. airbrushing)

Compensation Structure: booth rental

Notes: retails nail products and craft items

SPA IN CATTLE COUNTRY?: When Turpin opened The Secret Garden in March 1999, she wanted her salon to offer a quiet sanctuary where people can relax and enjoy a spa-like atmosphere. She had large, custom-made tables built so that the salon would look less cluttered. She brought in green plants for an organic touch and placed fountains on each station so that her clients can enjoy the relaxing sound of trickling water. “I have a Zen garden in my salon that most people here have never seen,” she says. “But once they see it they appreciate it and it helps with the whole spa experience.”

Despite the feet that country music is extremely popular in Montana, Turpin plays new age music by Enya and Yanni. Her clients enjoy her music selection and even bring in their own new age favourites. “There’s a perception that people here are hicks, but they’re really not. We have professional people, wealthy people, business travellers, all kinds of people who want a relaxing environment.” Turpin says that the majority of the salons in Billings are full-service salons that offer hair services. She believes that her clients seek her out to get away from the loud hairdryers and blaring music.

In addition to considering the sight and sound elements of her salon, Turpin tries to maintain a pleasant- smelling environment. She uses aromatherapy and an air purifier to combat odors. The purifier emits ions to cleanse the air and she uses aromatherapy such as ylang-ylang and lavender in her salon. Even though it was not completely inexpensive to create a spa-like salon, Turpin believes that it was money wisely spent. “People love it and they enjoy the ambiance,” she says. “In the future I would like to expand into the space next door that is now being occupied by an antiques shop and bring in an esthetician. I’d like to move the pedicure station into its own room, that way people can have more privacy.”

ON THE PURCHASING: When it comes to retailing products, Turpin constantly tries to keep her displays looking fresh. Once a month, she creates a new display to feature her full line of nail products, bath and body items, jewelery, candles, and other specialty items on consignment “You must always change your displays. This doesn’t mean going out and buying a bunch of new stuff all the time. It can be as easy as just rearranging what you already have,” advises Turpin. Her husband is an ornamental blacksmith and he makes the wrought-iron displays where she keeps all of her products. Every two weeks she redecorates the entire salon — even the restroom. “Display is so important. It’s all in the presentation. When you have a fresh-looking display, the products pretty much sell themselves—especially the nail products.”

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