A Spa With Aloha Spirit

Surrounded by surf, and Oahu’s Afterglo Nail & Facial Spa envelops regulars in a sensory oasis of beauty that captures the essence of sunset in a most beautiful way.

A GROWING OPORTUNITY: Nothing surpasses the beauty that a sunset plays out on the endless horizon where water meets sky in the Hawaiian islands. Nature’s fireworks light the skyline with hues of pinks, oranges, reds, and purples as another tropical day slips into night. Growing up with the nightly colourful displays didn’t jade Julia Chinen to the sight, nor did the inner glow she felt fade as she grew to adulthood. And as she made plans to open her own spa, naming the business for the feelings she hoped to evoke in its clients seemed only natural.

This December, Afterglo Nail & Facial Spa celebrates its fifth anniversary in Waikiki on Hawaii’s island of Oahu.

Salon Name: Afterglo Nail & Facial Spa

Location: Oahu, Hawaii

Owner: Julia Chinen

Square Footage: 1,000

Years of Ownershsip: 5

Number of Nail Techs/Employees: 3 nail techs/facialists, 2 massage therapists.

Specialties: Spa-glo Manicure and Pedicure: complimentary Beauté des Mains deep-healing hand massage with all facial treatments.

Other Services: massage, waxing

Compensation Structure: Independent contractors

From a 60-page business plan, to a 500-sq.-ft. location staffed by herself and a part-time facialist, Chinen has grown Afterglo to 1,000-square feet and three nail techs/facialists, as well as two massage therapists — and hundreds of regular, glowing clients.

Chinen initially got into the beauty industry as a cosmetologist apprentice working her way through college. After graduating with a degree in English literature, she left the beauty industry for the corporate world, working in sales and managerial positions at Xerox and Voicestream. Her dream, though, was to own her own business — and as she pondered potential businesses she real­ized just how much she had enjoyed providing nail and skin care services.

“I had always wanted to open my own business, and I saw my work in the corporate world as a way to gain the experience I needed,” she says. “Being a manager really is in a way like operating your own business. When I realized my passion for the beauty industry, it all fit together.”

With her finance’s (now husband’s) full support, Chinen resigned her job to pursue her entrepreneurial dream. She turned to the Hawaiian chapter of the Small Business Association, attending seminars and workshops as well as working one-on-one with counsellors.

Next she talked to several local banks and gathered their business-plan templates, which she mixed-and-matched to suit her purposes. “It was very involved because I had to get down to the level of how many cotton balls I thought I would need,” she says of the long weeks it took to write her 60-page plan.

“It entailed a lot of research,” she admits. “I had to start by considering the market needs in Hawaii and go down into details such as how much one type of foot spa cost versus another.” The tedious attention to detail paid off, however, with what she describes as a roadmap to guide her through the first months and years of business.

SECOND-STORY JOB: Chinen may have chosen Waikiki for its high-density population and centralized location, but she had no intention of emulating the area’s abundant, sophisticated retail storefronts that cater to the many international tourists. Rather, she settled on a second-story interior space in a then-dilapidated building on a busy boulevard a mile or so inland from Waikiki Beach.

Conscious of her budget, Chinen coupled deep purple, orange, and red wall colors with Asian-flavoured furnishings to create a tranquil, earthy setting. “With those colors I wanted to convey that glowing feeling you get in the sky before sunset,” she says.

Liberal yet subtle use of bamboo accents, bubbling water fountains, and other Asian-flavoured furnishings continued the earthy theme, all within budget. “My mother and I went up into the forest in the local mountains and gathered the bamboo ourselves,” she says.

A few years ago Chinen doubled her space by taking over an adjoining area. After knocking out the walls, she and her family tore up the flooring, intending to replace it. But after hours of scraping old adhesive from the cement sub-floor, she noticed that the old adhesive had left intriguing, earth-shaped designs imprinted on the concrete. “It really fit in with what we had going,” she says of her decision to apply a concrete stain that enhanced the pattern. Soft lighting, a large seawater aquarium, and a curved, glass-shelved retail display maintained the sense of openness in the main room while creating a sense of privacy for pedicure and manicure clients.

“Clients feel comfortable,” Chinen says. “They can come on their way to a special occasion or walk in wearing shorts and flip-flops — either way, they know they can feel comfortable.”

Chinen divides her days between providing facials, pedicures, and manicures as well as managing the spa business. The spa uses and sells only Yonka products, with retail sales accounting for a significant percentage of the spa’s gross sales. Pedicures and facials rank as her most requested services, and many clients book a monthly appointment for a facial, pedicure, and waxing.

Chinen also does natural manicures, as do several of her independent contractors. But Afterglo doesn’t offer artificial nails, which she says are in great demand. And while some owners might be uncomfortable at the thought of a nail salon located right next door, Chinen says the neighboring salon was there before she moved into the location, and that they’ve never considered each other direct competition. “I refer people over who want a nail tip or a full set, and several times they’ve sent people over whom they couldn’t accommodate,” she comments.

WORD-OF-MOUTH WORKS BEST: But rarely does Chinen let a potential pedicure client walk away. “I’m not sure if it’s because people wear open-toed shoes year-round, but I do a lot of pedicures,” she says with a laugh- Afterglo charges a premium for pedicures over most other local salons, but Chinen says clients still consider it a value, partly because of the paraffin dip that’s included in the service. But she also credits the sensory experience of Yonka’s marine extract soaking products and the natural sea salt scrub. “The smells permeate the spa,” she says. “Sometimes, clients walk in asking what they were smelling out in the hall because they’ve already decided to buy it.”

Equally as valuable in Chinen’s eyes, though, is the customer service she gets from Yonka. In a state where ongoing education and product support is sporadic, at best, a Yonka educator visits Afterglo every year. A true businesswoman, Chinen gets double-duty out of the educational time by billing it as what has become Afterglo’s annual Days of Beauty event. “We schedule 150-200 clients to come in over the time our educator is here,” she explains. “We set up with hors d’oeuvres and flavoured waters, and clients can jump from station to station for a sampling of all the services we offer.”

Clients start calling months in advance to book their time, and Chinen says it’s become one of her most powerful marketing tools to new clients. “It’s crazy, but it’s great,” she relates. “The amount of new clients we draw and retail that we sell is incredible.”

Chinen makes the most of the sales opportunities during the annual promotion by directing client flow so that everyone ends their visit with a skin analysis and personalized product recommendation. And no one can leave without passing the “closer” station where the best salespeople close the product sales and book next appointments (a task made easier with special retail and service promotions).

DAWN’S EARLY GLOW: As she prepares for the fifth anniversary celebration this December, Chmen is exploring ideas for expanding Afterglo with one or more new locations. But, first things first, she says.

After five years of ownership and independent contractor relationships, she just now feels ready for her first employee. “I’m much more stable as far as my client flow, and I’d like to find someone who I can train not only to do the services but to run the business so that it’s OK if I’m not here occasionally,” she explains.

That’s not to say she’s unhappy with the independent contractors, but Chinen understands that they have their own goals. “Lots of them work at several sa­lons and spas because they like being in different environments,” she says. But Chinen wants an employee whom she can mentor and groom for a managerial role as she considers expansion.

“I don’t think it will be difficult to duplicate what I have here because of the smaller size and boutique-like setting,” she explains. “Hawaii has lots of little towns and areas where a space like ours would do well.”

Even the densely populated 600 square miles of Oahu could support another Afterglo, she believes. More than 876,000 people — almost three- quarters of the state’s population—inhabit the small island, which suffers no shortage of spas. But Chinen took special care to couple a uniquely intimate setting with quality products and services and a warm, friendly atmosphere that few other Oahu spas can match. Regulars from all over the island brave Waikiki’s tourists and traffic to reach the cool, dim oasis of Afterglo’s treatment rooms. “There’s definitely space in the market for small boutique-like spas so that clients don’t have to chase all around.” But, then again, some things — like the feeling you get having witnessed a beautiful sunset — are absolutely worth the effort.

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