Nailco’s Salon of the Year Winners Show Sensational Style and Business Smarts

1992 National Salon of the year AWARDS

Nailco Salon Marketplace, a full-service beauty distributor, in Michigan, developed the Salon of the Year awards to recognize nail salons and tanning salons as integral and successful parts of the beauty industry. Four outstanding salons received this honor in 1992 based on their excellence in salon design, innovationm, and business acumen. 

Representatives from Nailco and NAILS Magazine judged the nail salon entrants. Salons were judged in one of four categories, depending on their size and specialty: Emerging Nail Salon (one to three stations), Master Nail Salon (four or more stations), Emerging Tanning Salon or Master Tanning Salon. 

FIRST PLACE, MASTER NAIL SALON: Distinctive Touch, Hamilton Square, N.J.

Like so many nail technicians, Wendy Coleman started in the nail business after being a client for many years. A true entrepreneurial spirit, 25-year-old Coleman worked for someone else for only one month before deciding she wanted to be in business for herself. With her own savings and the savings of her fiancé, Coleman opened Distinctive Touch in Hamilton Square, N.J., in 1989. She now has a staff of 11 and plans to expand to 14 by early 1993.

<p>Staff of Distinctive Touch Salon</p>

Distinctive Touch offers skin care and tanning as well as nail care, although nail care is the salon’s primary focus. Technicians in white lab coats contribute to the salon’s clinically clean and professional atmosphere.

A member of the salon staff greets every customer who enters the shop and escorts her to one of the custom-made nail stations. Clients receive a complimentary jewelry cleaning with every service, and all procedures start with a relaxing hand massage.

<p>Distinctive Touch owner Wendy Coleman believes in giving her clients the best possible service and rewards technicians whose superior business sense generates increased salon income.&nbsp;</p>

Coleman focuses her marketing energies on existing clients, who she feels are her best sources for future business. She sends regular clients personalized birthday cards and an offer for a free birthday nail design. Pregnant clients get a free pedicure in their third trimester, and new services are always offered to existing clients at a discount.

One of the salon’s most effective programs in attracting new clients has been children’s birthday parties. Parents can reserve the salon for a unique birthday experience, where even the salon gets decorated for the event. Parents sometimes arrange for a simultaneous cocktail party.

Among conventional forms of advertising, the salon uses telephone yellow pages, local newspapers, radio, cable television, and coupon books. Coleman has always been an active participant in community affairs and uses those outlets to promote the salon and give back to her community. As she says in her Salon of the Year application, “A request from a child to advertise in a local school playbill is never declined.” She also contributes gift certificates to help fund-raising efforts of local charities. In addition to the financial assistance, the salon donates magazines to area hospitals and community centers and holds food drives in the fall and winter.

Coleman calls her management style “employee driven” and says she is constantly evolving in her way of doing things. Regular employees earn commission on a graduated scale, meaning the greater the amount of individual service revenue, the higher the commission percentage a technician can earn. As a result of this incentive program, Coleman finds that employees strive to reach the next higher commission level. Since the commission level applies to the total salon revenue generated, the bonus realized by associates with above normal performance is substantial.

Appointment scheduling is done by the individual technician; Coleman requires only that a minimum number of technicians be on the floor at one time. Employees get one paid week of vacation and one unpaid week’s leave of absence per year, as well as discounts on products, free tanning time, holiday bonuses, and commission on the retail products they sell.

With great success, Coleman has used an employee handbook and monthly staff meetings to improve communication with employees. Employees are consulted on new procedures and are encouraged to provide feedback. Policy changes are frequently the result of consensus after a group discussion.

Coleman eventually wants to do six-month performance reviews for employees, create a “fact book” for commonly asked client questions, and provide an incentive plan for technicians to continue their education and broaden their skills.

<p>Peter Ha, originally from Vietnam, combines technical skills with business savvy to run a successful salon.&nbsp;</p>

RUNNER UP, MASTER NAIL SALON: Peter’s Nails, Kensington, Md.

Within five years of immigrating to the United States, Peter Ha had finished cosmetology school, opened three salons in Los Angeles, sold all three salons, moved to Maryland, and opened Peter’s Nails, one of the largest nail salons in the country with 12 stations. Although airbrushing and sculptured nails are Ha’s specialties, the salon currently offers natural manicures, wraps, pedicures, skin care, massages, and facials. In his vision of the future, Ha sees a 25-station salon with three skin care rooms, tanning beds, and steam baths.

Ha chooses to use products in his salon that “inspire confidence and recognition in his customers” and he guarantees all nails for two weeks.

Peter’s Nails is open seven days a week, including evenings. Ha says he feels clients “deserve the best and then some.” All client files are computerized and he does extensive direct-mail marketing. To keep the salon name constantly in front of clients, Ha offers them loads of “premiums,” such as water bottles, T-shirts, address books, key chains, and ice scrapers---all with the Peter’s Nails logo emblazoned on them.

Ha’s staff seems to enjoy as many perks as Ha’s clients do: paid vacations, generous commission, annual bonuses, and holiday parties. His philanthropy extends to the community that has made him such a successful businessman. Ha regularly donates gift certificates to various charities, as well as to local fire and police departments and schools.

FIRST PLACE, EMERGING NAIL SALON: AAA Classic Nails and Tanning, Ft. Wayne, Ind.

AAA Classic Nails and Tanning opened on March 6, 1989, in Ft. Wayne, Ind. The  selection of a modest, 300-square-foot room at a main street location provided low overhead and high visibility. Paying off the $8,000 start-up loan in just two years was owner Shelly Gerig’s first accomplishment toward salon success.

<p>Onwer Shelly Gerig markets her services by placing ads in the yellow pages (the AAA inher salon name gives her top billing), neighborhood association fliers, adn a local newspaper supplement.&nbsp;</p>

In January 1992, the business relocated to a 750 square-foot space and added a third station. Gerig went from two part-time nail technicians to six and hired a part-time receptionist within the course of three years. Gerig chose technicians with a similar work ethic who believe in client rapport. Choosing appropriate personnel was a key factor in the continued growth of the business, says Gerig. Flexible scheduling was also a plus: The salon is open Monday through Saturday, with evening appointments available. Most of Gerig’s nearby competition is closed on Monday.

<p>AAA Classic Nails and Tanning&nbsp;</p>

In order to expand client services, a tanning bed was added in June 1991. Planned future additions include a full-time receptionist, an airbrush system, and a masseuse.

The salon offers a acrylic and fibreglass systems, natural manicures, pedicures, paraffin treatments, and several forms of nail art. Technicians are trained in handpainting, decals, and the use of stones and stripes. Gels will be offered soon. Tanning packages and temporary tattoos are also offered. With each set of nails, clients receive a gift bag filled with complimentary products and information regarding nail care. Nail, hand, and foot care products are available for retail.

Gerig chose the name AAA Classic Nails, rather than just Classic Nails, rather than just Classic Nails, to gain top billing in the yellow pages. Besides the yellow pages, Gerig advertises in neighbourhood association fliers and a local newspaper supplement. She takes advantage of free advertising at a local hospital, bank, and fitness center. On occasion, the salon is mentioned on a radio station owned by a client.

Gerig says that the key to successful management is providing excellent wages, paid vacations, bonuses, free services, and continuing education for all technicians. Her staff is paid a 60% commission on services and 10% on retail items. After one year they’re entitled to one week’s paid vacation; after three years it increases to two weeks.

Each year, all technicians receive a cash bonus based on the salon’s profits for that fiscal year. The benefit of treating employees well is reflected in long-term employee relationships--- Gerig has had no turnover during the past two years.

Gerig donates gift certificates to non-profit organizations, including the American Cancer Society, Byron Health Center, and the Elks Lodge. AAA Classic Nails recycles cans, bottles, and plastic. Clients can bring in their product containers for refills at a discount.


Trew Nails, located in Chicago, opened June 1, 1990, and doubled its area by moving into a larger space within the same building in April 1992. Since moving, Trew Nails has expanded to offer waxing and massages and two additional nail technicians were hired to keep up with the expanding client base.

<p>Cindy Trew moved easiy from salon manager to salon owner when she purchased the business and changed its name to Trew Nails. in addition to doing nails, Trew controls all bookkeeping, inventory supply, scheduling, and advertising.&nbsp;</p>

Located in the Monadnock Building, a 100-year old Chicago landmark that is listed on the National Historic Register, Trew Nails has preserved all of the original woodwork, which includes hardwood floors, wood molding, 18-feet high ceilings, and detailed woodwork around a large, arched window.

The black lacquer and glass nail stations contrast spectacularly with the wood trim. Technicians sit at black leather and chrome chairs, and each station is accessorized with teal towels and a black supply tray, which also holds a small vase of fresh-cut flowers. The walls are painted light peach and display artwork by local artists.

In the future, Trew plans to knock out one wall so the salon can move into the adjoining space, which would double the salon’s current size. In the new space there will be room for tanning bed, facial room, massage room, and additional nail stations.


In the first year of business, Trew Nails brought in the majority of its business simply by using fliers distributed throughout downtown Chicago. These fliers brought in first-time clients who were given special introductory prices. After their first visit, clients were given a free manicure for every three clients they referred, or after they received 10 manicures. Although Trew no longer gives free manicures after 10 manicures, they have continued the referral incentive program.

Trew Nails is actively involved in the Chicago community through its support of women’s groupd and other organizations. Additionally, each year Trew Nails donates 30% of its gross sales from special Trew Nails gift certificates to the Federal Women’s Program Advisory Council “Stay in School” Scholarship Fund.

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