Where the Girls Are

At Michelle Danielle Day Spa in upstate New York, offering manicures and pedicures may have been one of the smartest things owner Michelle Danielle ever did. Today, this female-oriented salon keeps clients coming back with its warm, friendly demeanor that’s just like home.

Moving on Up

About an hour away from the Big Apple lies Chappaqua, N.Y., a decidedly suburban, affluent town where businessmen and women head out for work early in the day and return in the late evening. It’s also the place that Bill and Hillary Clinton currently call home.

The town was a bit different when Michelle Danielle decided to open her first salon there 25 years ago. “Chappaqua was a sleepy, affluent community at the time,” she says. Despite its sleepiness, Danielle thought it a perfect place to open new digs. “I chose the location because it had a window seat,” she says, which was perfect for giving makeup applications, Danielle’s specialty.

But she soon outgrew that location. Then, as luck would have it, she learned about an even bigger and better place through a client — in the same town, no less. “My lease was coming up on my previous salon. My client brought me to this location, we took a look, and I took it,” she says. “We moved in within a weekend.”

Today, Michelle Danielle Day Spa is so well known and loved in the area that she’s even had to turn down Senator Clinton for services. “Hillary has come in for appointments, but I’ve had to turn her down because we’ve been booked,” says Danielle. “I tell her Secret Service people that we’ll give her a call when we have something available.”

Nails in the Spotlight

When Danielle opened her first location in 1978, she had no intentions of offering nail services. “I’m an esthetician and makeup artist. I have no nail background,” she says. Clients seemed to love her facials, waxing, and makeup applications, but they kept asking for the one thing she didn’t offer. “Within the first week of opening the salon, I had tons of requests for nail services,” she says.

So Danielle gave it some thought and two weeks after opening the salon, she hired two nail techs. Within five years, she had six nail techs squeezed into the small space. “Nail services gave women a place to go. They seemed to fill a void Instead of going to the salon to get their hair done every week, they were coming in for manicures,” says Danielle.

There’s no doubt Danielle thanks her lucky stars for including nail services on her menu. Today, she says nail services account for 30% of her salon’s profits. Manicures, pedicures, and acrylics are popular, with pedicures enjoying a surge in popularity during the summer months. “We don’t do a lot of paraffin services, however. Our customers like to be in and out quickly, and paraffin seems to require a bit more time,” says Danielle.

The salon owner who had at one point been told she’d be out of business in six months was soon riding high on a wave of success. “We were the ‘it girls,’” she says. “We had a waiting list every day for cancellations.” That success was what ultimately prompted her to move on to bigger and better things.

Up for a Challenge

After moving into the larger Chappaqua location, Danielle realized the enormity of what she had just done. Moving into a bigger location meant more responsibility. “We had one of the worst winters when we first moved in,” she says. “We never factored in plowing. And all of a sudden, I had two floors instead of my small space and more staff members. I was 25 at the time and realized it was a big undertaking. When you have your first business you never think of failing.”

Thankfully, Danielle hasn’t faced that problem. She has had her share of challenges throughout the years, but her salon continues to do well. “The bad thing about our salon is the location. We’re not downtown at all,” she says. “The plus is we have all the parking we want since we don’t have too many businesses around us. We also have no restrictions to what we can sell because of surrounding businesses.”

Still, she thinks her makeup department would do much better if there were more foot traffic. Another challenge Danielle has faced in recent years is competition. It wasn’t too long ago that her salon was the only one around. Today, four salons have opened up in the area, and Danielle doesn’t deny the feet that they have affected her business. “You may not lose your good clients, but they do take away a piece of the pie,” she says.

Still, she’s not too worried. Her clients are for the most part loyal, and she says her prices are reasonable. She charges between $17-$30 for a pedicure, $65 for a full set, and $42 for fills. “What sets us apart is our level of care,” Danielle says. “We know everyone who walks in here. That’s what happens when you’ve got staff members who are all on the same page.”

It’s a Girl Thing

Some salons pride themselves on being able to attract both men and women to their locations. While Danielle welcomes men into her sanctuary, she is quick to admit it’s a place for girls to come and relax. “We’re not a boy place,” she admits. “We do have customer’s husbands and sons come in, but it’s all about being comfortable and when boys come around, it changes our whole dynamic.”

Women are such an important part of the spa that she even has one prominently featured on her logo — and painted on one of her salon’s walls. The logo features a tree of sorts with a woman as the tree branches and root.

Danielle worked with a graphic designer to come up with the perfect image to represent her salon. She wanted her logo to convey how deeply rooted she was in her community. After the designer came back with an image of a tree, Danielle knew right away what would make the image complete.

“When I saw the tree, I envisioned a woman holding her arms up,” she says. “Women are always the ones who handle everything and I wanted my logo to show that”

That’s something her key clientele, young mothers with children, certainly must approve of. “Our clientele has changed over the years. Today, 70% of my clients don’t work. They’re busy raising their families.”

Since women are such a big part of the salon, Danielle caters to them in every way. Her retail area features a large makeup selection, which sells briskly. In fact she says retail accounts for another 30% of the salon’s profits.

Perhaps that decidedly girly feeling is what makes her staff get along so well. “We’re all warm and fuzzy,” Danielle says. “We’re all equal here. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been here for five or 15 years.”

Danielle’s staff is tight, whether it is sharing customers, helping each other out, or doing the laundry together. They even call each other on their days off. Danielle gets in on the act, helping out whenever she can. “I don’t do facials anymore, but I do consult when an esthetician needs my help.”

The staff meets regularly to discuss any salon concerns and update each other on new happenings.

Even the decor, which Danielle describes as country elegant, is decidedly more feminine than masculine or neutral. Here, beautiful fabrics, lamps, and lots of wood fixtures and furniture abound “We renovated about four years ago,” she says. “We brought in a decorator and did it right. After that, we redid all of our promotional materials.”

The materials include letterhead, gift certificates, shopping bags, direct mail pieces, and even a water bottle done up in shades of purple and tan.

Despite the challenges, Danielle wouldn’t have it any other way. Being in business for 25 years has more than proven that fact. “There’s something new every day that comes up,” she says. “I don’t know where I stop and where the salon starts. I love what I do. I never get tired of helping my clients. It can get overwhelming, but there’s no place like home.”

Salon Name: Michelle Danielle Day Spa

Owner: Michelle Danielle

Location: Chappaqua, N.Y.

Square Footage: 2,500

Years of Ownership; 20 years at this location, 25 years in business as a salon owner

Number of Nail Techs/Employees: four full-time nail techs, three part-time nail techs/15 total

Specialties: Manicures, pedicures, waxing, makeup.

Other Services: Facials, massage, microdermabrasion, body treatments

Compensation Structure: Employees

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