The Night Is Always Young at Nails After Dark

Dee Holland credits her prospering salon’s growth to midnight closings, a relaxed atmosphere, and self-assured technicians.

It is nighttime in Cedar Grove, N.J. Office buildings, abandoned until tomorrow, stand silent along the boulevard. Even the most ardent workaholics have called it a day. Parents have put children to bed and are tuning in to Johnny Carson’s monologue before nodding off themselves. But on a quiet street in a shop nestled in a small shopping center, there are voices of busy nail technicians and happy clients. Welcome to Nails After Dark, where it’s 11:30 p.m. and the night is young.

Noting the brisk business at a time when even bars are slowing down, you might ask, isn’t it awfully late for people to be getting their nails done? Flip open to owner Dee Holland’s appointment book where she records late-night appointments, and you’ll see that the answer is absolutely not.

The salon’s late-night hours are more than a gimmick, says Holland; they just make good business sense.

After a few years at a salon where she was an employee, Holland noticed that business picked up dramatically after three in the afternoon. Why not capitalize on it? She asked herself. She persuaded the salon owner to let her do nails beyond their 8 p. m. closing until 12 a. m. (which sometimes crept past 2 a.m.). Holland found that business as a night-owl was so busy she didn’t have a moment to herself during those shifts, and she needed help.

She wasn’t able to convince her employer to add another nighttime nail technician, so Holland decided to go it alone and open her own salon.

In the midst of a recessions and with the country poised to go to war – economic indicators that might have deterred the less determined – Holland opened Nails After Dark on January 2, 1991.

“I was terrified,” says Holland, “but I said to myself, ‘Dee, you know this is a gamble. You’ve got one time; just do it now. If it works, go with it, and if it doesn’t, at least you know you tried.”

Recession or not, Nails After Dark prospered in those first few months. “I knew this would work,” says Holland. “I was scared to death, believe me, with the recession and all, but the first week I was in there, I did better than I ever did [at the salon where I previously worked].” Before January was out, Holland hired her first nail technician to help her handle the influx of customers Nails After Dark was attracting. By June, she had hired three more.

In Holland’s options, Nails After Dark flourishes for three major reasons the hours, the relaxed atmosphere, and good communication between owner and employees.

“I can’t think of any other salon that others the extended hours I do, and it’s a feature customers appreciate immensely,” she says. Accommodating the busy schedules of her mostly female clientele is important to her. “My customers have a place to come now where they don’t have to waste their Saturdays,” says Holland. “They can have their Saturdays to sleep late instead of worrying about their nails.” Nails After Dark’s operating schedule is so unorthodox that sometimes it is the hours alone that draw customers. Says Holland, “I had two girls come in at 10:30 p.m. a couple weeks ago, and one of them said she’d heard about me and just wanted to know if this was for real.”

The long day is more than just a convenience for customers; clients enjoy the late-night atmosphere. Says Holland, “This way, you can go home from work, have dinner if you like, come back in your pajamas if you do want to, and have your nails done.”

The reference to the pajamas is no joke. Some of her customers have gotten into the habit of donning their PJs before visiting Holland late at night. The atmosphere is that relaxed. “Everybody knows everybody, so it’s comfortable,” says Holland. “When it’s in your personality to be fun, you draw that kind of clientele, “ she adds.

Which is the second reason Holland thinks Nail After Dark has prospered so quickly. Having seen and experienced the day-to-day problems at other salons, Holland decided she was going to do things differently on her own. For starters, when a new customer walks into Nails After Dark, she is introduce to all the nail technicians and customers in the shop. A client may have a different technician each time she comes in.

Holland stresses that all her technician are brought up to the same skill level; therefore, there’s no competition or jealousy among her employees. “That’s how Nails After Dark creates a feeling of being at home,” says Holland. “It’s like they’re coming to my house.” The third reason Holland thinks Nails After Dark has experienced such rapid growth is because she makes her technicians feel proud of their work by paying them compliments when they do a good job. “You have to make people feel good about what they do-let them know you appreciate them,” says Holland.

She also emphasizes the feeling of equality between herself and he technicians. “They only difference between me and them is I had a chance to make it my own. After that, we’re all the same. I’m not on a power trip… and I don’t walk around with an attitude. I may be the owner, but I work as hard as they do, so we’re equal, and they feel I that.”

At a client’s initial visit, Holland asks her about the previous salon she was going to and how she heard about Nails After Dark. Then she assures the new client that service is a priority at Nails After Dark. Word has gotten around. Despite advertising only twice in six months, Holland and her employees have all the work they can handle. They’re booked solid, working on 16 customers a piece each day and night the salon is open for business. The customers run the gamut from 17 to 55 years old, and most of them want extensions, nail art, tips, wraps, acrylics, gels, caps, bonding, air-brushing, body waxing, and something Holland calls ‘temptoos,’ which are temporary tattoos. “I don’t really do many straight manicures,” admits Holland.

 Whatever the subtle combination of hours, atmosphere, and philosophy, Nails After Dark’s customers can’t get enough of it. And Holland is all too happy to be there for them. She has loved doing nails since the day she first opened a bottle of polish and, what’s more, she loves people.

Holland feels strongly that if you don’t like people, you shouldn’t be in a service business, especially one as intimate as nails. She intends to keep doing nails for a long while. “Usually people become salon owners to get away from [doing nails] and to make money. At this point in time, I’m not ready to give up my seat. I just love doing this.

“This salon is what I’ve always wanted. I looked and listened to all my clients-what they liked, what they didn’t like. I learned what to do and what not to do in business. This salon is an extension of me, and when I hit the light by the door at the end of a day, I turn my head, look [at my salon], and get a great feeling. I have never had that feeling anywhere else.

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