Business Management

Salon of the Year Winners Have Grit

A common theme for this year's winners and runners-up was perseverance and the ability to triumph over tragedy.

Salon of the Year (5+ Nail Techs)

Turning Tragedy into Triumph

Salon: SPAaah . . . It’s All About You

Location: Clinton, III

Owner: Lynn Ackerson-Warren

Square footage: 1,500

Years of ownership: Almost 2 years

Number of nail techs/employees: 2/12

Specialty: Heated Stone Pedicure, Pumice Peel Microdermabrasion Treatment

Compensation structure: Commission

If one word could aptly describe Lynn Ackerson-Warren that word would be “tenacious.” For this determined-to-succeed salon owner and nail technician, nothing, not even a salon walkout nor devastating tornado, could keep her from achieving her dream. That dream became a reality in January 2004 when she relocated SPAaah. . . It’s All About You to downtown Clinton, III.

Ackerson-Warren originally opened her full-service salon and day spa in September 2002 on the outskirts of town. Since most of the town’s salons were booth rental, she decided to not “buck the system” and also rented out booth space.   

After six months in business, Ackerson-Warren realized the standard of service and sanitation she wanted to provide her clients wasn’t possible with a booth-rental salon, so she began converting to an employee-based structure. She was soon blindsided when a number of disgruntled staff walked out, leaving her with a skeleton crew of employees. But Ackerson-Warren persevered and immediately began rebuilding her team.    

Less than one month later, a tornado completely ravaged the building Ackerson-Warren had been leasing for a short eight months. Within three days, she reopened her salon in a temporary location so she could resume accommodating her faithful clientele while looking for a new location. She relocated her salon to downtown Clinton in a refurbished building. The grand re-opening took place in January 2004.               

Included on Ackerson-Warren’s nail career resume is manufacturer’s educator, award-winning sculpturist, former nails-only salon owner, lobbyist for licensure, 2003 Young Careerist by the Clinton Business and Professional Women, and Clinton Chamber of Commerce honoree in recognition of SPAaah’s investment in the community and its generosity with gifts of money, talent, and time.             

Whatever word you think best describes Ackerson-Warren, one thing is for sure: no force of nature or business nightmare will ever keep her down.

All-Natural Beauty

Salon: Natural Beauty Salon

Location: Twinsburg, Ohio

Owner: Millie Haynam

Square footage: 850

Years of ownership: 3

Number of nail techs/employees: ¾

Specialties: Pina Colada Pedicure, Garden Pedicure, Pumpkin Peel Manicure

Compensation structure: Commission

An office building isn’t the first place you’d think of for a salon location. But that’s precisely where owner Millie Haynam set up shop. Since November 2001, clients have been flocking to Natural Beauty Salon in Twinsburg, Ohio, where they’re treated to a variety of services ranging from manicures and pedicures to waxing and body treatments.  

Opening a salon made perfect sense for Haynam, who’s been in the beauty industry since the age of 16. “I searched for a salon to which I could bring the highest professionals standards and ultimately decided that I would have to open my own salon to achieve this goal,” she says.

So far, Haynam says owning a salon has been her greatest journey yet. Shaping her business has been a challenging yet rewarding experience. Many salon owners frequently say it’s difficult to find good nail techs, but Haynam hasn’t encountered that problem yet. “I’ve been fortunate enough to find other professionals who were searching for these same high standards that Natural Beauty offers,” she says.

Haynam says it is her job as an owner to train and mentor her employees and provide them with the right tools to succeed. She empowers her staff to make decisions to ensure that clients have a great experience while in the salon.

So why are clients so devoted to the salon? Besides offering great services, it’s most likely also due to the outstanding customer service and attention to detail the Natural Beauty Salon staff provide. Each client fills out a client profile and receives a full consultation prior to any service.

Despite their busy schedules, Haynam and her staff still find time to give back to their community. But in the end, it’s all worth it for Haynam and her staff. She says, “Many events involve closing the salon for hours at a time or donating our time away from friends and family, but we strongly believe in supporting the community that supports us.”

All in the Family

Salon: Pro Files

Location: Cape Coral, Fla.

Owners: Traci Dungan, Ami McClure

Square footage: 3,500

Years of ownership: 8

Number of nail techs/employees: 12/21

Specialties: Pedicures, pink-and-whites, colored acrylics

Compensation structure: 50% commission

Ten years ago, Pro Files consisted of two nail techs. Walk into the Cape Coral, Fla., salon today and you’ll be greeted by a team that includes 12 nail techs, two estheticians, and a massage therapist. “Our salon is one of, if not the most, unique salon atmospheres you will ever experience,” say owners Traci Dungan and Ami McClure. That could quite possibly be due to the fact that the business is family owned: Dungan and McClure are sisters and their mom is the receptionist.

“When you walk into Pro Files, the warm, friendly ambiance pulls you in,” say Dungan and McClure. From the way everyone in the salon says their name when they answer the phone to outgoing receptionist greeting clients at the front desk, Pro Files focuses on a personal and unique atmosphere.

Pro Files prides itself on a variety of things. From doing a full set of sculpted nails in 60 minutes to guaranteeing their work, taking late appointments, and fixing nails that mysteriously “popped off,” customers take notice of their outstanding customer service and keep coming back for more.

The sisters say the secret of their success lies in constantly supporting, training, and educating their team.

Each nail tech contributes 1% of her paycheck to a competition fund, for example. This allows every nail tech to travel to a beauty show with all expenses paid. Pro Files also pays for everyone to attend the Premiere Beauty Show in Orlando, Fla. 

Dungan and McClure make it a point to recognize their staff. Each month, the two pick a Star Tech of the Month, who receives a gift certificate, bragging rights, and a sign posted at her station.

“A lot of salon owners will tell you the hardest thing about owning a salon is finding and keeping good nail techs,” say the sisters. “It’s the backbone of our salon and it’s why our customer service is so incredible.”  

Supporting their staff might be one of the reasons why Pro Files has four strong nail competitors. In fact, the salon has a section devoted solely to the numerous trophies and awards the four have garnered in competitions.

All of their hard work and outstanding customer service have not gone unnoticed. Pro Files has been voted Best Salon in the Cape for two years by their city. Actually, the salon is a celebrity of sorts in the area. Pro Files is the official salon to a local TV station. The salon staff does the hair and nails for all on-air talent and receives credit for it on every nightly newscast.

Taking part in competitions has certainly helped their business and shaped their way of thinking. “When you’re surrounded by the best of the industry in the competition arena you learn things—great things,” say the sisters. Spoken like true winners.

Teamwork Comes First

Salon: Fandango

Location: Santa Rosa, Calif.

Owner: Nanci Soltani

Square footage: 700

Years of ownership: 6

Number of nail techs/employees: 8

Specialties: Pink-and-whites, pedicures

Compensation structure: Booth rental

Many salons pride themselves on the vast array of services they offer and how fast they can get a client in and out the door. Not Fandango. This Santa Rosa, Calif.-based salon is all about teamwork. Although each Fandango nail professional is a booth renter, they work closely together as a team to make each client’s appointment the best nail experience possible.     

“To us, TEAM stands for Together Each Achieves More,” says owner Nanci Soltani. “This is a key factor in the success of Fandango.”

When Soltani opened the salon in 1998 her vision was to create a salon where clients gathered to nurture and build upon themselves. Choosing Fandango as the salon’s name was easy. In the dictionary, the word “fandango” means “a Spanish or Spanish-American dance in triple time. The music of the dance.” Soltani says that describes her salon to a T.

“I believe at Fandango we support our clients by providing the ‘music of the dance,’” she says. “Life today is often in triple time.” Clients at Fandango are allowed time to slow down and relax.

Fandango prides itself on being a community-based salon that is on the cutting edge of the nail industry. Last fall, the salon added hospital-level sterilization to the list of client and salon safety features. Soltani made sure to take each client to the salon’s workroom so they could see the equipment themselves.

Clients are so devoted to Fandango that it’s not unheard of for a client to drive 75 miles one way to get her nails done at the salon.

Clients look forward to the special events the salon hosts each year. From hosting a pumpkin patch featuring hand-blown glass pumpkins that can be purchased to putting up a giving tree each Christmas for clients to donate gifts to underprivileged children, Fandango does it all with flair.

For the Love of Beauty

Salon: Debbie’s Day Spa & Salon

Location: St. Augustine, Fla.

Owners: Debra Kresge

Square footage: 4,500

Years of ownership: 12

Number of nail techs/employees: 8/38

Specialties: Hot Stone Manicure and Pedicure

Compensation structure: 40% commission

Nestled in the nation’s oldest city, St. Augustine, Fla., Debbie’s Day Spa & Salon is the city’s best-kept secret. What was once a small nail and hair salon has grown to a 4,500-square-foot haven. Owner Debra Kresge went from having a salon with two employees to a large day spa with more than 30 employees.  

Opening a salon in Florida made perfect sense. After all, Kresge had always been interested in beauty products. She obtained her nail tech license to complement her extensive makeup knowledge. After a rigorous five-year career as a nail tech in New York, Kresge and her husband, Ken, moved to Florida for a change of pace.   

In 1992, Kresge opened her first salon, Debbie’s Touch, and has never looked back. In 1999, Debbie’s Day Spa & Salon was unveiled to the community and was warmly embraced by locals and tourists alike. In fact, her salon has been voted Best Day Spa in St. Augustine five years in a row.

Kresge says maintaining such a large staff is a challenge and a full-time commitment. “My management staff and I strive to light a spark in all of our employees, challenging them to achieve their best work and to meet and surpass their own high standards,” she says.

Every January 1 she requires each of her employees to set their own goals and Kresge also sets goals for the salon. “I stress to my employees that by reaching their personal goals we all come together to achieve our business goals,” she says.  

Kresge and her team are dedicated to the community that has so warmly embraced them. In February for example, the staff held an all-day fund-raiser for a client who was diagnosed with leukemia. The staff donated their time and 100% of the proceeds to the client’s treatment and recovery, raising more than $7,000.

It’s evident that Kresge is a prime example of a business owner with a passion for her industry and a great love of her job.

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