Part of the Neighborhood

Old northeastern charm and manners meet a bright nail business at Wet Paint Nail Spa in Cambridge, Mass.

“SOMETIMES YOU WANNA GO”: The TV show, the one “Where everybody knows your name,” that’s what Wet Paint Nail Spa reminds you of. And if “Cheers” were a real-life bar in Boston, then Wet Paint would be its much younger, brighter-colored, spunkier sister across the Charles River in Cambridge.

“I wanted folks to feel like they could just stop by and chat if they were in the neighborhood,” says Wet Paint’s co-owner Michelle Phoenix. “I liked the idea of having a living-room feel to the place. I wanted to have nice comfortable furniture, bright colors, and a relaxed atmosphere.” With that attitude, Phoenix created Wet Paint Nail Spa to resemble a neighborhood (nail) bar “where folks are always glad you came…”

SHE WASN’T A BASEBALL PLAYER BEFORE, BUT…: After going through a plethora of jobs (including ones in media, software technical support, computer education, and administration), Phoenix found a career in the nail business.

“From the day I graduated nail school, my parents urged me to open my own salon,” she says. At first she avoided it. “I was so relieved to have found something I could see myself doing for the next 20 years that I didn’t want to spoil it by stressing myself out over the unknowns of running my own business.”

Finally, after realizing that working for an employer didn’t give her the freedom she wanted, Phoenix decided to take the parental advice — and bring her mother along as co-owner. Mom, Rosalie Williams, is an accomplished grant writer and had more than 20 years experience running her own business. As co-owner, Williams is the authority on the business side, while

Phoenix takes care of the logistical side and services. Phoenix and Williams decided not to rush into the business and spent nine months looking for the perfect place. They found it in one of the few areas of Cambridge without another nail salon in the immediate vicinity. Located in the Observatory Hill section of Cambridge, Phoenix and Wet Paint fit in well with the old-fashioned manners, left-leaning political beliefs, and old and new residents.

“Our area is known most famously for its bakery. The treats are indescribably delicious,” says Phoenix. “There are also a number of fine furniture stores, a hair salon, and a pizzeria that’s been in business so long, the proprietor is serving the grandchildren of his original customers.

REGULARS, BUT NOT NORM OR CLIFF: With the neighborhood and area’s diversity in mind, Phoenix makes certain to welcome all members of her community, including those with others in tow. “Many of my clients are women who would love some time to themselves, but that’s not always possible,” says Phoenix. “I make it clear to them that their kids are welcome in my salon. I have coloring books, washable markers, storybooks, and a TV/DVD corner. I have a safety gate covering the entrance to my basement, and all of my dangerous products are up out of reach.”

Phoenix welcomes Cambridge’s gay-friendly community as well. “I have a few clients who are from two-mommy or two-daddy households, and I love that they can feel perfectly at ease in my shop.”

Wet Paint’s other patrons, with Harvard and MIT calling Cambridge home, consist of “graduate students, school girls, new moms, business women, and long-time residents of the area,” says Phoenix.

One group that Wet Paint Nail Spa has generally been missing is those with the Y chromosome. The spa has only had a few male clients and Phoenix would like to see more men become repeat customers. To bring in more of the males in Cambridge, she recently made the following addition to her brochure: A note to the gentlemen: Manicures and pedicures are not about polish. They are about maintaining your image and feeling good about your hands and feet. The purpose is to trim your nails to a reasonable length, smooth them out, and get rid of painful hangnails and dry skin.

NOTICEABLE, WELCOMING SIGNS: Two of the spa’s best marketing tools have been its physical openness and the spa’s website. When building the business in an already existing structure, Phoenix made sure not to cover up the windows. Instead, she put up “coming soon” signs — many people stopped by just to see what was going into the space, and when it opened they came in to check it out.

Wet Paint’s window is still a marketing tool for the fairly new business. “I have my web address on my front window, so if someone sees it when they’re driving or walking by, they can look me up from home,” says Phoenix. The site was created by a friend of Phoenix and captures the same feeling of the spa — colorful and energetic.

One of the most noticeable features of the website’s home page is the spa’s philosophy, which explains the spa’s policy on educating clients. “Our philosophy comes from the understanding that the health of our skin and nails can be a reflection of our overall health,” says Phoenix.

Part of it reads: When you come to us for a service, the reason for, and the importance of, each step will be explained to you. We firmly believe that educating our clients inspires you to think of our services and the home maintenance we recommend, not merely as pampering, but as part of a healthy regimen.

“I feel it’s important to share my philosophy with my clients because I really do care about them,” adds Phoenix.

Also on the spa’s site is a page of links. A hodge-podge collection, this page points salon-goers to her mother’s business, a product used in services and retailed, a friend’s business, and a political site, Even with that last site, Phoenix isn’t afraid of alienating any of her clients. “I’m a typical Northeastern-U.S. political left-leaner,” she says. “I want my clientele to know a little about who I am when I’m not doing their nails. Also, being in Cambridge, I can rest assured that 99.9999% of my clients are politically like minded.”

NEXT SEASON: Phoenix has been working with the City of Cambridge Community Development Department and is beginning a large marketing project to help bring in new customers and sell more retail. Phoenix also hopes to open the spa up for private parties soon.

“In the near future, I’m planning on hiring another tech to work with me during the week,” Phoenix says. But she’s been having trouble finding the right tech to hire. “I want to keep up my reputation!” exclaims Phoenix.

Because even though the bumbling Woody was funny on “Cheers,” every good business owner knows that you’ve got to have the best employees to become a place with a name everybody knows.

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