Not Your Mother’s Nail Salon

Opening last year in one of the country’s few remaining Japantowns, Sakura Nail Bar takes advantage of its historic location and focuses its efforts on a young clientele.

At 26, husband-and-wife pair Long Tran and Sophia Luong, have already opened up four separate businesses. Their first, a hookah lounge, opened in 2002. After that, they gave the apparel industry a try; first they opened a clothing boutique (which has since closed), then they launched Konscious Klothing, a clothing line featuring a young artist. The couple’s most-recent adventure is Sakura Nail Bar, a small nail salon in San Jose, Calif.’s Japantown. Although all four businesses are seemingly unrelated, they have one important aspect in common; all are geared for a younger generation, a generation that Tran and Luong know well.

Generation X: “Because we are still very young, we are striving for a look that is more tailored to the younger generation,” says Luong. “I find there are more places out there where my mom might go, not where I would go.”

It was after having the continual frustration of not having their young needs met that Tran and Luong decided to open the salon.

“We wanted a place where young women can go to get manicures and pedicures and feel like they are also hanging out at the same time,” says Luong. “Most nail salons are just about getting your nails done and leaving.” Sakura, however, has been designed as a place where getting a manicure and pedicure is an event for younger people. With no separate manicure tables or pedicure stations, it’s a place where friends can come together, talk, and be treated as valuable customers.

A Little Place of History: San Jose boasts one of the country’s three remaining Japantowns. Although most of the United States’ other ones never recovered after the government-enforced internment camps during World War II, San Jose’s Japantown was reclaimed and is today a historic and multi-ethnic community. It is here that Sakura Nail Bar has found its home, and being in Japantown has definitely benefited the owners. “We chose the location because in a historic area, the rent is much less than it would be in a major shopping district,” says Luong.

And even though Northern California is chock full of boutique nail salons and discount nail spas, Luong says the closest nail salon is nearly a mile and a half away and located in a shopping center that might be overlooked.

The area around Sakura, however, has popular restaurants that provide a lot of foot traffic, which the salon reaches through promotional material left outside of the salon (so interested patrons can pick up information without the worry of dealing with a sales pitch by peeking inside).

“Most of our business comes from word of mouth, people who see the salon passing by on their way to lunch or dinner, or people who live in the surrounding areas,” Luong explains.

Taking advantage of the Japantown location, Luong has carried the area’s look into the salon’s concept. Popular in Japanese artwork, Sakura means “cherry blossom” in Japanese. Continuing with a Japanese theme, the fabrics on the pillows and pedicure stools also have an Asian-like feel.

It’s Got the Look: Geared toward the younger generation, the salon has been designed to look and feel like a clean, fresh bar, minus the alcohol.

Although the salon’s namesake isn’t carried throughout the salon’s décor, there is a conscious reason for that. “We were going to go with pinks, but we wanted to cater to men too,” says Luong. “So keeping clutter and unnecessary things to a minimum, the décor is fresh and clean with blue and white colors.”

The salon also wanted to have a true bar feel, and not just by name. To do this, bath and body products are displayed in large martini glasses, and the manicure nail bar is made to look like a real bar. All of this is carried out in Sakura’s 1,250-square-foot one-room treatment area.

It’s Only Natural: “We specialize in working with natural nails and only offer manicure and pedicure services for natural nails,” says Luong. “Because we do not offer artificial enhancements, you do not hear loud electric files going or smell strong odors that are unpleasant to many people.”

Keeping those sounds and smells out of the salon was important to Luong, who wanted to cater to clients and give them a truly relaxing experience.

But even though 100% of Sakura’s business is from nail services, the lack of enhancement services doesn’t seem to be a deterrent for enhancement customers. “We have some clients that go elsewhere for acrylic services but come here for pedicures,” Luong says.

Having only natural nail services has also proven to be a draw for bringing in a diverse clientele. “We have a lot of male clients,” she adds. “We find that male clients really enjoy our salon because we only work with natural nails, and it’s more male-friendly because there are no unpleasant smells and noises.”

Luckily for clients, these natural nail services don’t come at too much of a markup from other area salons. Manicures start at $15, and pedicures start at $25. The popular mani/pedi combo is just $35. “Our prices are a little higher than other salons in the area, but I think customers are willing to pay a little more for atmosphere and peace of mind,” says Luong, who stresses that Sakura’s top priority is cleanliness.

Employee Relations: Luong believes when you treat your employees well, they’ll treat the customers well.

“Employees are not subjected to the smells and vapors that other salons have,” she says. “They work in an open and friendly environment. The happier our employees are, the better job they will do for the customer.”

Helping ensure customers get the best service, all of the salon’s employees are salaried, which Luong did to create an atmosphere of teamwork. “There is no fighting for customers or tips,” she says. Instead, techs work as a team, and tips are split amongst service providers.

What Lies Ahead: Being the entrepreneurial people they are, Tran and Luong are of course thinking about the future. “Our plan is to expand into other areas and have multiple locations, but our salon is very new,” says Luong. “Those plans are well into the future.”

For now, the young entrepreneurs will tend to their three beginning businesses and their beginning family, which just became a group of three in January.

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