So Fresh and So Clean

Sweet Lily Natural Nail Spa & Boutique in New York City offers a pleasant escape from the dust, dirt, and grime of downtown Manhattan. Thanks to owner Donna Perillo’s sanitary and natural nail care methods, people can step inside and get a breath of fresh air.

Donna Perillo, owner of Sweet Lily Natural Nail Spa & Boutique, says she opened up her salon out of necessity. “There were no clean nail salons in New York City at the time, and the big spas treated you like you were a third-class citizen if you were just getting a nail service as opposed to a massage or facial,” she says. Not a big fan of acrylic, Perillo, whose favorite flowers are lilies, decided to open her own natural nail salon.

Wet Feet: After three years of planning and preparation, Perillo launched Sweet Lily in July 2002. Although Perillo’s expertise was not in the beauty field, her management experience of 12 years in the music and film industry was very useful in getting her business started. “I knew a lot about business because I was managing the business careers of other people,” she explains.

“I was working at the same time and wanted to make a quick transition. So for the three years prior to the opening, all hobbies fell by the wayside and this became my new hobby,” she says. Instead of reading books, Perillo educated herself by reading trade magazines and going to conventions. The Internet also came in very handy for her. While researching on the web, Perillo came across the free government-run website for the Small Business Administration. With all the useful information and links, she was able to draft a business plan on her own, without spending money on accountants and lawyers.

Washed Out: The 1,200-square-foot salon is located in Tribeca, one of Manhattan’s most charming neighborhoods. Cobblestone streets, world-famous restaurants, and multimillion-dollar lofts make up the 10013 zip code, ranked by Forbes’ last year as one of America’s most expensive. Home to the famous Tribeca Film Festival, numerous celebrities, affluent families, and the shabby chic Sweet Lily salon, the upscale locale is known for its trendy and fashionable environment.

“After 9/11, I just felt like there were more people down there and not enough services,” she says. “When I found the space for the salon, I fell in love with it instantaneously,” she recalls.

Refreshing Atmosphere: Described by Perillo as “shabby chic” or “country chic,” the structure of the salon is basically one large room. Clients sit in comfortable armchairs that provide a “homey” feel, as they soak their feet in a cute country-style bucket for the pedicure of their choice.

With one private room and one large area for pedicures and manicures, Sweet Lily offers natural nail services and waxing. Specializing in the natural aspect, many of the salon’s products are made out of fresh fruits, vegetables, and essential oils.

Fruit and veggie treatments include the Grapefruit Vokda Pedicure and the Sweet & Simple Pedicure, which uses fresh cucumber. Sweet Lily’s most popular treatment is the Honey Walnut Pedicure, where feet are submerged in hot milk, almond oil, and a luscious rose petal bath.

Manicures range from $20 to $40, and pedicures go from $40 to $70.

A confessed germaphobe, Perillo sought some medical advice before opening. Her cousin, a dentist, was able to provide some helpful information. A podiatrist also came in on his own one day, looking for a place to recommend to his patients. He provided cleaning instructions, even detailing how to disinfect and sterilize the implements.

In addition to using the bathroom sink, customers can wash their hands at a sink near the manicure area before they get their service.

Service That Shines: Situated in such a chic residential neighborhood, most of Sweet Lily’s clients are stay-at-home moms who keep up with fashion and beauty trends, upscale working women, a few Wall Street businessmen, and even celebrities.

Though the appointment book is pretty full, the salon also does its best to accommodate clients and accept walk-ins. “A lot of our clients are moms, so sometimes they have sitter issues or they’re delayed trying to put their baby down to sleep. They don’t really like to make appointments,” Perillo explains. “We always try to hold a few appointments to help out the moms.”

Perillo says they try hard to stay on schedule and don’t try to squeeze people in — even if they’re celebrities. Flattered they choose her salon, she still doesn’t make exceptions.

“I was looking at the computer schedule one day and someone came up and asked if we had any time for a manicure/pedicure,” Perillo says. “I answered no before I looked — not that it really mattered because we were booked — and it was Meryl Streep! But you can’t just kick someone out of the chair. They don’t expect that.”

Spotless Performance: Recruiting staff has been Perillo’s main challenge. Potential staff must pass a rigorous screening and training process before being allowed to work with customers.

Perillo and one of her store managers conduct an interviewing process with the candidates, which often lasts a few weeks if a person is called back for a second — or even third — interview, where their skills are tested each time.

“We have them perform a French manicure, hand-drawn nail art, and of course polish with the dark reds because those are the hardest,” Perillo explains. “If we do decide that we’re going to hire them, we have them come in for a day or two and trail somebody.”

Although each employee performs at a superior level, there isn’t any competition between them. “We all work together as equals and as a team,” says Perillo, who offers full medical benefits to her employees.

This team, plus the chic décor and services, make this salon one of the sweetest around.


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