If They Could See Her Now...

Many us live by the adage, “If life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” For Cathryn Myers, owner of The Nail Shop of Carrollwood in Tampa, Fla., life gave her a lemon, and she made a salon instead. Actually, two successful salons.

Many us live by the adage, “If life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” For Cathryn Myers, owner of The Nail Shop of Carrollwood in Tampa, Fla., life gave her a lemon, and she made a salon instead. Actually, two successful salons.

Myers’ knack for business and her understanding of what it takes to sell a product or service made it easy work for her to build her nail salon business. The Nail Shop of Carrollwood stands today as a monument to her business-building skills, with 16 technicians, all with full books, in an upscale section of Tampa. But it took a smack on the head with a big, sour lemon to get her there.

After some coursework at a junior college in Illinois, Myers moved to Denver when she was 20 years old and began her career in sales. “I sold print advertising at a newspaper, then became sales manager at a large health club in Denver. It didn’t matter where or what I was selling; I found there is one rule to being good at it, and that is to find out what the customers want: and find a way to give it to them,” Myers says.

Give it she did: At the health club, she increased the club’s sales of membership packages more than threefold, from an average of $80,000 per month to more than $300,000. With commissions, she was getting $5,000 -$6,000 monthly paychecks. To “reward” her and her staff for the phenomenal increase in revenue, the club’s management moved Myers to a straight salary of $2,500 per month, eliminated her commission, and cut the rest of her staff’s commission in half. “My paychecks shocked my employers. They told me, ‘That is too much money for a kid your age. You are making more than I am and I am twice your age.’ Not only did they cut my commission and pay, but they also decreased my territory,” Myers recalls.

It was a sign to Myers. “I decided then that I was only going to get ahead by owning my own business,” says Myers. She investigated many fields through friends and acquaintances who owned their own businesses, one of who happened to be in the nail industry. “A friend of a friend was a nail technician, actually,” she says, “and she worked with me much like a consultant. She explained how she structured her business and what kind of money could be made. I was impressed, to say the least,” Myers says.


Making The Big Move From Sales To Nails


Rather than planning merely to run a business that happened to sell nail services, Myers immersed herself in nails by starting from the ground up. She attended nail school and passed her state board exam in Colorado. Myers finds that this is to her advantage, rather than being a salon owner who handles just the business and hires nail technicians to take care of the technical work. “This industry is so specific as far as the tie between the business and the technology is concerned. I feel that I have a definite advantage because I can train my staff in business-building and in proper technique. This is especially important when you are hiring new nail technicians. Otherwise, it would be like trying to teach someone about something you learned from a book without having any practical yourself,” Myers says.

However, the state of licensing in Colorado at the time did little to prepare her for work in a salon, and it was up to her to get all the information she needed. “Colorado didn’t require nail technicians to be licensed to apply artificial nails, only to perform manicures. The schools didn’t address artificial applications, so I had to learn by experimenting on myself, willing schoolmates, and walk-ins to the nail school who I talked into trying artificial nails. I drew pictures of my clients’ bands on notecards and made notes to keep track of any lifting problems, breakage, and polish color preferences, I used them to evaluate my work so I could learn from my mistakes.” Myers says. Although it was a long haul — it initially took her three hours to do a lull set — when she finished school she had 20 regular clients and was ready to work in a salon.

Getting the swing of selling and making deals in the nail industry, Myers made her First big pitch to salon owners for her first job doing nails. She structured a payment arrangement and proceeded to approach willing salon owners to see if they would bite. Two didn’t want to relinquish any control of inventory choices, her work hours, or access to their salons, but the third time was a charm. That salon owner agreed to a whopping 80/20 commission split in her favor on nail services, and 100% of retail and nail art sales. In return, she furnished him with a report and commission check at the end of each month. Myers says, “He told me that his salon focused primarily on hair, and since he thought nail technicians were ‘flaky,’ my plan was agreeable because he didn’t want to be bothered with setting up bookkeeping for a new employee.”

Today, Myers has put together a similar compensation system for her nail technicians that ensures financial success for both the nail technicians and the salon. “I want my nail technicians to work here forever, and I want to structure my business so they can do that. A new hire works on commission for two months; the split is 70/30, with 70% going to the nail technician. She is paid weekly and keeps track of all money that comes in to her. After two months, she goes to booth rental,” she says.

Myers’ philosophy is that new nail technicians, especially those right out of school, don’t have a clientele, and most of their income initially is spent on big one-time purchases, like electric files and sanitation systems. Therefore, Myers wants to give that technician a chance to get on her feet and build her business. “If a technician is new to an area, she needs some time to build her clientele so she can start to pay rent. She should be able to do that in two months,” says Myers.

Myers displayed her knack for building clientele, a subject she now lectures on at nail tradeshows, in earning business for her first job as a nail technician. Through her own marketing blitz, she netted 105 regular clients in 90 days. Myers explains; “From the beginning I told everyone that I had a nail business. I purchased my own ad in the local newspaper. I put my business cards in the envelope with my bill payments, and I handed them out at the drive-through window at fast-food restaurants, banks, dry cleaners — everywhere. I knew from working in sales that it is a numbers game, and the more people you talk to, the more people are going to know about you. I left business-cards in restaurants with women who wailed on my table and with every woman I saw who had her nails done.

“Every time I spotted a potential client with a bad nail job, I would say to her, ‘You know, I can fix those for you.’ I would often do what I called a ‘corrective fill’ at a discounted price to prove my skills. I used my skills from sales and went into office buildings to offer free or discounted services in exchange for referrals from the secretaries and receptionists. I looked for ads in the paper placed by female’ business owners and sent them a letter with my business card.”

Myers and her nail technicians work together to build their clientele. “At our monthly meetings, we discuss who wants to work on getting more clients. Then we discuss possible promotions or discounts that might work. One thing we do is find a particular nail technician’s specialty, whether it’s a particular service, such as fiberglass, or a type of problem nail, such as extending on bitten nails,” Myers explains.

Another way technicians at The Nail Shop of Carrollwood get clients is through a yellow pages ad Myers created herself. “It’s the largest ad for a nail salon in the telephone book, so I think that is a plus. But what is really great about it is that when a new client calls in, she goes into our automated phone system.

Bring that she doesn’t have a nail technician yet, it sends the call to a separate line that rings a chime on the wall. The nail technicians know that there is a call coining from a new client, and a nail technician looking for more clients can lake the call,” Myers says.


On The Road To Salon Ownership


The first of Myers’ salons was Cathryn’s Nail Designs in Denver. Being that office space was less expensive than retail space, she rented a 900-square-foot office in a building that faced a main thoroughfare with ample parking. Financing for the start-up came mostly from money she’d saved doing nails. “I worked long hours — 12 hours a day, seven days a week — and I socked it all away” Myers says. “I did my own painting, traded out the wallpaper, and the carpeting and electricity came with the lease. Everything else went on my VISA card. It took only three months to pay back the money I owed on it,” she says. The salon grew quickly. In 1988, eight nail technicians worked full time at the salon, but she and her husband decided to move to Tampa. The salon sold in only two weeks.

Profits from the sale of Cathryn’s Nail Designs was the capital she used to start up the first The Nail Shop of Carroll-wood. The profits from that location financed her expansion to the newest location. The new-and-improved The Nail Shop of Carroll-wood opened its doors for business boasting six nail technicians in a high-traffic shopping center. The business grew, and so did the staff. “In 18 months, I had nine nail technicians working in 800 square feet,” Myers says.

The present location is twice the size of the shop’s previous location, and is in the same shopping center. The staff grew to 16, including an esthetician. “I had a spare room that I was saving for some kind of additional service, but I had no firm plans for it. An esthetician came in and I hired her, but she didn’t work out. Then I hired a massage therapist, but she didn’t work out, either. Finally, a third person (another esthetician) came in looking for work. She was right out of school and very professional. She’s worked out great; she keeps very busy,” Myers says.

Myers chose to locate her Florida salons in Carrollwood, as it is one of the more exclusive areas of Tampa, and its residents are known for having a fair amount of disposable income. They fall into the 25-45 age range and tend to be more liberal with their spending habits, Myers’ experience has shown. The shopping center where her salon is located is in an ideal place. “It is very accessible. All of the highways are very close; a client anywhere in Tampa can get here in a half-hour, and I have some clients from as far away as St. Petersburg and Clearwater, which is an hour away from Tampa,” she says.

The biggest focus at The Nail Shop of Carrollwood is keeping clients happy with their nails. “The most important policy we have here is that nail technicians are responsible for performing repairs at no charge for breaks between fills. To make sure that a client can come in and be assured of getting her nail fixed, we have a buddy system. The nail technicians who sit next to one another are buddies, and if one is out, the other can fix any breaks,” Myers says. This accomplishes two things, she says. Besides keeping clients happy and letting them know the salon cares about the work they do, it encourages nail technicians to do better work. “The nail technicians are motivated to be careful when doing prop work and laying product in order to minimize the number of clients who will need to get repairs between fills,” she explains. Myers doesn’t charge for the repairs, reasoning that it isn’t worth it. “If you nickel-and-dime your clients on repairs, it makes them think about whether or not to come back. Granted, it’s a really small thing for a client to get upset about and actually leave. The repair is only a couple of bucks, so eat it,” Myers says.

When in dire straits, the salon has a solution for clients who need extensive repairs. “It’s a modification of the corrective fill that I used to do when I did nails in Denver. We still call it a corrective fill; it’s for clients who just aren’t happy with their nails or who are having a lot of breaks. Even if we have to completely redo the nails, we will because it is what will keep the client,” Myers explains.


Just The Right Kick In The Pants


Even though the smack on the head from the health club smarted, Myers does not begrudge the club managers’ actions. Because she could use her sharp business sense in numerous industries, Myers knew that her salons skills would keep her successful. “Now that I have my salon, I look at it as a blessing in disguise. I proved that I could do it over and over,” Myers says.

She believes that the nail industry is especially well-suited for her. Her sales style emphasizes customer service, and, Myers says, “In the salon, doing nails is nothing but customer service. That is behind everything I do. Trying to convince the customer to pay for a more expensive service just to get the money is wrong because she will figure it out eventually. I have talked more clients out of acrylics and into natural nails than the other way around, and that is what is best for both me and my client in the long run. It is much easier to give someone what they want than to convince them to buy something they really don’t want. It is a mistake to look at your clients as dollar figures walking through the door, because they will pick up on that. Every time a client conies through your door, they think about whether or not they want to come back again. This is true no matter how many times they have come already or how long they have been your regular client.”

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