The New Breed of Nail Spa

From the cities to the suburbs, the new breed of nail spa offers an environment in which quality of service and decor are impeccable but prices are not improbable. The high standards to which sanitation is held and the new professional status given to nail technicians are helping the modern nail spa gain a respectable reputation and make a lucrative profit. Here, we highlight four nail spas that are raising the bar.

Owner Ji Baek in Rescue's relaxation area
Owner Ji Baek in Rescue's relaxation area

Rescue Nail Spa

Rescue Nail Spa, which has three locations in Manhattan, is known for being the "it" place to get a manicure and pedicure in New York City. But according to owner Ji Baek, it's not just the decor of soothing earth tones or the painted flowers on pedicures that puts Rescue on the map. It's the quality of the services and those performing them. "Our focus is on health and education," says Baek. "We don't put orange peels or rose petals in the water because they don't do anything for the client's skin. We've never done acrylics, and we don't believe in them. We have a grueling process for the staff-they never get a client until they've passed my test, and they must have a license. It might take staff members two weeks or more to pass the test before they can work on any clients. The highest level in my book doesn't exist. If they can do a manicure perfectly in seven minutes, then let's see if they can do it in five. I don't care what is on their résumés.quot;
Manicures are performed at a long table at Rescue.
Manicures are performed at a long table at Rescue.

Rescue carries its own brand of nail polish in 28 classic shades. The front of the nail spa features a high-end, eclectic retail area, which is influenced by Baek's own personal interests. "Our retail area is very reflective of me," she says. "Clients would ask me where I found the T-shirt or earrings I was wearing, so I thought, 'Why not sell them here?'

Rescue's pedicure area
Rescue's pedicure area

I carry everything from Cosabella underwear to La Mer skincare to great unknown jewelry designers."

Mani/Pedi Nail Spa

Doesn't hanging out and having drinks with friends at a laid-back beach house while indulging in manicures and pedicures sound like a great way to celebrate a birthday or upcoming wedding? That was the thought of Kelly Hensley, owner of Mani/Pedi Nail Spa, which has two locations in San Francisco. "The minute you walk in the door you know you are in a different type of place," says Hensley. The decor at Mani/Pedi Nail Spa is quite similar to a classic beach house, which is what Hensley wanted. Fresh air, fresh flowers, open doors, and fans keep the spa feeling and smelling like a day at the beach. Built-in window seats with big cushions and foot stools invite clients to sit and relax. Hensley purposely stayed away from any professional merchandising displays to keep the place clutter-free. "And we don't use any cheesy stereotypical posters," she says. "We want clients to feel like they are in [someone's] home."
Even the outside of Mani/Pedi gives off  a beach house vibe.
Even the outside of Mani/Pedi gives off a beach house vibe.

While looking to throw a bridal mani-pedi party a few years ago, Hensley realized that her only choice of venues was either very expensive high-end spas that would run $150 a person or cheap nail places that wouldn't accommodate parties. "When I opened Mani/Pedi Nail Spa, I decided to welcome parties and only charge $45 per person [for both a manicure and a pedicure]," she says. "Our prices are more affordable than high-end spas, our clients love our decor, our entire staff is licensed, and we have insurance, which most [of the cheaper nail salons] do not." The private party aspect, especially the bridal party, has become huge, according to Hensley. Mani/Pedi offers Day Time Parties and After Hours Parties, in which up to 12 guests can be serviced at a time. The Day Time Party is not exclusive of other people being in the nail spa, while the After Hours Party consists of renting out the entire space after business hours at a cost of $500. Guests can bring wine, champagne, even margarita blenders. "This has become so popular for bridal parties, birthdays, and company Christmas parties," she says. Mani/Pedi carries 350 polish shades from OPI, Essie, and Color Magic. About 5 percent of Mani/Pedi's business comes from acrylics, but the spa is slowly trying to wean it off the menu. About 10 percent of sales are retail, which includes unique jewelry, handbags, and gifts from local artists.

Dashing Diva

Imagine a nail emporium of sorts, where one could choose from more than 100 predecorated styles of nails in the front retail area or have a custom-fit artificial or natural manicure in the spa area. That is Dashing Diva, which opened in New York City in October. "What's different about Dashing Diva is the look and feel of the environment," says president Vincent Butta. "This is like the coffee industry before Starbucks. We've taken the nail business and turned it into a spa and retail environment that allows clients to both shop and get a nail service in one place." The retail area covers everything from high-quality Dashing Diva nail polish to nail art products to treatment products. According to Butta, Dashing Diva has a large clientele who wants artificial nails. "The key product is Virtual Nail, a customized set of artificial nails," he says. "There are more than 200 sizes and shapes, which are then sized to fit the client by the nail technician. Dashing Diva Inc. manufactures 70 percent of the world's design nails." Dashing Diva offers customers a few options when it comes to artificial nails. They can choose from Tailor Fit, predecorated artificial nails that are glued on and last up to three weeks; One Touch, pre-glued artificial nails that last for a night or two; Elements Nail Treatment line; Art Tips extensions; and more.
Dashing Diva's hip pedicure area features seven stations.
Dashing Diva's hip pedicure area features seven stations.

Dashing Diva reaches a balance between retail and service by concentrating the retail area in the front, the reception area in the center, and the service area in the rear. "The spa offers eleven manicure stations, seven pedicure stations, and a waxing area," says Butta. "Everything is very clean and hip but not trendy-similar to the style of Sephora. The floor in the retail area is a cool, iridescent magenta pink tile. The spa decor utilizes the same flooring in a checkered raspberry pattern, and the pedicure area is shrouded in frosted iridescent glass."

A basic manicure costs $10 to $25, depending on whether the nails are natural or artificial. Currently about 30 percent of Dashing Diva's revenue comes from retail and 70 percent from the spa, but Butta is hoping for a 50/50 ratio in the near future. "Our core demographic is women ages eighteen to thirty-two who are fashion-oriented consumers. A good hair salon will have plenty of retail products that the professionals recommend to their customers. Nail salons haven't had that level of credibility. We want to create that credibility and are beginning by offering nail technicians full-time salaries, paid vacations, full benefits, commission on product sales, and the opportunity to be promoted to manager. Our long-term plan is to [open] twenty-five to thirty more stores around the country and then franchise Dashing Diva," says Butta.

Ab Natural Nails Bar

"Our new nail bar, which has been open for 14 months now, is part of a bigger repositioning," says Adam Broderick, owner of the Adam Broderick Salon and Spa in Ridgefield, CT, which houses the Ab Natural Nails Bar. "Formerly our nail area was very traditional with six stations in the front of the salon. It was very formal with Romanesque-era decor. Business was slow. We had mothers coming to us but not their daughters. The Asian nail salons changed how people thought of nails. Our nail business turnover wasn't great, nor was the smell from the acrylic nails. I began to research nail bars and found one that I liked, and I based our new design on it."
Ab Natural Nails Bar features a circular nail bar.
Ab Natural Nails Bar features a circular nail bar.

Decorated in beiges, browns, and neutrals with dark walnut wood and a tumbled marble floor, the new nail area is located in the back, past the retail and spa area. It has its own separate entrance for clients who want to pop in and out. The nail bar was designed with four distinct features. First, clients are seated around a nine-seat circular nail bar and the nail technicians sit on the inside of the circle facing out. There are also four pedicure stations. Second, the nail bar does not offer acrylic services. Third, clients must take off their own polish before the service begins. And finally, the service itself is a four-part process in which a different nail technician performs each step: hydration, maintenance, protection, and glamour. "Each step takes about five to eight minutes, with the manicure totaling about forty-five minutes and costing twenty-four dollars," explains Broderick. "We've reinvented the category in our town. Our nail bar emphasizes the client's relationship with other clients rather than with the nail technician. This allows the women to bond. And each client is put on an individual program for at-home care, which provides a great retail opportunity." The Ab Natural Nails Bar carries Mavala, Stila, and Nars.

Leaders of the Pack
Leaders of the Pack

According to Broderick, many clients were unhappy at first with his decision to discontinue acrylic nail services. "I explained to them that the toxicity of the products used [for acrylic nails] is in direct contradiction with our philosophy of health and wellness," he says. "We offered to remove their existing artificial nails if they wanted to try the natural nail route, and we referred those clients who continued to wear acrylics to other nail salons." Broderick says the nail technicians weren't too happy about the change either. "I convinced them to just try it out, and now they love it. I gave them a 15 percent raise, and I pay them hourly, not on commission. Our nail technicians like to be treated more as professionals, and their communication with the client is based more on nailcare."

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