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Business Observer Friday, Feb. 17, 2017 2 years ago

Gain a foothold

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People once thought Mark Schlossberg was crazy for wanting to launch a nail salon. Now he's fielding national interest from potential franchisees.
by: Beth Luberecki Contributing Writer

Mark Schlossberg sold his successful Huntington Learning Center franchise in Bethesda, Md., to spend more time with his family.

With no clock to punch and more time on his hands he even accompanied his wife, Michele, to nail appointments. And that's where he saw a business opportunity. All her options were either a no-frills strip mall salon or high-end spa. Nothing in between. “I just thought to myself, there is a gap in the market,” he says.

The couple moved to Sarasota four years ago, and the idea for a different approach to manicures and pedicures began to percolate. “Michele and I were sitting around looking at each other and I said, 'What about the nail idea?'” he recalls. “And everyone said, 'You don't know anything about nails; you're crazy.'”

But Mark Schlossberg persisted, and after more research, eventually Michele came on board. No longer crazy, their business, the Paint Nail Bar in downtown Sarasota, will not only be celebrating its
second anniversary in March, but the business is also embarking on a franchising plan to bring Paint Nail Bars to other cities nationwide.

Franchising wasn't part of the couple's original strategy. They saw the potential for additional locations but thought they'd own and run them. “But we didn't realize how quickly we'd grow and how busy we would be, and how critical the owner involvement is with the clientele and staff,” says Michele Schlossberg, who was previously a regional account manager for Clinique. “By stretching us across multiple locations, we'd lose that.”

Clients have quickly embraced Paint's positioning and philosophy. Visually, the salon blends comfort with elegance, with clean white walls, wood accents, and chandeliers hanging over velvety armchairs in the pedicure area. Paint matches that high style with high safety standards, using an autoclave to sterilize metal instruments, painting nails with polishes free of formaldehyde and toluene and opting against jetted foot tubs that can harbor bacteria.

But the Schlossbergs wanted this combination of safety and luxury to remain affordable. Prices start at $20 for an express manicure. That's the middle ground opportunity Mark Schlossberg recognized between cheap nail joints and pricey spas. And when out-of-town customers started asking how they could get a Paint Nail Bar in their hometowns, the couple took another look at franchising.

“We realized the franchise model could work really well because the owner is then present and involved,” says Michele Schlossberg. “It allows Paint to be in many more places than just us in a few locations ourselves.”

Despite interest from some 70 potential franchisees, the Schlossbergs are taking things slowly and prioritizing the right fit over an easy dollar. “We've decided that we will not sell more than eight franchises this year even if we can, because we ethically can't support more than that,” says Mark Schlossberg.

The couple is in talks with several potential partners, with locations likely in Fort Myers and Tampa, in addition to Long Island, N.Y., Charlotte, Dallas and the Washington, D.C., area.

The Schlossbergs have come a long way from the days when they couldn't get space to rent or find technicians to hire because no one understood their unproven idea.

“We've had people ask us, 'What's the secret?'” says Mark Schlossberg. “Customer service: It's not rocket science. You're not going into the nail business, you're going into the relationship business.”

The Schlossbergs also believe in making Paint's staff a priority. They offer frequent training opportunities and a salary structure that includes an hourly rate, commissions and gratuities that allows technicians to make more money than they might through the typical nail salon 50-50 split.

The Schlossbergs didn't disclose revenue figures. But they point out that they have 18 people on staff and are doing more than 100 services a day — almost triple the metrics a consultant told them to expect. Embracing social media and forging relationships with local boutiques, wedding planners and other businesses have helped fuel their growth.

“A lot of nail salons are receiverships; they open and they wait,” says Mark Schlossberg. “Well, we don't. We're not a nail salon — we're an experience salon.”

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