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The Boss: How Nadine and Adair Reinvented the Manicure

6 minute read

In The Boss, successful women share how they reached the top and the lessons they learned along the way.

tenoverten was born out of our repeated frustrations with local New York City nail salons. We’d frequently get our nails done together after working at our day jobs and couldn’t help ourselves from complaining about the countless ways the typical nail salon experience in Manhattan fell short: zero customer service, even less concern for hygiene, fluorescent lighting and wholly uninspiring aesthetics. The list goes on. How could admittedly ‘specific’ (read: picky) New Yorkers such as ourselves stand to spend so much time in these uninspiring spaces?

We started to spend our nail salon appointments quietly brainstorming which elements could be incorporated to create a much better experience. It didn’t occur to us that we should be the ones to realize those ideas and open an elevated space. It was more of a game — if we owned this place, what would we do differently? Both happy in our jobs, it was only after a few glasses of wine one night that it hit us that we had developed a really compelling business idea, and we had to see it through.

It took us a year from that night to actually open the doors of our flagship location in Tribeca in New York City. Looking back over that first year, we’re struck by how resourceful we were considering that we didn’t know the first thing about opening a business. Because our space was under construction, we decided to host an open call for nail technicians and managers on the sidewalk in front of the building. Both of us had moved to the neighborhood by that point and didn’t think it was the least bit strange to conduct interviews at a folding table on a bustling block of West Broadway. On top of that, we didn’t have a place to get nail services done from the promising candidates we were meeting, so we convinced a beauty school in Midtown to let us use one of their classrooms and borrow some of their equipment for a couple of months free of charge.

For the startup capital, we were fortunate enough to raise money through friends and family. We created detailed financial models and projections to show prospective investors how much income we could generate by estimating how many services we could do in a given week, and accounted for variances based on the day. We’d both spent enough time in nail salons to know that it was much busier on a Friday than a Monday, and also that the seasons would play a factor in New York. In the dead of winter, far fewer customers would venture outside, much less take off their socks for a pedicure. We were pleased when we hit our revenue targets pretty quickly and despite underestimating our expenses rather significantly, we still managed to turn a profit in our first year in business.

We believed our idea would work because we had identified a gap in the marketplace, but we also had a lot of blind faith in ourselves and were naïve as to what exactly we were stepping into. We were passionate about bringing a piece of joy into New Yorker’s daily routines, and creating a new environment for nail services that mirror one’s home. We offered online booking, iPads at each manicure station, a range of high end nail polish brands to choose from and custom designed furniture. We were also behind the front desk six days a week for the first year we were open in order to ensure that we understood the business and to cater to our clients’ needs.

On opening day of our first salon on December 3, 2010 — with no heat and a tiny staff — nine customers walked through our door and we couldn’t have been prouder. Conceiving and opening the business was an incredible journey, and along the way we learned to be flexible, which is what we believe fueled us to keep opening more locations.

Another top priority for us was ensuring the health and safety of our staff, manicurists and clients. Our original business plan didn’t include a non-toxic component, but as we both had children, we were becoming increasingly aware of what we put on and in our bodies. Our personal journeys into natural beauty spilled over into our business and creating healthier nail salon environments became a driving force as we expanded to six salons over the years. We vowed never to offer gel and to strip as many chemicals from the salon manicure as possible.

While we think of our younger selves as particularly scrappy, we continue to learn on the job every day. From real estate leases to employee health benefits to digital advertising, we’ve realized that starting a business is far less about knowing how to do everything from the onset as it is about being dedicated to putting in the time and energy to learn. We’ve had to get comfortable with navigating unfamiliar territory on an almost daily basis.

We also launched our own line of non-toxic polishes out of our newfound passion for safer beauty products in 2012. At the time, most of the less toxic polish brands looked better suited for health food store shelves than a glamorous vanity. With Jaclyn Ferber, our partner and creative director, we created a line of nail polish and treatment products that are beautifully packaged and just as clean as they are chic. For the first few years we viewed the product line solely as a benefit to our customers in the salons, but recently we’ve dedicated more time and resources toward the product line and believe its continued growth will be a huge factor in scaling our company.

tenoverten has benefited from the fact that it’s evolved as we’ve evolved as people, friends, mothers and business owners. It astonishes us to think that we’ve become leaders in the natural nail care business — something that wasn’t even on our radar when we first started. We try to be as open to change as possible because we’ve seen how businesses get into trouble when they’re first to market but don’t innovate. Just like a manicure, it’s good to mix things up.

Nadine Abramcyk and Adair Ilyinsky are the co-founders of tenoverten, a modern chain of nail salons with a relaxed and social atmosphere whose mission it is to bring back the simple pleasure of getting manicures and pedicures in a non-toxic environment.

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