On an industrialized street filled with carpet cleaner and window businesses in Mount Vernon, New York, a bubble machine is going full blast. It sparks not only the curiosity of passing pedestrians but also establishes the fun atmosphere of our featured business this week, The Party Nail, founded and solely operated by Victoria Gasparro.
As a true solo entrepreneur, Victoria runs the entire business on her own. On one hand, this comes with added responsibilities and often stress from carrying the weight of your business on your shoulders. On the other hand, you are your own boss, create your own hours, and have the creative freedom to shape the future of your business. In this week’s episode, Victoria shares what it means to not only own a business but to also be the business.
“I’ve always wanted my own nail salon—since the moment I walked into my first nail salon at the age of 15,” Victoria said. She created The Party Nail to fulfil that dream and to fill a hole that she saw in the industry—a place she wanted as a consumer but couldn’t quite find. Clients at The Party Nail receive a one-on-one catered experience where they can “sit in silence, request the movie or television show of choice, work remotely, or they are more than welcome if they need to bring their child in.” The salon even has a children’s play area specifically for them. “As a single mom, early in my son’s life, it was quite a challenge to bring him into the average nail salon,” Victoria said. “I wanted to build in and marry all of the industries that I’ve worked in my life with my business.”
Along with a curated experience, Victoria also sets out to make each and every client feel special. Our Yelp reviewer Naomi Y. experienced and felt that. “The best thing about walking in there was being greeted by my name. She knew that my appointment was coming up. She knew that I was the one coming in. And after being greeted, she continued to make me feel welcome, asking, ‘Can I get you a glass of wine, tea, or coffee?’ You name it,” Naomi said. “She wanted to know how she could make the experience great for you from the moment you walked in.”
Greeting people by their name is a simple act that can heighten their experience exponentially. Although not every business model is set up for this, try to make your interactions with your customers as personalized as possible. It will stick with them and help you stand out. Making sure that you are giving customers something of value is another essential for success. Even at a higher price point, if a client believes that they are getting value for the money they are spending, they are much more likely and happy to make the spend. Naomi sums it up nicely, “We want to feel valued—no matter how much money we have—we want to feel value. For me, I felt that value immediately. I honestly didn’t even care what the final cost was. And for me, it’s rare not to think about that. But the experience was so above my expectations, I felt prepared to give her whatever she asked for.”
As a business, that’s an incredibly unique position to be in—to provide a service that is of such high quality and value that customers aren’t concerned with the price. “Just because I am not the average nail salon, that doesn’t mean that I cannot operate as I see fit as an entrepreneur,” Victoria said. “So you don’t have to follow the crowd. Just be true to yourself, and everything will fall into place.”
Here are a few other learnings from our first featured solo entrepreneur:
Success in business looks different. A successful business doesn’t always mean it has to have multiple locations or many employees. There is no standardized model or path that you have to take for growth—just stay true to yourself and your personal goals.
Check in with your customers. Don’t wait until the end of a transaction to ask the customer how they liked it or if your product or service met their expectations. Check in along the way. Victoria gauges her client’s “satisfaction temperature” between each step of the process. It’s one of the most intentional ways to ensure that the customer is happy.
Take time to support other inspiring business owners. Think back to when you were just starting out. What challenges did you face? Was it difficult to break into the industry that you’re now in? For Victoria, she found it incredibly difficult to break into the nail space. Now she hopes to offer training to help other artists break into the industry. If you’re lucky enough to have found success, think about how you can pay it forward.
Listen to the episode below to hear directly from Victoria and Naomi, and subscribe to Behind the Review for more from new business owners and reviewers every Thursday.
Behind the Review, episode 27 transcript The solo entrepreneur experience
EMILY: I’m Emily Washcovick, Yelp’s Small Business Expert. Every week I pick one review on Yelp and talk to the entrepreneur … and the reviewer … about the story and business lessons behind it. This week we feature our first solopreneur, Victoria Pharrell, founder of the Party Nail. Victoria operates every aspect of her business on her own—without the assistance of any staff or employees whatsoever. Her unique experiences as a solopreneur is one of many insights we’ll discuss today.
Lets see what’s behind this week’s review.
NAOMI : It’s nice. It’s just really like the best part of walking in there, I think all that stuff is actually secondary. The best thing about walking in there for me was being greeted by my name, like, hi Naomi. She knew that my appointment was coming up. She knew that I was the one coming in. It’s only her right? And she was like, welcome Naomi. Can I get you a glass of wine? Who doesn’t love that? You know? Can I get you a cup of tea or coffee? You name it. She was like, how can I make this experience great for you from the moment you walk in?
And I’m like, well, that’s nice. You know, most nail salons you walk into, it’s just pick a color, sit down, and we’ll get to you in a second, you know? 10 minutes, but it’s really 45. And you’re just like, oh my god, what? It’s a completely different experience.
EMILY:That’s Naomi. She’s telling me about her experience with The Party Nail—that is unique in many ways. One of which is that it’s a nail salon creating custom and private experiences for every client. Let’s hear Naomi’s review.
NAOMI: Let me tell you, this is about to be the best nail experience of your life. Walking into this place, Victoria greets you by name and offers you a glass of wine, hookah, tea, say what?? This blonde bombshell proceeds to treat you like you are a queen and she is there to make your experience the best you’ve had. And she succeeds.
Funny and easy to talk to. I felt like I knew her for years. Not only does she do a great job on your nails, but you feel like she’s doing it from her home. I love supporting women doing what they love and doing it well. Her vibes are genuine and she’s done an amazing job at creating a space for women to relax, unwind, and be pampered.
Just go. You will not be disappointed.
EMILY: A completely custom and private experience at a nail salon is definitely not commonplace. Most nail salons I’ve been to seem to survive on volume. It’s why you’re always told there’s a five minute wait, then end up waiting 15 or 20. Let’s hear from founder Victoria, on how The Party Nail came to be and why she decided to mix up the market with a unique offering
VICTORIA: It’s a boutique style nail salon and by appointment only experience. I’ve been working on this project for about seven years. I’ve always wanted my own nail salon since the moment I walked into my first nail salon at the age of 15. It was just a matter of time before the project enveloped. I am a sole owner and operator, so I do work alone. And The Party Nail for me is an expression. The business model itself is to provide a safe space. And in a by appointment environment so that there are minimal distractions.
My clients can sit in utter silence or they can request the movie or television show of choice. It is quiet, so if they need to work remotely, or if they need to bring their child in, which is also a very important aspect of my business is that children are more than welcome here in the salon.
I do set out a children’s play area specifically for them. As a single mom, early in my son’s life, it was quite a challenge to bring him into the average nail salon. Even though he was well-behaved, we all know that it’s not normally the perfect setting for a child. So yeah, I wanted to build in and marry all of the industries that I’ve worked in my life with my salon. So that being music, hospitality, and now beauty. So merging all of them. I developed this party pampering, escape.
EMILY: Victoria started The Party Nail to serve clients who had similar experiences to her own. Having kids with you at a nail salon for example was something she struggled with, so she created a safe place for her clients to feel like they were able and welcome to bring their kids along. But that doesn’t diminish the overall experience. Afterall, Victoria prides herself on creating that relaxing space.
VICTORIA: My salon stands on a very industrialized street. There isn’t much foot traffic here. Mostly industrial, carpet cleaner, and window businesses. So that’s what you see, right away when you get to this street, but then hidden is the Party Nail. And what I’ve done is set out a bubble machine that creates this secret hideaway feeling and vibe so that people who are driving or walking by, they’re very curious as it sparks intrigue.
And then once you walk in and I will say, I do keep the door closed. There is a clear sign that says nails are in session, again, to maintain privacy and intimacy. But once that door opens, you walk in, and unveiled is this pink, beautiful ceiling with chandelier hanging above and you just feel immediately captured by the tool that’s hanging down and the plethora of nail polish colors. You can create your own fantasy with your nails, and you could sit down and relax in a very, very comfortable massage chair while you get your pedicure.
I was able to build out this space specifically to satisfy the client’s needs. So it’s really what I’ve done here is pictured and put myself in my client’s shoes and said, what do I want when I walk into a nail salon? So through all of those years of firsthand trial and error, experiencing it myself, I made sure every nook and cranny in here was optimally designed and placed.
EMILY: Putting yourself in your client’s shoes is advice we’ve heard echoed time and time again on Behind the Review. For many of you, getting into business was about serving the customer in a way you thought the market didn’t currently offer, right?
Something I found interesting was how difficult breaking into the industry was for Victoria. Particularly finding a place where she could learn and train. This is now something that she hopes to offer others who are interested in the industry, but she understands that adding more people isn’t necessarily a true measure of success and growth.
VICTORIA: So The Party Nail itself, long-term is a brand mission. My goal is to expand The Party Nail brand, whether it be additional nail salon locations or expanding into other industries with my brand.
Right now I am solely operating and I would like to offer training opportunities to other artists because that was quite a struggle for me getting into the industry, is a salon to accept apprenticeships. So eventually I would like to offer that. I want to make sure I have a well-oiled machine before I move into that direction.
But the truth of the matter is I really enjoy working alone. I really enjoy the intimacy I have with my clients with every visit. Obviously the fact that I could remain in control and pivot my business where I see fit, as I see fit, without having to consult with another person is definitely glorious.
EMILY: Ensuring her business is running like a well oiled machine before considering growth is smart! In some ways you’ll never be fully prepared for everything when you expand your business or open a second location—the same way you couldn’t prepare for everything that comes with entrepreneurship. But measuring success merely by the number of employees or locations you have is a short sighted view. Expanding before you’re ready can cause more chaos than opportunity. And currently, Victoria has a pretty incredible experience going that not only works for her but most importantly makes the customer feel welcome and valued.
And if Victoria is honest, she likes operating solo! Here she is sharing a bit on entrepreneurship and advice for those thinking of starting their own business.
VICTORIA: I’ll be honest with you as a solopreneur, my ambition really was driven by, I’m a rule breaker. I had a very challenging time following rules in corporate America in terms of also being respected, as a successful person, but also as a person whose integrity is everything. And I can’t necessarily follow rules that are unethical. So it was important for me to have my own business. So I made sure everything that happens here is ethical and with integrity.
Also, I’m a very social person. For the solopreneur out there who’s thinking about, should I go into business or should I not? I integrated my personality into my business. So this is work for me. You’re conducting day-to-day business. What you put in is what you get out. So it’s a direct result and whether good or bad you have to roll with the punches. So I think, if I wanted to convey a message, it is, make sure that what you choose to do is something that suits your personality so that it doesn’t feel like a job, cause the last thing you want to do is be in a job that you created for yourself and you’re not happy.
Definitely do your research a thousand times over. And again, there are 400,000 nail salons in the United States, and I just want to be that one nail salon that you could take away and take with you for a lifetime away. So even if you’re not from the area and you come here and it’s treated like a novelty experience, that’s okay with me too.
So it’s all about making an impression on someone’s life.
EMILY: And we’re back! Naturally running a business on your own comes with limitations. Victoria knows this and sets measures in place to ensure operations still flow smoothly. Her appointment and deposit policies are meant to protect her as well as guide her customers to best practice behaviors that benefit everyone. For small business owners listening, think about what policies you may put in place to protect your employees as well.
VICTORIA: The importance of my policies is to obviously set a guideline and to publicize that I definitely mean business. And because I’m offering such an elaborate personalized experience, it is very important that my clients arrive in a timely manner. And that their scheduled appointments stay committed to.
And the thing about the deposit, it’s a way of shaking hands with my client. It’s a way of saying I’m going to be there at nine o’clock. You’re going to be there at nine o’clock and everyone’s satisfied.
EMILY: Opening a business and embarking on the journey of entrepreneurship has a long list of challenges, and at the end of the day, any industry has a learning curve. It takes time! And you can’t possibly know everything, especially as you get started. But that doesn’t mean you can’t learn, grow, and evolve.
Something that’s core to Victoria’s business model is to create a safe space for everyone. For her, each client is an opportunity to better the world and make it a happier place.
VICTORIA: I’ve always been very strong and adamant about equality. Personally growing up I’ve witnessed way too much bullying. I’ve been a strong advocate with my younger family members, you know how to consult them, and make sure that they’re not being brought down by any one person.
I also have family members in the transgender space. So they’ve also enlightened me and I’ve learned so much for them in terms of what their preferences are and so forth. And I think as a business, it’s very important to integrate that and accommodate all types of people, from all walks of life.
And my business model itself is actually, ‘beautiful nails have no gender or race.’ So again, beautiful nails, they’re mesmerizing, self care, and an approach that can fulfill the fantasy of any person, regardless of what your gender or race is. Beautiful nails always catch the eye. And if it brings a smile to the person, who’s complimenting them, or the person who’s receiving the compliment, I think that just builds a better life and a better world for all.
EMILY: From the personalized experience, the warm welcoming space, to the business owner’s passion, the Party Nail is not your average nail salon. And while Victoria’s slogan ‘beautiful nails have no gender or race’ is specific to her industry and service, that can apply to any business! Do you make an effort to serve and accommodate customers with diverse backgrounds?
A few years ago Yelp teamed up with Open To All and started giving business owners a free way to identify that they’re open to serving people of all backgrounds.
For Naomi, these elements coupled together makes the experience worth it.
Naomi: We want to feel valued, no matter how much money we have, we want to feel value. So for me, I felt that value immediately. I honestly didn’t even care what she said at the end.
She was tallying up. It cost this, this, this, and I wasn’t even thinking about it. I was like, I’m going to give her whatever she asks for, you know? And so for me not to think about that is rare.
EMILY: It’s an incredibly unique position to not care about the price at the end as a customer. It means that the experience was so special and made you feel so valued that any amount is worth it. Naomi was happy with the way she was treated and the nail quality she received, so she shared that experience! She also cares about helping those looking for great businesses to support. And for her, it’s about more than just the words. It’s about the visuals too.
NAOMI: I’m basically writing what I’m looking for, which is just a little bit of humor. I like to keep it light. What I’m looking for is for someone to tell me, the details about why the experience was good is important to me. Settling down, we spoke with her, and the conversation was easy.
And, the picture is everything for me. I literally will not go to a restaurant that I cannot find pictures of their food and not like their professional photos, but pictures that people took in the restaurant. Same with nails. If I don’t see a picture of the nails from the salon, I won’t go. I won’t take a chance. I need to see the pictures and the pictures are important to me.
So I was like, let me post a picture because it’s important for me to see one.
EMILY: Victoria understands the power of reviews, and she believes that she impacts them by checking in with clients throughout their service.
VICTORIA: Reviews for me are a testimony of what I believe in, in my business model. So instead of it coming from me, I definitely appreciate hearing it from my party nail-imals known as my clients themselves. It’s important for me to really understand and gauge my client’s needs once they arrive. Especially first time visitors, you know, gauge the type of colors they normally like, gauge the type of length they like on their nails, gauge the type of treatment they like on their feet. So asking questions and inquiring with my clients is one of the most important and first-hand things that I do. I think for me, reviews are a reflection of my business. And most importantly, it is a way for me to always work, to improve my services and my business.
EMILY: But customers aren’t always satisfied. And Victoria knows how to engage those clients as well.
VICTORIA: I mean at the end of the day, as hard as I try, there’s always going to be a client that’s not satisfied, you know, for one reason or another. It’s funny because I’m very open with my clients as well. And I do create that dialogue and I started conversations and friendships with my clients. So it’s not like, oh, you know, you had a bad day, so you decided you want to take it out on me and my service. But, you know, I really like to hear them out.
That’s the only thing is important to again, engage with your client and every so often ask them how they’re doing. And between each step of my process, I asked how are you doing? How are you feeling? Are you feeling okay? How do you like the shape? How do you like the color so far? You know, I try to check in with them and take their temperature, their satisfaction temperature, I should say. And just to, again, gauge where we’re at in my process and where we’re at and their satisfaction level.
EMILY: Checking in with your customers throughout the process, especially in a service based business, is a great way to get ahead of frustrations or misunderstandings with customers. Victoria makes sure to verbally ask her customers if they’re ok with the color, length, and shape as she works on a client’s nails. This makes them feel more comfortable to share what they feel so Victoria can make it right.
To close us out, I wanted to share a bit of Victoria’s insights on entrepreneurship and how she sees herself and her business.
VICTORIA: I just hope to promote, to alleviate tension and hesitation, because it’s about the education process. When people see me here by myself, they wonder how she does all this by herself? And they asked me to be very upfront and blunt.
They’re like, how are you doing this? And again, nothing is impossible when you put your mind to it. And just because I am not the average nail salon, that doesn’t mean that I cannot operate as I see fit as an entrepreneur. So you don’t, and again, I’ve always been like, you don’t have to follow the crowd, just be true to yourself, and everything will fall into place.