Building a brand to cult status in just two years is a tough feat but Scottish entrepreneur Tamsin Koslowski has managed to do just that with her nail business NAF! Salon (Nails and Face) in Glasgow.
Since opening in 2015, Koslowski has cemented the salon’s reputation as the go-to place in Scotland for all things nail art, offering trend-led designs in a quirky, cutesy environment and boasting a database of more than 7,000 clients.
It’s a dream come true for the self-proclaimed Glasgow girl boss, but a far cry from her original idea for the business. “At first, I wanted to bring all the amazing mobile nail techs in Glasgow under one roof by renting chairs to them in what was going to be my nail emporium, but they each had their own expansion plans. So, I decided to open my own salon instead,” says Koslowski.
Inspired by forward-thinking tech Sharmadean Reid, who opened popular nail art salon Wah Nails in London, and spying a gap in the market to specialise in this service further north, Koslowski set about gaining manicure, pedicure, gel polish and acrylic qualifications, while also teaching herself how to create intricate nail patterns free hand.
“I watched tutorials on YouTube and Tumblr, teaching myself how to be really creative with polish,” she says. “At the same time, I was designing and manufacturing nail art decals, called DIY Nails, for big retailers like ASOS and Urban Outfitters, but I wanted to have my own salon.”
Hosting pop-ups with major retailers such as Topshop, Urban Outfitters and Debenhams helped raise the salon’s profile, and now Koslowski gets inundated with offers for collaborations – at least three a week. “I did everything at first because I was scared to turn stuff away but now I’m much more selective because these partnerships need to be mutually beneficial,” she says.
Although hosting a pop-up can give you big exposure, it comes with its challenges – namely time and expense, as Koslowski explains. “Brands don’t realise how much product or man power you’ll be using. They think, ‘Oh well, you’re only here for two hours’, but it’s much more than that. You’re taking staff who could be working on clients out of the salon, plus you need to factor in set-up and breakdown time, which is usually an hour each way.”
Her best advice for techs thinking of working with a leading brand is to ask what their budget is as “you need to be paid for the service you supply”, she says, adding, “I don’t cost our service per treatment but by a combination of how many techs the event will need (depending on the amount of people coming) and their hourly wage, plus how much stock they are going to use and the money I will lose from not being in the salon serving clients.”
”People focus on the bad side of the industry… It’s our job to educate clients on the intricacies of the treatments we provide”
Koslowski’s understanding of social media and how it can help build a business is another key part of her success, with a sassy, fun, millennial voice coming through on all of NAF!’s profiles. From posting humorous beauty memes to sharing videos of cool stuff going on in salon, Koslowski knows how to appeal to her early-20s-to-40s target market.
“My team and I plan what our feed looks like because it’s basically our online business card,” she says. “On Instagram, we work out what our next 12 pictures will be to make an aesthetically pleasing grid – so we create a rota where one image will be acrylics, the next a selfie, then a gel manicure, product shot, salon picture and so on.”
The salon never repeatedly posts about discounts or last-minute availability either, “as it makes people wonder why you’re not busy or why you’re hard discounting”, says Koslowski, and she advises techs to be smart, only putting these kinds of posts on Instagram Stories “as it’s only there for 24 hours and is the best way to reach people quickly”.
Each of Koslowski’s techs also has their own hashtag – #naf and then their name (#nafkimmie) so clients can easily search their work and pick a design. But Koslowski doesn’t just stick to what she knows, trialling different things and measuring the results to see what works.
“Recently, we did an exercise where we used fewer hashtags in our posts because I wanted to see if we were over-hashtagging. However, after looking at the analytics, our reach had dropped so the tags clearly work for us. These tests help you gauge what your followers like.”
2011 Koslowski teaches herself nail art while working as a fashion intern and visual merchandiser at Topshop
2012 Gains nail qualifications and starts taking on private clients, while also developing a range of nail art decals, DIY Nails, to sell online
2013 Goes full time with DIY Nails and secures Urban Outfitters, Nasty Gal, ASOS and Nordstrom as stockists
2015 Opens NAF! Salon in Glasgow City Centre with two employees
2016 Launches NAF! branded cuticle oils and a wholesale website for nail techs
2017 Wins Scratch Stars Nail Salon of the Year and Best Use of Social Media Awards
2018 Set to open the NAF! Academy and expand the NAF! product range
Having achieved so much, Koslowski now wants to pass on her knowledge to the next generation of techs. Her next big project will be NAF! Academy, set to launch in the summer of 2018. “I’ll be offering techs acrylic, gel polish and nail art courses but merging them with business modules, teaching them valuable skills such as how to use social media and set up a business from scratch,” she says.
The courses will have specialised tutors who only teach their area of expertise. For example, “if they have an amazing background in session work or are a master at one stroke, they’ll focus on that,” adds Koslowski, because she wants “to offer the best”. She also plans to launch an apprenticeship scheme alongside the academy, giving some techs who attend her courses the opportunity to put in salon hours.
Koslowski says she’ll also continue to work hard to educate clients on spotting modern slavery in the nail industry as she believes there’s still a lot that needs to be done to improve the industry’s reputation and remove the stigma associated with nail salons.
“People focus on the bad side of the industry – the nail salons that use electric drills on natural nails or do poor-quality acrylics and improper removals. It’s our job as trained professionals to stand our ground and educate clients on the intricacies of the treatments we provide,” she says.
“Qualified techs know how chemicals work together, understand skin and are aware of everything that could potentially go wrong. We tell every client exactly what we’re doing and why, while also posting blogs about issues such as the importance of correct gel polish removal and what that includes.”
Despite being a huge success, Koslowski says she occasionally encounters people who still have a very stereotyped view of the industry: “Some people still say to me, ‘How’s your wee nail salon going,’ and I’m like, ‘It’s not a wee nail salon, we have upwards of 200 clients per week that we look after.” Her message to others suffering from negativity like this: “Ignore it and shout about your achievements. Be proud of you.