Tima Reshad on recruiting good techs and competing with non-standard nail businesses

There's no denying that nails are big business, and one salon that’s killing it in the industry right now is Coco Nail Bar, located on London’s vibrant Portobello Road. Owned by entrepreneur Tima Reshad, the business offers an experience instead of just treatments, with five-star customer service and client luxuries including sushi to order, Apple TV to watch with Sennheiser headphones, an on-site cocktail and coffee bar, resident DJ at the weekend and a choice of more than 600 polishes.

It’s this innovative concept that has set Reshad’s business apart from the competition, with the salon being crowned Professional Beauty’s Nail Salon of the Year three times in the past five years (2014, 2015 and 2018). “When I opened Coco, it was in the height of the recession. People weren’t spending money on clothes but still wanted to go out and look great. A new set of nails was affordable and made them feel good about themselves,” says Reshad. 

The upmarket, cool vibe that’s at the heart of Coco’s brand also came out of necessity. “I found I could only go for nail appointments at the weekend in daytime hours because I was working five days a week. There was nowhere to go with your friends to get your nails done and socialise. I thought it would be cool to have a place that incorporated all this, which was open seven days and until 10pm.” 

Standing strong 

Despite winning many accolades and having an enviable reputation and steady client base – mainly Portobello locals and tourists in their 20s to 40s – Reshad says the business isn’t without its challenges; one of the greatest stresses being the growing competition on the market, especially from budget salons.

“Two non-standard salons opened near us within two weeks of each other. We had to stay really strong and not panic because we were charging more than they were. We had clients coming in saying, ‘How dare you charge this much?’, but they don’t appreciate that we pay our taxes and don’t treat our staff badly,” says Reshad.

“Yes, I could charge next to nothing but someone would have to pay and I don’t want it to be the staff. There’s a price attached to being authentic and there’s a price attached to following the rules. We’ve had people go to those types of places and then come back to us with fungal infections and say, ‘I swear I’m never going to cheat on you again’.”

The entrepreneur says the issue of techs being mistreated is something that’s affecting the industry on a much wider scale. As more stories of modern slavery in UK nail salons hit the headlines, the hard work and dedication of those innovating and improving the industry’s reputation is going unnoticed, deterring some from pursuing it as a career path.

“Anyone who is doing a great job doing nails is incredible because ultimately we all have to work together. Most of the nail salons doing great are owned by women and it’s amazing to think that women can do their thing and show that we have businesses that can develop and become such great establishments,” she says. “We are the ones who have to keep educating clients on correct nail care.”

Finding talent 

Just like in other sectors of the beauty industry, finding staff is a struggle for Reshad, who employs more than 10 technicians. “Recruitment is one of the hardest things. A lot of the time, the techs with NVQ Level 2 certificates are not able to work in a commercial setting, because in this setting you need to work within a routine, to a time schedule and perform treatments to a gold standard to ensure a certain level of quality,” says Reshad.

“I’ve had other people come in who are talented and do amazingly at the trade test but they don’t have the qualifications so I can’t hire them. Some of them don’t even have the money to go and get the NVQ Level 2.”

Reshad would love to see a change in the curriculum so there’s better education for those wanting to become nail technicians. “Most people become a nail tech as part of a beauty therapy course, so they don’t really pay that much attention to the [nail] modules. They think, ‘Oh, it’s just nails’, but they can’t have the qualification and not know what they are doing in a commercial setting,” she adds.

Every member of Reshad’s team goes through extensive training when joining the company, which includes being taught customer service skills and Coco’s techniques and procedures. There’s also a good commission structure so staff can earn more money. “We’re a retail unit as well as a nail bar. It’s hard making techs realise that they are also retailers, so we put a lot of emphasis in training on the techniques of selling,” explains Reshad.

Being adaptable 

In 2017, Reshad introduced a body clinic into the salon, offering everything from Caci’s Synergy to Lipofirm Pro treatments – a bold move for the predominately nails-orientated salon. “We surveyed our clients and found that they wanted this kind of thing. We’re continually changing and metamorphosing into what the client needs because, at the end of the day, if customers don’t come to us then we aren’t going to be here,” she says.

To make sure clients feel like they are getting their money’s worth, Reshad advises finding out what your customers want and then growing the business to meet that. If your budget for renovations is tight, the entrepreneur suggests focusing purely on the experience. “Being nice to people and giving them love doesn’t cost anything. You can provide a fantastic setting but if the client leaves with a bad sensation then it’s pointless.”

So, what does the future hold for Coco? Well, despite a lot of interest from people wanting to come and expand the business, franchising isn’t on the horizon. However, opening a second site is something Reshad would consider in the future.

The entrepreneur’s biggest plan is to keep refining the Coco model, making it the best it can be in order to bulletproof the business. “Right now, the economic situation is so messed up. We don’t know what’s going to happen with Brexit and if you look around the high street it’s so difficult to stay in business – all the shops are shutting down, from Toys R Us to Maplin,” she says.

“The future is really unpredictable so, without sounding really depressing, I would just love for Coco Nail Bar to still be here in the next few years with a greater product range and more award wins.”