-- YOUNG SALO, BUSINESS OWNER, RISK TAKER, SERIAL ENTREPRENEUR & MOTHER
Thirty years ago in the Southern California, Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” and Naughty By Nature’s “Hip Hop Hooray” played on the air waves in heavy rotation. MTV launched it’s irreverent animated series “Beavis & Butthead”. The kids watched “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers” on Fox while their parents said farewell to their favorite day-time talk show queen Sally Jessy Raphael and the first ever Got Milk? commercial aired. Turning heads on the street was the all new Acura Integra. We remember because all those years ago, was the very beginning of Young Nails. Back then, we could hardly imagine the future success of that struggling version of us and the messy marathon it took to build a business from the ground up. Did you know that Young Nails and our incredible community of pro nail techs was born from a completely chance encounter with a stranger? This is our story and the down and dirty way we did it. For the record, this is NOT how anyone should ever start a business.
AN ORIGIN STORY
What did a world before Young Nails look like? With the boys grown, Young Salo at 49 years old took the risk of a lifetime. The year was 1992. Greg was just 19 and a recent high school grad working the banquet scene, waiting tables at the local Quality Hotel in Anaheim. His vision was to make some money then move on to study fire science and become a firefighter. Young, the founder and namesake of Young Nails, could be found running a postal express, a kind of Mail Boxes Etc. Our business sprang from a conversation with a complete stranger looking to rent office space and a business pitch. Young jumped at the chance to be part of this big idea and towed a reluctant Greg along with her. Working side by side for all these years, the two share one very important thing. What Young and Greg have in common is an unwavering belief in themselves and a do-whatever-it-takes attitude.
Self-appointed entrepreneurs, the trio went into business as Hollywood Nails International. Armed with a gorgeous presentation (a professional kit housed in a polyethylene briefcase) and an irresistible sales persona, the plan was to produce professional manicure kits for cosmetology schools. Lucky for us there was a huge interest in nail careers. In California, 400 hours were required for licensing. This meant a perpetual 10 week cycle of new clientele, a bounty of future nail techs. Hollywood Nails International would target this market of cosmetology schools and customize student kits for each based on their curriculum needs. Each kit would retail for $500. The potential for profit was ripe.
HIT THE ROAD
The kid that he was, Greg found the promise of this nail venture too good to pass up. In September of 1992, he quit fire science school to partner up with Young. Criss-crossing from LA to Orange County to Riverside and San Diego, a 20 year old Greg started on this new path with exactly zero nail experience. Using the National Association of Accredited Cosmetology Schools (NAACS) as a direct line to every school in Southern California and nationwide, Greg went door to door pitching any cosmetology school director he could find. On his very first sales call at a beauty school in LA; he walked away with an order for ten kits. This was going to be easy, he thought especially since the NAACS directory had thousands of school listings.
BACK OF HOUSE
Young became the major financial backer of the new business, bankrolling the operation even though she had no money. How exactly was that done? Let’s just say the back of house was not pretty. Did we mention she is a risk taker? Up until that moment, Young did not have any operations or manufacturing experience. Credit cards were maxed out to the tune of $10,000. Long term leases were signed. Salaries were paid to the stranger and his girl friend but not for us. Orders came in but there was no actual product to be shipped. Of all the kits sold, every single thing still needed to be manufactured. Every component from the foam, briefcases, and packaging needed to be ordered or fabricated. Not to mention the nail products themselves. Money was flowing out with nothing coming back in. Over our heads, we didn’t have a product, yet. The business needed a cash infusion. Young borrowed money against the Salo family home unbeknownst to her husband. The going interest rate for refinancing was a ridiculously high 12%. This is when it unofficially became our Salo family business. Young literally put everything she owned into it.
When you start a business, you literally turn nothing and make something out of it. For a long time it’s just intangible, only an idea. It’s not real and has no physical substance. Understanding suppliers, vendors, lead times, or minimum orders was completely lost on us. There was no planning or strategy. For us, the only way to learn was by making mistakes. We figured it out as we went. At the start, no one involved even had a cosmetology license. Every move was a reaction to our circumstances and the bill on top of the pile. In those days, everything came cash on delivery (COD). Minimum quantities for parts were beyond our actual needs. Regardless, we had to take whatever we could get. We burned through money and ended up with a warehouse full of foam and other odds and ends painstakingly assembling manicure kits. Young and Greg were self taught everything from operations to forward client facing skills, like sales, speaking in front of crowds or a camera. It was survive or die.
This was the chaotic path to get to where we are today.
Even though it didn’t work out with the the stranger, we kept going. We evolved from a manicure kit business, then added accessories, loose bottles, caps, jars, and other equipment for cosmetology schools. In 1997, we were blessed to start private label work. We changed our name at the suggestion of a friend. Trying to be funny, he said name it after your Mom. She was always cooler than us anyway. So we called the company Young Nails and went into the nail manufacturing business for ourselves. Another friend designed our original logo. In 1998, we couldn’t afford an attorney to register our trade mark. We had to do it ourselves through USPTO.gov. It was intimidating and it took months for approval. In 1999, we went to market at the BBSI Show (now known as CosmoProf). We officially launched the Young Nails Primer Free Acrylic System, with the signature cobalt blue glass bottle and the same shaped cap we have now but in black. No one had seen anything like it in nails. This look was revolutionary at the time. It was completely different from the major industry leviathans like CND and OPI. There wasn’t much room for new nail companies to come up. Yet, Young Nails some how managed to squeeze in through a tiny opening.
Today Greg is no longer that young kid, he’s actually the same age Young was when she set the wheels in motion. Remember, beginnings are rocky but you’ll find your footing. All this time later, every small success and the painful mistakes made us the professional nail care leader we are today. It takes a really long time. You don’t know what you don’t know. For our business, it was a journey over three decades. Habib eventually joined the family business in 2000. Young, Greg, and Habib each continue to carve out a path using their own individual strengths and building new chapters together. There are so many other stories of our losses and gains, we could write a book. This is our origin story.
**This is an adaptation from our YN Biz Talk playlist on YouTube, BIZ TALK: HOW DID YOUNG NAILS START?, which originally aired Dec 17, 2020.
***Follow our YN YouTube Channel and click here to watch the full discussion: