Nails Inc. founder Thea Green’s 8 rules for polished business success

The nail polish Queen celebrates 15 years as an entrepreneur with a look back on how she created a global accessories brand

With Nails Inc.’s 15 year anniversary approaching and the company about to open a shop in the US, where the idea originated, founder Thea Green looked back to share eight golden rules.

Speaking at the recent Evening Standard Business Connections event on how she and her business succeeded, Green revealed how she took the germ of an idea and turned it into an international brand.

Read on to hear how she did it:

1. ‘I found a great business idea in the US’

“I knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur at a young age. I also had a great love for product. I started as fashion journalist and the job entailed a lot of commuting to and from the states – I noticed that in the states everyone got their nails done.

Regardless of your salary, everyone was able to do this as there were inexpensive nail bars. This was inspiring and exciting. It was something I loved about coming to America and I wanted to bring it to the UK.

The model in the UK was behind; there was a gap in the market for an affordable, yet luxurious, nail bar that combined service with product and I wanted to fill it. I did a huge amount of research, looked into getting a site and into manufacturing the product.

I really went about it in a to-do list way, looking at why it had not been done. I looked for a way that the business was flawed, but couldn’t find one.”

2. ‘I tweaked a successful formula’

“Although I had an idea of what I wanted in Nails Inc., I really had to refine what the brand was going to be. From the beginning, the customer was always number one and I still look at the service as a customer first, owner second – I get my nails done every day by a different girl so I can see what the service is like from everyone.

The model in the UK was never going to be low cost and upstairs like in the US, I altered their model slightly. It was more luxury, a little more high-end and it had the products sit alongside the service.

And finally I kept it simple. Nails Inc. is a simply idea and to this day I believe that simplicity is key and every company should be able to sum up what their brand is in a few words.”

3. ‘I planned meticulously before quitting my job’

“Again lots of research, initially I asked friends and family and I was stunned by the amount of people who felt it was a great idea, and who said they would use it regularly.

I moved to a more professional approach and did focus groups, getting the same reaction. After more study, I wrote my first business plan and P&L (profit and loss). I continued to work at Tatler during the day, working on the business at week nights and weekends, always with the thought that this might not work out.

Research was so important in dealing with the enormity of what I had to do and in leaving my job. The initial entrepreneurial role involves a lot of jobs as you have to model a P&L, resource the product and manufacturing, hire the right staff, get funding (which I obtained from private investors but made the mistake of not getting enough and had to get more post launch which was much harder), and the right property.

I continued with my to-do list method, taking things in stages and ticking boxes. I dealt with leaving my job – and regular income – in the same way. I still had to take the plunge – and that taking the plunge is the difference between the entrepreneur and the dreamer.”

4. ‘I learnt tons from mistakes – it’s tough being first’

“Opening day took about six months from when I started planning Nails Inc. Luckily it was a success, the shop was very busy and although things did go wrong and we made mistakes (ordering the minimum order) – people were queuing up to get their nails done.

Opening the business means that it’s now time to perfect the model, so therefore more learning is required no matter how much research you do. I actually think that if I was going to set up a business again, I would set up something that has been done before. We were the first so we had no path to follow – so we were learning everything for ourselves and then passing to competitors every time.

So after launching the shop and opening a few more, we began opening in department stores. We were learning all the time and always focusing on engaging with our customer – and people were interested, becoming loyal and passionate about the brand, and providing us with essential feedback.”

5. ‘I’m obsessed with nurturing the brand’

“This is essential to my business. I’m still as obsessed with nurturing the brand as I am focused on the customer experience. For the first few years this is difficult as you don’t have the money available and I went between spending too much and spending too little.

We kept our founding principles – customers and the brands identity. The growing was difficult too as we had to keep up with what huge brands supplied to department stores and I had to learn to be an expert in branding and retail.

However, I grew in confidence and learned to ask for advice in areas I was not skilled in. Plus as you grow you can employ people in the areas that you are not good at, something you can’t afford to do at the beginning. And remember that even though the first few years are tough with no profit, you will gain a wealth of knowledge and that’s something I still love today.”

6. ‘I’m always trend-watching to stay ahead of rivals’

“This still keeps me up at night! I look at the business not as part of the beauty industry but as part of the fashion and accessories industry. Therefore from the beginning Nails Inc. was driven by innovation, product and being first to market.

I get inspired by everything I see and I’m always thinking of what I can bottle up into a polish. By watching trends, which sounds simple but involves learning to watch the market, ensures Nails Inc. stays popular.

Nails Inc. has grown in confidence to move on with new products, taking old (and sometimes very successful sellers) products off the shelf. And this has kept it relevant – yes there have been problems but overall it has worked as people are excited by change and our customers continue to wait for the next one.

Furthermore this focus on trends keeps us apart from the huge amount of nail bars that are now present in the UK. Nails Inc. is more luxurious than cheaper nail bars but getting your nails done in our bars is still a cheaper indulgence than buying most accessories. And focusing on the accessory and fashion element, while keeping the price right, has allowed Nails Inc. to offer its customers instant gratification.”

7. ‘I waited until we were established before going global’

“It’s hard to know when to launch internationally. We waited until we were number one in the UK with an established business and team. How Nails Inc. is in over 30 countries and it counts for 30% of our revenues.

Before launching in a country we make sure to find the right site, right partners and how to talk to customers there. Nails Inc. is lucky as products that sold well in the UK also sell globally. We still need to talk to our customers but the product translates internationally. My rule is that if we don’t have time to visit and research the market in a place then we don’t go there with our product.

And prior to launching you have to ensure two things at home. One is that your team back home is ready – you have to make sure your team can do it without you. Secondly that your market at home stays happy. Your home country will tell you if you’re exporting elsewhere but not taking care of them.”

8. ‘I celebrate success’

“And finally remember to celebrate your successes and achievements. Nails Inc. turns 15 this year but it has remained the same – focused on great product and great service.

Nevertheless, it’s getting a makeover – new bottle, products, and stages of branding – to celebrate. Nails Inc. is my passion. It’s been a fun and exciting journey, and throughout my motto has been for my career and my business: ‘the best is yet to come’.”

Thea Green MBE was speaking at an Evening Standard Business Connections event. 

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