Interview by Blake Haney, owner of Dirty Coast. Photos and video by Marc Pagani.
Blake Haney: To get started let me ask you, Native to New Orleans or Nola convert. I think I know the answer. So, what is it?
Aimme: I'm from New Orleans. Grew up here. Lived in Old Metairie, in the house that my mom and dad still live in now. Went to Sacred Heart.
B: That was my next question. Where you go to school?
A: Well, after Sacred Heart I went to UT Austin for a couple years and convinced my parents to let me go to Italy in exchange for finishing up college at LSU.
B: Okay, so they wanted you back?
B: Okay, so you're in Italy? Where do you go from there? Give us a little bit of your background, how do you go from Italy to LSU and then into Nails.
A: Yeah. So after I graduated from LSU, the next day, I literally had my bags packed moved to New York and lived on someone's couch for the first couple months till I got my own place and then I worked in New York for about twelve and a half years. I was designing men's ties.
I took a job as an office manager. When I first moved there. I tried to get my dad to be the cosigner on a lease because you have to make a three times your rent and I was making zero and he said I'm not signing a thing till you get a job.
So took a job as an office manager, hit it off with the family that owned the company and by the time I left I was a design director designing ties for Express retail stores. Tommy Hilfiger. Cole's Saks. Hickey Freeman Etc.
B: So they were like an independent textile house making ties for other brands?
A: I worked for a company called PVH. They own Calvin Klein. Tommy Hilfiger, Izod. So a big corporate job on Madison Avenue?
B: Nice, so that's how that's essentially how you start getting involved with color and pattern, in textiles.
B: How do you then flip that into owning your own business?
A: So my last few years in New York, I started noticing that these little Nail Studios were popping up, one in particular caught my eye called Paintbox down in SoHo. I really liked it. Their whole M.O., it was manicures only and they really were all about the nail art and putting together these collections of nail designs each season. Like fashion, and given that that was my background and something I had been doing for a few years for men's ties, it's something that really appealed to me. So I ended up meeting with her and seeing if she had any interest and franchising a store here in New Orleans knowing that I was going to be moving home. And at first she was somewhat interested in then quickly ended up just focusing all on New York.
And so when I moved here, I kept a part of my job, which was great for moving, still working with Express retail stores and eventually met somebody who is interested in my idea about this nail design studio and together we started Paint’d.
B: Like you said a lot of these studios are popping up.There's definitely some here in New Orleans. How do you differentiate yourself? When you're setting up your brand name, the experience you're trying to set up for your studio, what's your strategy there to stay unique?
A: Yeah, it's more than just your average nail salon, it’s about the collections. That is something, an idea that I got from Paintbox and what they were doing.
We decided to also embrace the New Orleans element of loving family and wanting to be with your kids, which is a little unlike New York at times. So we decided to also do some kids collections as well so that it really becomes an all inclusive experience for everybody.
B: Does that include Dad's, because I keep hearing about mani and pedis that men are getting.
A: Yeah, we definitely have some men that come through, but not that many.
B: I'm assuming whether it's a good economy or a bad economy nails is something everyone can enjoy. An affordable luxury.
A: I think so. I mean, it's definitely a service that people can do themselves at home. But folks really prefer to just pay someone else to do it. I think in terms of New Orleans as a whole right now, there are lots of nail salons, and there are some people who do want to pay the premium to know that everything is totally sanitized and completely clean and the atmosphere is a little nicer. They can sip their Prosecco and Rosé. There are definitely some things that we offer our clients that set us apart. We want yo to have an amazing, customized experience.
B: So walk me through that. What is it like from someone driving down Magazine Street, seeing your space in the Julian? As soon as they walk in, what's the beginning of their experience?
A: Yeah, so you walk in you're greeted by the person at the front desk, which is usually myself or my manager Debbie. We walk you over to The Nail Bar.
That's where we serve you a glass of Rosé or a Prosecco or Mimosa or sparkling water. We hand you the collection book to have you flip through to pick your design and color way and then we have the nail artists come over and they sit and have a consultation with you. And that way you can say, “I'm going to this event” or “I really like this color.”
They take a look at also your nails and kind of help advise you and guide you towards what they think would be the good fit. Everything is hand painted on your natural nail. We do have some extension services. But all the collections are intended to be done on your existing nail as it is. So then they walk you on over to the studio area where you sit down and the process begins.
B: After they're finished, what is your follow through with your customers? Do you get them on an email list where you follow up with them or to send out updates on new season designs?
A: Number one, we always end with a picture. We try to, if we're not slammed, take a picture of your nails and post on Instagram. We definitely love to do that. You know, have our clients be involved in our social media aspect of it. And then in terms of emailing we have two different kinds right now. We're using one that is this actual AI newsletter through a company called Rasa and we curate the exact type of content that we wanted to use and send you.
Things like Refinery29, In Style, Nails Magazine, Nail Pro, Modern Salon. like be kind. This newsletter actually becomes specific to what it is that you click and you like so it's kind of interactive. So your newsletter would be different for my newsletter that I receive built on your interaction.
So that goes out weekly on Tuesdays. And in addition to that I try to do about at least one a month which just talks about either the newest releases like the most recent one we sent out was for our black and gold collection when season started back up. And offering some kind of promotion there, and then you know, other times like booking your holiday party, we will send the email to our existing client base as well.
B: Nice. How much is it of your customer base is returning visitors? Are their visitors coming in every few weeks or every few months. Mostly new customers off the street?
A: I would say it's the majority of new customers. People consider Paint’d to be their special occasion nail salon. So they come to us more for occasion, if they have an event or a vacation or a concert. Or homecoming or graduation or something of that nature. Then there is our loyal customer base that just comes to us like clockwork.
We do have a core percentage of those customers and we're so happy to have them and wish more would be able to see us as your average nail.
B: How do you find inspiration for the colors or textiles you choose when changing out new new designs?
A: So a lot of ours is based on fashion and home trends, you know, just shopping around, looking online, seeing all the runway shows, reading articles about the trending colors.
It's just seeing patterns out there. And then also because New Orleans is a very Nola proud City. We also cater something specifically to the area as well .
B: Gotcha. Speaking of the New Orleans area and nails, have you become a fan of the TV show CLAWS.
A: We did an event with CLAWS at Dressed For Success through TNT a couple years ago where we designed a nail art design for each of the technicians that are stars of the show. So that was fun to be a part of in that respect.
B: Having your own business, being your own boss, how have you handled that experience of going from working for this larger company up in New York and then coming down here to start your own. What have been some of the adjustments you've had to make in terms of running your own business?
A: So I had no idea what I was getting into. I think I keep comparing it much to you know, when you're pregnant and everyone's like oh, You never going to sleep and you're like, oh, yeah, I'm never going to sleep, but you don't really understand which sleep deprivation means until the baby's born and it's 4 a.m. and you really haven't slept at all that night. That's kind of a little bit how I'm looking at owning a business. It really is endless in terms of you can't really ever fully turn off even on days when you're closed. There's still something that needs to be done. And you are as a small business owner usually the one that has to do it.
I intended to have a partner going into this. I know that I'm better with a partner, but my partner decided to leave about a year into the business and therefore. I'm just trying to figure out how to do this all on my own.
B: Do you have any do you have any mentors or anyone that you look to on the local scene as business owners?
A: I try to meet with as many people as I possibly can and get advice and kind of build my own camaraderie. I also did promote somebody to be our manager that had been with me since day one. It's been extremely helpful to have her even if it's just for a little bit of the extra emotional support when it comes to decision making and things like, you know, having to let people go or hiring. All these things which are way more time-consuming and way more mind consuming than I would have ever imagined.
B: When you start your own business you have the entrepreneurial mindset, you’re a very independent thinker, you want to be your own boss, but then when you have to shift into dealing with HR and managing, hiring, firing, directing, it's tricky because the people who are working for you aren't necessarily the same mindset as what you have. Your employees are not going to have as much dedication or ownership, but then when you do find someone who works for you, and they are all in, you have got to keep those people around as long as you possibly can. So it sounds like your manager is one of those folks for you.
A: Yeah, and the you know the service industry of nails and I think hair is similar, you know, it is pretty transient, that people do come and they do go, and you know, it's definitely seasonal. So all of that has been something, going into my third year of business, that I have a better understanding of and a better reaction to than I did when I just was getting started.
B: So what about your location? You are in The Julian in the Lower Garden District. What is your take on the neighborhood?
A: Yeah. I feel really great about the Lower Garden District as a whole in terms of New Orleans and Uptown and the Garden District.
And now the LGD I feel is a really interesting place to be. I think it makes total sense for my business to be there. I'm extremely excited about the hotel that's opening up just a block away at the St. Vincent. I can't wait for that. I really am hopeful that the foot traffic continues. Already just from a couple of years ago to now you can feel the difference of people out and about. It's a huge area for the Air B&B crowd.
So we get a lot of tourists, and you know, that is something that's good for Paint’d, the more people around who come from these other cities that understand our business already because it exists elsewhere in these big cities more so than it does here in New Orleans.
B: And we're at the building. Years ago that was just an empty lot. It's probably the biggest development in the neighborhood recently. Do you work with any of the folks upstairs, any of the tenants?
A: You know, we don't really engage that much with the tenants. We have some come here and there, but for the most part though. The building itself, I think is a really good fit aesthetically for us. It's modern. A lot of glass. Lots of light. These are all things that I think really makes sense for our brand identity as well.
B: One if the questions I like to ask folks who own their own business is, are you an ask for help business owner or a figure it out through failure business owner. Or are you somewhere in between?
A: I would definitely say I'm somewhere in between. I am not scared to ask for help, and I've asked help from so many people along the way. I have asked for help from the landlord at certain points. So I am not scared at all to ask the questions. I feel like if you don't ask you never know. But there are some things that unfortunately I did just have to figure out through failure, and I'm not embarrassed by that either.
So I think my long and short would be. I asked for help wherever I can and when I’ve got to just do it myself, I figure it out.
B: Where's do you think you're going with this? What's your five-year plan? Where you want to take it.
A: So ideally, you know, the way that I set out was to be the dry bar of nail salons. So basically have a Paint’d in all these different towns throughout the southeast area. Towns like Memphis and Nashville and Atlanta. Maybe Birmingham, Houston and Dallas. Eventually there is a membership and a kind of expectation of the experience. Where they know that place, when people are traveling for business, they know what to expect. They know what I'm going to get there. They have great nail art, and have a great collection. And I'm just going to go there to make life easier whee I know I am gonna be happy with the turnout.
B: Right. In order to expand like that, would you be looking get an investor or partners to come on board?
A: Absolutely. I definitely couldn't do that part on my own at all, and I'd love to start just by expanding here in New Orleans and Baton Rouge. And just get something going in Metairie near Lake Lakeside Mall, more the Kenner area of Metairie, than old Metairie, maybe even Harahan and Mid-City area as well.
B: What do you do with do you have any tools or tactics practices to help you with sort of the stress of being a business owner?
A: Oh, yeah. I indulge in all things self-care. It's definitely part of the business itself in terms of going to get a manicure and pedicure. It's part of the self-care routine. So I'm a huge advocate. I also do energy healing with a girl out in Lakeview. I love that. I try to do that almost every other month. I walk every morning and Audubon Park, I do some meditation here and they're using the headspace app that I love. And also in group therapy, regular therapy and feel very comfortable talking to my friends anytime.
B: Sweet. That’s great to hear. Well, thanks for sitting down to talk.
A: Okay. Yeah, perfect. Thanks so much.