Almond Nail Bar applies polish to quick growth

Coming soon near you: an Almond Nail Bar, likely, if one isn’t already there.

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Coming soon near you: an Almond Nail Bar, likely, if one isn’t already there.

The Winnipeg-based chain has opened five shops in the Manitoba capital over the past two years. It plans to launch at least another four by year’s end.

It is also set to open spots in Toronto, Calgary, Vancouver and Saskatoon.

Thomas Nguyen, company chief executive officer, is establishing headquarters in Vietnam for an Asia expansion, and is eyeing the United States for 2023.

“It’s challenging, sometimes, to find enough time in the day,” Nguyen said in an interview.

There are now eight Almond Nail Bar locations, but until 2017, there was just one. It opened as Cristalla Spa, on Grant Avenue, in 2010.

“At the time… I had no experience in the industry,” Nguyen said, adding he saw a demand for salon services.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Thomas Nguyen, CEO of Almond Nail Bar, is establishing headquarters in Vietnam for an Asia expansion, and is eyeing the United States for 2023.

The site offered massages, sugaring and lash extensions, among other things. However, nail services were the most popular, Nguyen said.

In 2017, it was time for a rebrand. The massages were axed; manicures and pedicures took the forefront under the freshly labelled Almond Nail Bar.

“It was good… it meant something new (was) coming,” said Raj Brar, who’d worked as an esthetician at Cristalla-turned-Almond.

Brar, 34, signed on to work for Nguyen a decade ago — with an asterisk.

“(I said), ‘I will work with you til’ the end… unless I have my own (shop),’” Brar said.

She’d moved from Punjab, India, to create a better future for her two children. Nguyen’s team helped her get an esthetician licence while she worked as a Cristalla nail technician, she said.

She’s now running Almond’s Garden City site.

“I’m still sticking with them,” she said. “I’m loving it.”

The company’s growth accelerated through workers’ desires to run their own shops. Six months after opening a second Almond Nail Bar on St. Anne’s Road, an employee wanted to take the lead, Nguyen said. That was in 2017.

Nguyen opened a third site in Park City the following year.

“About nine months after that, another staff wanted to take over as well,” he said. “That gave us the idea of franchising.”

The door was always open to owning an Almond Nail Bar, Brar said.

“They always offer… ‘OK, once you’re ready… we’re there to help you,’” she said.

The risks of green-lighting people with no prior entrepreneurial experience bounced in Nguyen’s mind, the CEO said. “At the end of the day, (business experience is) something that can be learned.”

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Thomas Nguyen, CEO of Almond Nail Bar, with marketing and communications manager Joelle Schmidt.

Instead, he looks for passion and work ethic, he said. The chain helps its franchisees with corporate knowledge — learning business structure, financing and taxes, among other things.

Owners pay a $15,000 franchise fee, but the company can work to get financing to cover costs, Nguyen said.

Growth halted during lockdown phases of the COVID-19 pandemic, as Manitoba nail salons were shuttered.

“Some of the bills, we (couldn’t) even pay at that time,” Brar said, adding her husband, a truck driver, footed the costs.

However, post-lockdown provided a rebound in clientele in many locations, Nguyen said.

“When we reopened, it just got chaotic,” he said, adding some sites bring in more than $1 million per year.

It depends on the location: Brar said many people haven’t yet come back to her salon, while other sites are fully booked.

Irina Leshkov became a regular Almond Nail Bar customer last year. She sat with her complimentary cappuccino, getting her feet massaged, at Brar’s shop Thursday.

“It’s A-1 service,” she said, adding she visits bi-weekly because it’s “a getaway,” the environment is clean and the staff are friendly.

“What we’ve seen with our numbers and performance, the demand is still there.”–Thomas Nguyen, CEO of Almond Nail Bar

The calls to own an Almond Nail Bar are coming across the country, Nguyen said. Sites in Calgary and Toronto are opening next month; Saskatoon and British Columbia will come later.

Shops on Henderson Highway, in CF Polo Park and in Southglen have opened within the last year. The next Winnipeg location, on Academy Road, is scheduled for launch next month.

Salons on Portage Avenue, Kenaston Boulevard and in St. Vital are set for unveiling before the end of 2022.

Almond Nail Bar provides marketing, products and an e-platform — areas that many salon owners, or potential owners, often aren’t familiar with, said Fang Wan, a University of Manitoba business professor.

“This is why (Almond Nail Bar has) the leverage, the competitive advantage, and why they can attract franchisees.”

Nguyen doesn’t expect the company’s salon count to be too much for Winnipeg.

“What we’ve seen with our numbers and performance, the demand is still there,” he said.

Prices are affordable given the “luxurious experience,” drawing customers, said Joelle Schmidt, Almond Nail Bar’s communications manager.

The company produces its own gel nail polish. It offers its own pre-made gel nail sets for application in its shops, decreasing manicure times and furthering its vertical integration.

gabrielle.piche@freepress.mb.ca

Gabrielle Piché

Gabrielle Piché
Reporter

Gabby is a big fan of people, writing and learning. She graduated from Red River College’s Creative Communications program in the spring of 2020.

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