Mylkbar founder Katie Shields traveled often in her previous role in software sales but found her true calling in entrepreneurship. During her travels, she visited non-toxic nail salons but was frustrated that none existed in her home city of Charleston.
After becoming pregnant, she became even more concerned with the negative health implications of standard nail salons. As a result, she developed the concept for Mylkbar Eco Nails + Beauty, and opened her business when her baby was only three months old.
Katie and her team of top-notch nail technicians pride themselves in creating a safer, fume-free environment for clients and employees. She’s also learned a lot of lessons about the commitment needed to open a business, and why it’s important to not only hire the best team, but also the best tools to run the business.
Read on for advice on what to expect when you open a beauty business, how to build your brand on social media, and more from this inspiring business owner.
Q. What prompted you to open Mylkbar?
I was traveling a lot for work and found that I always sought nontoxic beauty services in other cities. Spending a lot of time on planes, and constantly being on-the-go, really wreaks havoc on your skin and nails. After becoming pregnant with our first child, I decided it was time to pull the trigger and open a fun, non-toxic nail and beauty studio in Charleston because there really weren’t any options that existed in our market. We have seen such a demand that we plan to franchise our concept and bring it to other markets.
Q. What has been your biggest challenge as a small business owner?
Hiring the right employees, and retaining them, was a big challenge in the beginning. This is an industry where a lot of questionable activity exists, unfortunately. Some salons allow unlicensed workers to practice as nail technicians, which is a dangerous prospect for both the business owner and the client.
Being a nail technician comes with serious responsibility as sterile implements are used on each client and certain disinfection protocols must be followed to prevent the transmission of bacteria or disease. We take our hiring process very seriously and are more selective than many salons. All technicians must have an updated license and pass an in-person test manicure to ensure that the technician is up to speed with industry and Mylkbar standards.
Q. What has been the most unexpected experience about starting and owning Mylkbar?
Meeting so many wonderful people; I never expected the friendships I have made through Mylkbar! My employees, clients, and other business owners have all become a huge network of support. We feel very fortunate to be a part of a community that is more about collaboration than competition.
Mylkbar partners with many minority-owned businesses as we feel it is really important to establish a network of peers with a common goal of supporting one another. It truly is special to see some of the friendships that have developed from the business.
Q. What advice would you give to other people looking to make the jump to entrepreneurship?
Make sure that you are really ready to make a HUGE commitment with your time. Take the amount of sleep and downtime you currently have and reduce that by 50-60%! Coming from a very demanding software sales job, I made the mistake of thinking that entrepreneurship would be easier since I would have to travel less and would "be my own boss.” This could not be further than the truth! Really, at the end of the day, you are always answering to your employees and clients -- those are the people that help determine your success.
I have always been great at time management, but some weeks it feels as though I will never get through a large chunk of my to-do list. When you start a business, you really have to be okay with getting very little - to no sleep - for the first year. We also have a daughter who was 3 months old when I opened Mylkbar, which certainly added to my stress and lack of sleep! Would I recommend starting a business with a baby? Probably not, but it has worked out for me as I have a great team at Mylkbar and at home. :)
Q. Where do you get inspiration for how you run Mylkbar? How did you come up with the look and feel for your space?
My inspiration came from wanting to clients to feel like they are on vacation. Mylkbar lends itself to a Palm Beach feel with eco-lodge vibes. All of the music is relaxing, but on-trend, we play surfing videos on repeat, and the studio is fume-free thanks to our non-toxic approach and extensive exhaust system (good smells only)! My employees will also tell you that I have very high standards for cleanliness, which is partly the reason for the decor being white. You can't hide anything when the whole place is white!
Q. How do you learn what your customers want? How do you get their feedback? Has there been any insight from customers that helped you meet their needs better?
We ask them! Seriously, part of our routine after every service is to personally and sincerely ask the client how his or her service was, and people are surprisingly honest! We can't make improvements unless we hear about the areas that need to be improved.
We are also obviously religious with responding to feedback on Google, Yelp, Facebook, and Instagram. Because of our clients' feedback, we updated the pedicure platform for the third time in August and the height finally seems to be universally acceptable. We also plan to activate Booker's auto-generated satisfaction surveys soon, but we try not to inundate people with emails.
Q. What role has technology played in the success of Mylkbar?
A huge role! Obviously, Booker has been a huge asset to our business. Since I spent my previous career selling software, I thoroughly vetted all software applications that we use at Mylkbar. Having an online booking system that is cloud-based was important to me. Additionally, social media has played a big role in getting Mylkbar introduced to people.
Q. We absolutely LOVE your Instagram page! Do you have any tips or tricks on how to use Instagram effectively?
Well, thanks so much! We have grown to over 7K organic followers in less than 8 months of being open. My top recommendation for any new business is to convert to a business page rather than personal. While having your business listed as a "personal" page may help you show up more, it is not ideal long term. So many people find us through our Instagram page. Also, please do not pay for followers. It is so painfully obvious when businesses have a paid following, and in the long run it is so pointless and does not generate revenue.
To check out Mylkbar’s beach-vibey Instagram page, click here!
Q. How has Booker impacted your business?
Booker has allowed us to streamline our booking processes, payment processing, employee schedules, inventory management, client communications, and backbar product management all into one platform. Additionally, my employees love having access to their mobile application as it helps them better prepare for their scheduled appointments.
Q. What do you see for the future of Mylkbar, and your industry in general?
We have plans to expand both corporate and franchised operations to other metro areas and eventually smaller markets too. The great thing about nail salons is that they already exist in almost every town in the USA. I see a TON of opportunity because consumers are becoming increasingly aware of the negative health implications at standard salons. The non-toxic approach is, quite honestly, the way things should be and I think this will become more of the norm over the next decade. We are happy to early adopters in the non-toxic nail market!
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