Until the end of 2018 I was an IT analyst. I spent six years working in software support before I got laid off in December of that year. The next month I was turning 40 and having a big old birthday party, so it wasn’t bad timing. I decided I would go back to work in about 90 days.
Then, 90 days came and went and though I had been applying for jobs, I had no interviews. Another 90 days passed and my savings started to dwindle. I was 40 and I didn’t have a job, and at that time my kids were four and 14 and I was taking care of my mom, too. I would cry all day and was just completely depressed.
In January 2020, after almost losing my house and finally getting a contract job, I decided to go to nail school. I regularly gave a male friend pedicures and manicures and he had suggested I come and work in his barber shop as he had an extra room.
But in March 2020, my sister died out of the blue. She was 42 and had a heart attack. Myself, my two kids and her kids found her. It was devastating and I went from caring for two children to caring for five, as well as my mom. In the summer months I was drinking every day and I had anxiety issues because of my sister’s death.
My intentions to attend nail school had also been halted because of the COVID-19 pandemic and then in August myself and my whole family contracted COVID-19. On September 8, my mom died in hospital from COVID, without any of us around her. That’s a lot of grief in the space of six months.
To take my mind off everything that had happened, I enrolled in nail school full time from October 2020 to January 2021 and began writing my business plan for “The Man Cave Nailcare for Gentlemen”. My classmates and instructor definitely asked why I only wanted to treat men and why I liked focusing on their feet! I love feet and I prefer doing a pedicure over a manicure, even now.
Because I’m a nerd and I love to learn, I took the Advanced Nail Technician Certification and at the same time I studied for the Certified Medical Nail Technician certificate through MediNail. That was very interesting and I’m glad I did it. Now I know how to service people with certain medical conditions, and when to refer to a podiatrist. By March 2021 I had completed both certifications and passed my state licensing exam. I then saw that The North American School of Pedology has a Certified Master Pedicurist course, so I took that too. I finally opened my male-only nail salon on April 14, 2021.
My friend who owned the barber shop had actually been advertising for me throughout that time and he was my first customer in the chair. He had to be. But I didn’t know how other men would react or if they would even come. A lot of men who came in the first two weeks were my friend’s customers. I remember looking at my scheduling app for April and I had maybe six appointments up until April 30. Then, in May I had at least an appointment every day I was open. The same is true for June.
Most people go for the “Not Your Average Joe” pedicure that I offer. They get a lot for their service. I have a questionnaire on my website, where I ask what my client’s music preference is, what they prefer to watch on TV and what type of beverages they like. When they arrive for their appointment, I have everything ready for them. And, their service is private. They are in the room with me for at least an hour and a half with the lights low for a calming feeling and an 86 inch TV mounted on the wall that they can watch. When they walk in, the first thing they typically say is, “this is really nice.”
I’d say about 30 percent of men I see have had pedicures before, but most haven’t. There was a gentleman who came in recently with some health issues; his toenails were so long that he could barely fit into his shoes. So I clipped the nails and gave him a pedi-care. He was wearing slides but by the end of the treatment he said he would be able to fit into his sneakers again. Another client told me he had to buy bigger shoes because of his toenails. He had refused to go to any other nail salon because he said he was so embarrassed. When I spoke to him to take his appointment he told me he had never been to a nail salon and he initially didn’t want to come for an evening appointment because he was concerned there would be too many people around. I said, “Sir, it’s a private session, it’s only going to be me and you. I’ll be the only person who will look at your feet.”
He came in and he was the funniest client ever, because he was so squirmy. He’d never had a pedicure before so his feet were squirming the whole time. But when I finished and he put his shoes on, he said he would now be able to buy the correct size shoe. That was amazing.
I always tell my clients that when they put their shoes on afterwards, their feet are going to feel so different. And every time, without fail, that happens. Sometimes I wonder if they’re over exaggerating with their reaction, but I really think they’re telling the truth. It feels really good.
I actually have had seven repeat customers so far. I tell my clients to come back in four to six weeks, so I’m expecting more repeat customers over time.
I have actually seen men saying in reviews online: “finally a place for men” to get their nails done, and I’ve had a very positive response from women too. It’s generally been women who refer their significant others. Some women even say they need a place like my salon. I have to tell them that they already have a million other nail salons to go to!
I believe there is no other salon like mine in South Carolina and I’m already talking to a realtor about finding me another space in Charleston, which is my home town. I know the city well and I know a men-only nail salon would likely do very well there. After that, I’m thinking about offering franchises to see if I can help others who want to own their own businesses.
I liked being an IT analyst but there are always limitations when you work for someone else. Now, there are no real limitations. I control my own schedule. I’m extremely happy. I love what I do.
All views expressed in this article are the author’s own.
As told to Jenny Haward.