Nail salon owner displays a cunning business instinct

If you have ever wondered whether the "american dream" of starting from nothing and making it good is still alive and well, then meet Helen Hoang of "North Bend Nails." Her daughter Khaly is in obvious awe of her own mother, who has had the courage to start and restart life several times.

Everything about Hoang's background - growing up during the Vietnam War, marrying her high school sweet heart only to see him permanently disabled from war wounds, and raising five children to provide for - would normally be a sure recipe for despair and dependency. But with gumption, $200 stuffed in her pocket, and hope in her heart, Hoang picked up her family and emigrated to America.

Within a short period of time, Hoang had saved enough to buy her first sewing machine and then grew a business to include 50 employees and contracts for the likes of Colombia Sportswear.

Around the year 2000, outsourcing spelled an end to her sewing enterprise, but giving up was never an option for Hoang. With limited English skills she began again by attending beauty school. Soon she opened her own storefront in North Bend and then followed up by opening up another one in Bellevue.

Four years ago she took over the nail shop that sits prominently on the corner of Rainier Avenue South and South Charlestown Street adjacent to the Safeway. The new location has quickly become her favorite, mostly because of her love for her South End clients.

This stalwart sliver of a shop has stuck it out during the long and dusty days of construction transforming the nearby area along Rainier Avenue South. As affordable housing of daunting dimensions for the area's senior citizens grew up and around Hoang's shop, her loyal clients remained just that, loyal.

By the New Year Hoang will relocate to a brand new shop space two doors down from her current location. Hoang does not expect to expand much beyond the current size of four employees, but she aims to offer her clients a bigger space and have dedicated massage and facial treatment rooms.

Personalized manicures and pedicures will remain the backbone of the business. More than 50 percent of her clientele are return customers, and they travel, surprisingly, from all over the area rather than originating from the neighborhood, as I had previously guessed. But I know precious little of the nail and pedicure industry and got quite a bit wrong.

When I asked her to profile her typical customer, Hoang replied "Everyone!" That took a while to sink in until I reflected upon the two gals giggling as the pumice stone tickled the delicate inner soles of their feet during a pedicure. They were 20-somethings, and one of them bore a large, intricate tattoo and vibrant, henna-dyed hair. They refreshingly did not fit my clich├ęd perception of who pays for such services.

It's refreshing to meet someone like Helen Hoang in these economically challenging times, for she shows how to rise above adversity using a platform of common sense and plain, old-fashioned hard work without a fancy business degree.

Want to vist North Bend Nails? Pop on by their store at 3728 Rainier Ave. S., or call for an appointment at 723-9828.

Jacqui James may be reached at editor@sdistrictjournal.com.[[In-content Ad]]