When Thea Green had her business "lightbulb moment" in the late 1990s, she initially thought "it seemed too good to be true", says the Daily Mail. As a young Tatler fashion journalist visiting New York, she noticed nail bars on every street corner offering a fast turnaround in lunchtime manicures to busy Manhattanites.
"Loads of people I knew who weren't getting their nails done in Britain would get them done in America as soon as they arrived. It was quick and cheap." Surely someone had already spotted the gap? After extensive internet searches, she found no one had. And, in 1999, Nails Inc was born.
More than a decade on, Green, 36, is still reaping the rewards of that first-mover advantage, says Telegraph.co.uk. Nails are big business in doldrums Britain (see below) and Green "still has the market at her fingertips": her industry-leading firm turned over £22m last year a rise of more than 40% on the previous year.
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There are now 58 Nails Inc bars doing a roaring trade in Britain and Ireland. And, with concessions in Debenhams, House of Fraser, Fenwicks, Selfridges and Harvey Nichols, Green seems to have the department-store market licked. After winning countless awards for her entrepreneurship, in 2011 she received an MBE for "services to the beauty industry".
"A sleek blonde with a distinctive, matter-of-fact manner", Green has business in her blood, says The Daily Telegraph. Born in the Wirral in 1976, the daughter of a Littlewoods company director who had worked his way up from the bottom, she was a "fairly industrious" but "definitely creative" child. At 18, she moved to London to study journalism at the London College of Fashion, working as an intern on the fashion desk of the Daily Mail in her spare time.
She joined Tatler on graduating in 1997 and found herself "in a hotbed of entrepreneurial talent". Her boss was fashion editor Natalie Massenet, who later founded the wildly successful luxury e-tailer Net-a-porter.com. Two years earlier Tamara Mellon had left Vogue to start shoemaker Jimmy Choo. "Magazines are a real stamping ground for ambitious women," says Green. "There was a can do' attitude, because we had to create something hugely glamorous on a shoe-string budget."
When it came to launching her own business in 1999, Green immediately hit a challenge, says Talk Business. "I launched during the dotcom era" when "investors were very focused on internet businesses" often to the exclusion of everything else.
Eventually she secured £200,000 in seed capital and opened her first shop on South Molton Street in the West End. Soon there was a queue snaking all the way down the street. "People were waiting for two hours to get our 15-minute manicure."
Green says her biggest challenge for 2013 is to conquer the overseas market. Surely balancing family life (she has three children under the age of eight) with plans for world domination exhausts her? "It's a bit of a nightmare," she says laughing, "but it's a good nightmare."
How the nail bomb' replaced the lipstick index'
The British high street may be struggling with the depths of recession, says Alexandra Heminsley in The Guardian, but the nail industry is booming. "There's barely a local high street in the country without at least one independent nail salon." It's partly down to fashion. "A decent manicure has come full circle: from the 1950s when it meant a lady was properly polished' and back again."
Glossy nails are once more "a go-to accessory". Trends like "nail art" once the preserve of African-Caribbeans have gone mainstream among teenagers.
Hard economic times have certainly played a part in the nail boom, says the Daily Mail. As Green observes: "Beauty does well in a downturn". With prices starting from £17.50 for a basic manicure, "we provide affordable luxury".
Indeed, what used to be known as the lipstick index a term coined by Este Lauder's chairman, Leonard Lauder, to explain why lipstick sales soar in recession should now be known as the "nail bomb", says Ellie Pithers on Telegraph.co.uk.
As well as manicuring nails, Nails Inc produces 60 different polishes, all named after London streets and boroughs. Green gets most of her ideas for new colours from catwalk trends. The current best-seller is a mushroom tone, "Porchester Square"; another recent hit is the cobalt blue "Baker Street", as worn by Beyonc. This vast portfolio of varnishes plus other nail products is at the heart of the firm's push abroad.
"The States has been a deal-changer in terms of volume," says Green. "We've just signed a distributor for Australia and the Middle East, we're about to do Mexico and Brazil, and Asia is going to be massive." If Britain's nail bar boom wears off, Green looks to have her bets hedged.
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