Torrance, Calif.-based salon Gemist, owned by nail artist Meg Kaehler, incorporates Japanese-style services for customers, attracting an international clientele and those who favor nail art over nail maintenance.
Meg Kaehler brought a little piece of Japan to Torrance, Calif., when she opened Gemist Nail Salon in 2009. After studying nail art in Japan for a number of years, the licensed manicurist moved to California to learn the American market. She developed her technique — sometimes practicing at home for eight hours a day — and attended seminars regularly.
But as time passed, the growing nail artist felt something was missing. “After working for other salons, I realized that I wanted to open a Japanese-style salon that focused on the service as much as the nails themselves,” says Kaehler. She’s now the owner of Gemist.Located in recently revitalized Old Torrance on a street lined with cute shops and boutiques, the trendy salon fits right in. However, its interior doesn’t evoke what we’d think of as traditionally Japanese decor. It has a contemporary feel with a design Kaehler calls shabby chic. “Shabby chic is a very feminine look that employs a lot of vintage and bohemian elements. It’s cute and warm, and it prevents the salon from feeling clinical,” says Kaehler.
What Japanese-inspired about Gemist is the mentality of Kaehler and her staff. Both customer service and the nail services offered mimic the type of treatment you might receive in a salon in Japan.
TREATING THE “CUSTOMER AS GOD”
Gemist delivers a more spa-like experience for its clients. At any given time, there is a maximum of only three nail technicians working, and appointments are never overbooked.
Employees show their clients respect by spending ample time tailoring services to satisfy each customer’s particular needs. There is also an individual consultation beforehand between the client and nail technician to discuss the details of the chosen service.
“Having worked in salons that tried to cram too many appointments into a short amount of time, I saw firsthand how it could create stress for both the nail tech and the client,” says Kaehler. “We prevent that by dedicating ourselves to our customers and giving our employees the time they need to do their best work.”
For Kaehler, the relaxation that emerges from this kind of service has clear cultural roots. “Japan has a very strong ‘customer as God’ mindset — we make sure to treat our clients thoughtfully and with the utmost respect,” says Kaehler.
That also means paying attention to the small details that make a salon experience comfortable. Aside from personalized nail services, clients receive tea and a place to put their personal belongings. Someone will offer to take their coats, and employees refrain from engaging in “inside” conversations in the presence of clients.
Additionally, Kaehler still makes time to see clients herself. “Though the day-to-day aspects of running the salon keep me busy, I still like to see as many clients as I possibly can,” she says. “I love creating nails, and I love seeing my customers leave the salon feeling happy and beautiful with a new set of nails.”
This commitment to clients has given Gemist a loyal client-base.
While the salon has a wide range of regulars — from students to celebrities — it is also known to attract a lot of international clients. Gemist’s nail techs display a unique sensitivity to culture, and according to Kaehler, are always looking for new ways to make clients feel at home while they are in a new country.
“The attention and care we give to all clients, regardless of their background or nationality, makes them feel warm and cared for,” says Kaehler. “We don’t want to be just an ‘in-and-out’ salon.”
According to Kaehler, the authenticity of the service at Gemist attracts a significant amount of Japanese clientele as well.
“Torrance has a large Japanese population and many Japanese citizens are sent here by the companies they work for, including diplomats and their wives,” explained Kaehler. “Having a similar background and understanding about their cultural needs and expectations is another advantage we have.”
AN ARTFUL FOCUS
At Gemist, the primary focus is on nail art rather than nail maintenance. All of Gemist’s nail techs, including Kaehler, are experienced nail art competitors.
Although Gemist does offer basic manicures and pedicures — such as the Gemist Mani, priced at $45, which includes a hand bath, a massage with aroma oil and lotion, filing, cuticle care, scrub, and color or buff — the salon is known for its more artistic services.
This concentration on nail art echoes Gemist’s Japanese influences: “In Japan, a trip to the salon is seen as more of a luxury,” says Kaehler. “Decorative nails are very popular there, and significantly more clients opt for design nails.”
“3-D art design is complex; it entails a design that sits in three dimensions on the nail,” says Kaehler. “All of our designs are custom and individual to each client.”
Kaehler has left the pricing for nail art generally open-ended, giving customers the option to request designs that aren’t necessarily listed on the menu, or add extra embellishments. Price elevates with the intricacy of the request and the amount of materials needed.
Gels, too, are customized at Gemist. The salon offers a variety of different soak-off gel products, so the nail technician will consult with clients to determine the best type of gel to use on each type of nail. The actual application process varies depending on which product the customer chooses.
Just like with their 3-D nail art services, Gemist nail techs can create custom colors for gel manicures and pedicures.
“We will work with the client when we create a custom color, and then we have the client approve the final color,” says Kaehler.
TRAINING, TRADESHOWS, AND TRAVEL
Nail art is a demanding field — it’s very important to stay abreast of the latest design trends. One of the staff’s biggest tactics for keeping up is attending tradeshows. Kaehler and her team scope them out as often as possible to pick up new techniques, or simply see what products are on the horizon.
“Tradeshows are a great way for us to network within the industry too,” says Kaehler. “Nail innovations are happening all across the world, and I will be attending more international shows so that I can see more of the latest trends first-hand.” Recently, Kaehler traveled back to Japan to attend the Tokyo Nail Expo. (See her report on page 51.)
“We learn so much at these shows and try to implement the best things into Gemist’s services,” says Kaehler. “Of course we will practice and perfect any new techniques before bringing them to our clientele, but the inspiration we get from these shows always encourages us to work harder.”
Since Kaehler and her staff are also nail competitors, they hold regular practice sessions to keep their skills refined. Diligent training is one of the most important aspects of her business, and a personal value she holds from her early days as a burgeoning nail tech.
“I’m fortunate to have a talented staff, but I still make sure to set aside time where we can all practice together,” says Kaehler. “I like to take one-on-one lessons from many top professionals, and I like to share the things I learn with my staff during these training sessions. Of course, I encourage my staff to study on their own and bring their own learning to these practice sessions too.”
Salon Name: Gemist Nail Salon
Location: Torrance, Calif.
Owner: Meg Kaehler
Square Footage: 800
Number of Nail Techs/Total Staff: 3/3
Specialties: Acrylics, soak-off gel nails, custom colors, and 3-D nail art