At Wild Wood London we love manicures especially having spent a day flower arranging and our nails are in need of some TLC. When we noticed a new nail bar had opened up locally to the studio, we had to pop in and give it a whirl. When we were offered champagne and cake with our manicure, we found it difficult to leave! London Grace was set up by Kirsten Hazell, who having lived in New York realised that there was a lack of nail bars in London offering something different, including the late opening hours for those who work. We speak to her about reinventing the nail bar culture in London and her entrepreneurial streak.
How did the idea of London Grace come about?
I started my first business ‘Party Staff Ltd’ at 16 after recognising the need for waiter and bar staff in my local area. A year later I had 60 staff on my books, providing waiting staff for up to 16 events a week. So I guess you could say I have always had an entrepreneurial personality – I enjoy spotting problems and coming up with solutions. After graduating, I worked for a consultancy in the city but quickly realised that working for a large corporation was not for me and I missed the buzz of running my own business.
The idea for London Grace was conceived in the autumn of 2013. A manicure and a coffee was a way of life where I studied in New York and one that was available around a working day, as well as at the weekend. When I returned to London I noticed the lack of choice and quality, so I began to look at ways to transform weekly manicure maintenance into a fun, social experience.
How daunting was it quitting your job and what finally made you do it?
When it came to it, I felt ready to leave and focus on launching the business. Fortunately I was able to freelance 3 days a week for 9 months, so I still had some income to keep me going.
Were you still in full time employment while coming up with the concept of London Grace?
I was still in full time employment for the first 3 months after having the idea, during this time I also completed a nail technician qualification – much to the surprise of my colleagues!
Did any skills which you had learnt in your previous job help towards setting up London Grace?
Yes definitely, from my first business working in the events industry I learnt the importance of customer service. In today’s world people are expecting more and more from the service they receive and you have to constantly look at ways to exceed expectations. With my experience as a graphic designer I was able to brand the business and have an input in the website design. My role as a consultant definitely taught me the importance of perfecting your presentation skills and quickly identifying what works and doesn’t work for a business.
A lot of people dream of setting up their own company, where did you start and what is the actual reality of doing it?
My starting point was to get the qualification as a nail technician so I could learn about the industry first-hand (excuse the pun!) I also did a lot of competitor research and price analysis as my aim was to create a unique experience that was still affordable. The reality of setting up your own business is that you are responsible for a lot of people, which is not something to be taken lightly. However, watching your business grow is so rewarding and I don’t think I could ever go back now!
To those who want to start up their own company, what advice do you have?
My advice would be to give your business an all or nothing approach, prepare to give it everything you’ve got to ensure it succeeds! You have to truly believe in the business, to live and breathe the brand. Make sure you establish a strong brand identity from the beginning that people can instantly recognise. Surround yourself with an amazing team and have a strong network of family and friends ready to help and support you. If you’ve got a great idea – take the leap!
London Grace have their own range of nail polishes, did you have these from the beginning?
Yes, after spending several months perfecting the products, I felt really confident in the formula and wanted to solely offer our own-branded polishes in the first London Grace nail bar.
What made you want to produce your own range of nail products? What products are available?
Producing our own range of nail products was important to establish that London Grace is a lifestyle brand, not just a nail salon. It gave me complete control and confidence in the products we were offering, from the colour selection to ensuring that the polishes are cruelty-free and made with no nasties. We now have 39 colours (each is named after someone who played a part in the London Grace journey), as well as a range of nail care products including files, cuticle oil and moisturising lotion.
How do New York nail bars differ to what is available in the UK?
When I was living there, I found that getting your nails done was more of a regular treat for New Yorkers and it fitted in with the busy city lifestyle. Although there are the cheap and cheerful options like in the UK, in NYC there are more brands that are trying to shake up the industry and offer something different. It was these brands who inspired me when creating London Grace.
You have a great selection of cocktails and drinks, what is your favourite tipple of choice when having your nails done?
You can’t go wrong with a glass of Prosecco when you’re having your nails done!
What is your favourite nail colour?
It has to be the ‘Grace’ as it is Pantone matched to our brand colour, or anything pink for example the ‘Kirsten’ which is such a nice shade of pink I had to make it my namesake!
Did you work with a nail technician when setting up London Grace, how did you know what was required?
I trained as a nail technician to fully immerse myself in the industry and I learnt a lot during that process, but when the team joined they had decades of experience between them so they were invaluable in sharing their advice and ideas too.
Gel or polish?
Polish for every day, gel for holiday!
You’ve won three business awards, what is the secret to setting up your own business?
People are key, it’s so important to have a good team with complementing skills. You need to be super organised and not afraid to ask questions.
Most memorable bouquet of flowers which you’ve received and your favourite flower?
The bouquet I carried on my wedding day a couple of months ago, they were so beautiful. Favourite flower, Keira rose (David Austen wedding rose).
London Grace have a nail bar in Putney, Clapham and their most recent one has just opened in Leicester Square. It’s a great place to go with your friends, for a hen party or even by yourself for a moments peace!