The first thing that strikes us about Ruth Kallens, founder of new Financial District nail salon Van Court, is how much she adores her team of nail technicians. “They are all so smart,” she raves. “I’m really lucky that I have such a good team.”
As a child, Ruth was fascinated by fashion magazines and, as a teenager, she worked as a plus-size model. “I worked with Mia Tyler and Kate Dillon—the OG’s of plus-size modeling,” she recalls. “Being a model was my way into the fashion world; I got to see how the back end operates.”
After college, she worked as a beauty publicist at a small boutique agency, doing social media marketing. It was 2008, just as social media was becoming an actual profession. “I loved it and I was good at it, but I decided corporate America just wasn’t for me,” she says. She left to start her own practice, where she represented fashion and beauty clients, including nail polish veteran Deborah Lippmann.
Simultaneously, Ruth, a nail aficionado, was getting tired of overpaying for mediocre mani-pedis. When she saw Deborah’s technicians in action, she thought, “These are the people who need to be doing my nails. They’re doing it properly—they’re not buffing the nails to a bloody pulp. They are not cutting the cuticles.”
“There is really a right way and a wrong way to give a manicure and a pedicure,” explains Ruth.” These super-skilled technicians were only working as freelancers on editorial shoots, and never in salons. “Nine times out of ten, their needs weren’t being met in a salon,” she says. “I got that.” When Ruth opened Van Court earlier this year, she knew exactly what she had to do to bring in the city’s top talent. She’s committed to making her salon the best place to work as a technician.
“I recently had an employee say to me, ‘I just love coming to work. It’s so relaxing and welcoming, and I know that it’s never going to be a stressful environment,’” Ruth says. “That’s exactly what I was hoping for.” We sat down with Ruth to find out how she’s investing in her team, putting their needs first and making Van Court an amazing place to work.
Put your team first
Without our incredible technicians, I’m nothing. My entire business concept is built around them, so we’ve put them first from the ground up. It’s in the company’s best interest to empower them and give them what they need to do their best work. I welcome them to give me feedback, and, most importantly, I take action on their suggestions. For example, we’re adjusting our pedicure stations so they’re more comfortable for our technicians. When you give your employees the freedom to speak up and you empower them, they’re going feel good about working with you.
Recognize that your employees have passions outside the office
Our technicians have many interests outside of nails, which is great. It allows them to exercise other parts of their brain, which keeps them inspired and motivated. We have technicians who are studying everything from astrophysics to accounting, while others are doing editorial gigs. I respect my employees’ time and work with their schedules. As a result, the highest-caliber technicians want to work with us.
Reward people who go the extra mile
If a technician is specifically requested by at least five customers, she gets a 10% raise for that pay period. We’re in the Financial District, and our customer is getting her mani-pedi done after her 5:30 a.m. SoulCycle class, so we’re open early. We give an extra hour’s pay to technicians who take those 7:30 a.m. appointments.
Keep it clean
We use the cleanest, healthiest products available, which benefits the technician as much as the customer. All of our products are all-natural and organic whenever possible. Our salt scrub is made in-house—it’s nothing but coconut oil, salt and essential oils, because nothing else needs to go in there. Our polishes are all non-toxic and cruelty-free, and we keep a tightly curated selection of colors. It’s a very clean, minimal, beautiful experience.
Empower your partners
Our nail polish selection is next to none, and we’re working with only women-owned brands. A lot of them are local gals, like Deborah Lippmann, LVX and Ginger and Liz. We’re partnering with them and supporting their businesses, because they have a great product.
Pay it forward
We partner with Good Shepherd, an organization that prepares high school students for internships and careers. I’m currently working with two 18-year-old girls to give them experiences and opportunities that wouldn’t have otherwise been available to them. They’re both interested in fashion and beauty careers, so we’re showing them the ropes and, when they’re ready we can use our connections to help them kickstart their careers. They are such hard-workers and they’re eager to learn; it’s been such a mutually beneficial partnership.
Images courtesy of Van Court