Michelle Breskin (left) and Karol Markowicz are unlikely beauty entrepreneurs. Karol is a writer and former public relations consultant, while Michelle is a real-estate agent with a background in finance. But sometimes consumers know more about what's needed in a market than insiders. (If you want to geek out on that topic, check out my old NYT column on "user innovation.") As busy businesswomen and mothers of young children, the two wanted a high-maintenance look at in low-maintenance time. They took the blowouts-only idea made famous by Drybar and combined it with nail services. At Fix Beauty Bar, which opened in September on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, you can get your hair blown out while you have a manicure, pedicure, or both. You're in and out in less than an hour.
When I had an October speaking engagement in New York, I got the works--blowout, pedicure, and a gel manicure--and saw why the place has been an instant hit with both customers and local media. Karol and Michelle now employ seven stylists and five nail technicians and are still growing and hiring. We asked them about what they've learned from their venture in providing everyday glamour.
DG: Neither of you has a background in the beauty industry. What inspired you to start Fix Beauty Bar?
A: We wanted a place where you could get your hair and nails done at the same time, have it be a nice experience and have the prices be reasonable. We waited for someone else to open that kind of place and when no one did we decided to go for it ourselves.
DG: What are the advantages to offering just styling and manicures/pedicures rather than a full range of hair and nail services?
A: We focus on two things and try to do them perfectly. With a full-range salon someone that is good at coloring might still have to cut hair, for example. Our stylists do a range of blowout styles and our nail technicians do manicures and pedicures. And that's it.
DG: What do you look for in an employee?
A: It's a combination of talent and personality. We've interviewed talented people we knew we couldn't work with--it has to be a combination since we'll be spending a lot of time with the person.
DG: Who's your customer?
A: They've run the gamut of NYC women. We have businesswomen on their lunch break, stay-at-home moms with their kids in tow, twenty-somethings heading out on a Friday night. No one has any time and everyone wants to feel good without it being too much of an expense-both monetarily and time-wise.
DG: How did you have to adapt the usual procedures and equipment for your services so that you could offer them simultaneously?
A: We designed the main square bar at Fix Beauty Bar to comfortably accommodate blowouts and nail services. We hated having our nails done and then moving to another seat to dry so we built-in the hand dryers. We do waterless pedicures (we wrap the feet in hot towels instead) because they're more hygienic and they fit better with our space.
A: Like everywhere else in NYC space is at a premium. We feel like we used every available square foot wisely with the design of our space.
DG: How did you decide on prices?
A: We wanted to make it moderate enough that people will make us part of their regular routine. We felt that $40 for a blowout, $15 for a manicure, and $35 for a pedicure was the right amount to bring people in for weekly or even twice-a-week appointments.
DG: What have been the biggest surprises?
A: This was the first brick-and-mortar business for both of us (we both have been self-employed in consultant roles before) so we learned a lot of things about having a physical business space. Who knew you have to pay for garbage pick-up!
DG: You've been open only about a few months and have gotten a tremendous amount of local publicity. What's your secret?
A: There's no real secret. We've reached out to a lot of press outlets and they've been responsive because they think we have an interesting idea. It's something women always subconsciously wanted and the light goes off when they hear about it. Of course blowouts and simultaneous manicures make so much sense!
DG: What makes someone or something glamorous?
A: Glamour is about putting yourself together. We all know the days we leave the house not feeling particularly glamorous. But a little lipstick, a nice manicure or a coordinated outfit is sometimes all it takes for everyday glamour.
DG: Who or what is your glamorous icon?
A: For Michelle it's Gwenyth Paltrow. For Karol it's the women she sees in the elevator wearing heels and lipstick at 7am. How do they do it?!
DG: Is glamour a luxury or a necessity?
A: Glamour is a necessity. It goes to the heart of making a woman feel beautiful. That's actually exactly what we were thinking when we started Fix Beauty Bar. Having your hair and nails done might not be the end-all-be-all of glamour but they go a long way to making a woman feel pretty and put together.
DG: Most glamorous place?
A: New York City.
DG: Can glamour survive?
A: Of course! Glamour always survives. No matter the time in human history women always want to be beautiful and glamorous.
DG: Is glamour something you're born with?
A: No, glamour is something you develop. Norma Jean wasn't born glamorous but Marilyn Monroe was the epitome of glamour anyway.
We answered the above questions together and agreed on almost everything. And yet when we did the either/or we had almost nothing in common.
Michelle Breskin's EITHER/OR
1) Angelina Jolie or Cate Blanchett? Cate
2) Paris or Venice? Venice
3) New York or Los Angeles? New York
4) Princess Diana or Princess Grace? Both!
5) Tokyo or Kyoto? Tokyo
6) Boots or stilettos? Boots
7) Art Deco or Art Nouveau? Art Deco
8) Jaguar or Astin Martin? Astin!!!
9) Armani or Versace? Armani
10) Diana Vreeland or Anna Wintour? Anna Wintour
11) Champagne or single malt? Champagne
12) 1960s or 1980s? 60's
13) Diamonds or pearls? Diamonds
14) Kate Moss or Naomi Campbell? Naomi
15) Sean Connery or Daniel Craig? Daniel Craig
Karol Markowicz's EITHER/OR
1) Angelina Jolie or Cate Blanchett? Angelina.
2) Paris or Venice? Venice is magic but Paris is glamour.
3) New York or Los Angeles? New York.
4) Princess Diana or Princess Grace? Princess Grace.
5) Tokyo or Kyoto? Tokyo
6) Boots or stilettos? Stilettos.
7) Art Deco or Art Nouveau? Art Nouveau
8) Jaguar or Astin Martin? Astin
9) Armani or Versace? Versace
10) Diana Vreeland or Anna Wintour? Diana Vreeland
11) Champagne or single malt? I could write 3 paragraphs on this but single malt all the way.
12) 1960s or 1980s? 1980's
13) Diamonds or pearls? Diamonds.
14) Kate Moss or Naomi Campbell? Kate Moss
15) Sean Connery or Daniel Craig? Sean Connery