How to Run a Gender-Neutral, Sustainable Nail Salon

Rachel Daily is the co-owner of ‘Cure Studios, an Austin nail salon focused on sustainable business practices and gender-neutral client experiences. A former makeup artist who loves to help people look and feel their best through small acts of self-care, Daily says she is passionate about creating visibility, opportunity, and safe spaces for the LGBTQ+ community.

She is also a senior product manager at Boulevard, provider of the client experience platform purpose-built for appointment-based, self-care businesses. Prior to joining Boulevard, Daily spent seven years working in product management at Stitch Fix. 

Here, Daily shares how she created her nail salon business with a focus on sustainability and gender-neutral client experiences.

What path led you to 'Cure Studios? Have you always been an entrepreneur? 
While I haven’t always been an entrepreneur, entrepreneurship has always been in my blood. I used to sit down with a glass of wine and buy the domain names for all the businesses I imagined myself starting one day. But like a lot of people, I had a busy and fulfilling career (as a product manager in the tech industry), so that entrepreneurial spirit was mostly in the background. 

Then one night I was having dinner with a friend (who would eventually become my co-founder and co-owner) and we were talking about how much we both loved getting our nails done but how there didn’t seem to be any nail salons around that shared our values and provided the kind of client experience we both craved. We were both working professionals who wanted the ability to go to the salon at the end of the work day and relax and enjoy an upscale experience. You could find a hair salon or spa that would deliver that kind of experience, but none of the nail salons around seemed to be offering an elevated experience. They were all super transactional, always crowded, and a little rough around the edges. 

So, the more we talked about it, and the more we talked to others about it, the more it started to feel like there was real merit to this idea. It felt like everyone we talked to would scream “Yes!” when we asked if they would get their nails done at the type of salon we were envisioning. Eventually, we got to the point where we were emotionally invested and convinced there was a market, so we decided to go for it! 

You have a strong focus on sustainable business practices. How have you been able to reduce your salon's footprint? Are you able to measure the results? 
Sustainability was paramount to us. If it wasn’t possible to build a successful salon centered around sustainable and environmentally conscious practices, then we would have abandoned the idea altogether. That’s how important it was to us. 

We utilize several different approaches and methods to help reduce our footprint. For example, we use tattoo-grade nitrile gloves that are biodegradable. We go through so many pairs of gloves that finding a bio-friendly option was non-negotiable for us. Biodegradability is super important to us. We use bio-friendly versions of everything we can find — scrub cups, bamboo cuticle sticks, cotton balls, you name it. We also don’t use foam flip-flops or toe separators. I’m not breaking news here, but foam is horrible for the environment. Using something for less than five minutes that’s then going to sit in a landfill for 100 years – there’s no way that will ever be acceptable to us. We similarly use metal files with refill pads that we can clear in our autoclave (at 243 degrees Fahrenheit for over an hour) instead of single-use files. This saves us at least 150 files every week. 

Anything we can’t do ourselves, we try to partner. For example, we work with SalonCycle via Terracycle to ship out items that cannot be recycled by the city system and have them converted to energy instead. And we work closely with Austin Resource Recovery to responsibly dispose of used acetone and other chemical items so they don’t wind up in the trash or watershed. 

The point isn’t that other salons should follow these practices exactly – it’s that we all have a responsibility to be more intentional about reducing the footprint we’re leaving behind. Looking and feeling our best should never come at the experience of the environment.   

You also focus on providing gender-neutral client experiences. Can you give us a snapshot of what that looks like?
This is another topic that’s near and dear to us. I use the example of myself. I’m pretty masculine at my center. I love working outside and getting my hands dirty. But you know what I also love? Getting my nails done! Nails don’t have a gender. There’s nothing “girly” about getting a mani-pedi and buff to shine. There’s nothing girly about taking care of yourself and looking and feeling your best. So our focus from the start has been on changing that stereotype and creating a space that’s inclusive for all. 

And frankly, it’s not that hard (and anyone who says otherwise probably isn’t really interested in trying). Our walls are green and our decor is purposely very neutral. You’re not going to see any stereotypically feminine colors or designs. We also take pride in using a client experience platform, Boulevard, that asks our customers to provide their pronouns when they book their first appointment with us. The non-binary community isn’t asking for much. They just want to walk in the door and not be misgendered. 

There’s no magic wand here, just a collection of small things that together add up to our LGBTQ community feeling seen, respected, and cared for, and to clients from all walks of life (men included!) feeling comfortable and welcome when they come to our salon.

What is the Austin scene like? What are your clients looking for these days in terms of self-care, and other services provided by your salon?
Austin is a one-of-a-kind city. I’ve lived here for 15 years and my business partner is a born and raised local, so we’ve been here to witness the incredible growth and transformation of the past decade. As the co-owner of a self-care business, three things stand out. 

First, as a city, Austin and its residents are hyper-committed and hyper-passionate about supporting local businesses. As a business owner, it was reassuring to know that the community is never going to allow some mega-chain to swallow the market. The fabric of what makes Austin special is its collective commitment to supporting creative thinkers, nurturing the community, and doing things just a little differently. That leaves a lot of room if, for example, you want to open a salon that does things a little differently. 

Second, the community is especially aware of and supportive of ethically- and environmentally conscious businesses. Of course, we wouldn’t be thriving without our incredible team and the nail art they create, but our focus on inclusivity and sustainability is an equally big part of what keeps clients coming back.  

The third thing that stands out, and this directly impacts what clients are looking for from self-care service providers, is that people in Austin are busy as can be. Our clients are usually juggling a full-time job, and have kids with packed schedules, and when they come into the nail salon, they’re not just looking to get their nails done. They’re looking to relax and enjoy themselves. They want a great experience. And they’re willing to pay for the extra effort and attention. 

Lastly, please tell us about Boulevard: What is it?
Boulevard is both the company at which I work a full-time day job as a product manager and the software platform without which we could not manage our salon. 
Boulevard is a client experience platform purpose-built for appointment-based, self-care businesses. It’s used by thousands of self-care businesses – everything from hair salons and spas, face and body treatments, MedSpas, barbershops, and, of course, nail salons – to handle everything from scheduling and business management to marketing and payment processing. What’s unique about Boulevard is it's focused on the entire client experience – not just booking, or just payments, but everything involved in getting clients in the door and sending them home happy. What I especially like about working at Boulevard is that I’m surrounded by people who are as passionate about the self-care industry as I am. 

It’s ironic, but the only reason I can maintain a full-time job at Boulevard while also running a salon (in addition to having an incredible co-owner and staff) is that I use Boulevard to run that salon! It has done so much for our business. It also enables us to fully monitor and manage our business remotely, which is an absolute must since we both keep full-time jobs. But more importantly, it enables us to create hyper-personalized experiences for our clients that start before they walk in the door and continue well after they leave. We couldn’t do without it.