Philly entrepreneur Keesha Brown launched her mini nail salon inside an old bus in February, just as the pandemic descended on the region. The golden bronze bus allows her to travel to her clients. It also lets her cater to just one person or one small group at a time.
“When the COVID happened is when everything changed,” Brown, 36, told Billy Penn. “It actually boosted my business.”
The pandemic, social media and support for Black-owned business stemming from recent protests has been like a holy trinity for success for Brown’s newest endeavour, which she christened Last Minute Nails.
Brown, who runs seven businesses total, has a cosmetology degree. She “always wanted to be a nail technician,” she said, but had trouble finding a job in traditional shops.
So this year, she purchased an old CCT bus for about $7,500 and transformed it into a stylish mini spa. For about $3,000 in renovations, Brown painted the walls a magenta pink, and added floral wallpaper, a black chandelier, velour navy blue salon chairs and dark wood-look floors.
With every other traditional nail salon shuttered following Gov. Tom Wolf’s closure of non-life sustaining businesses, people turned to Last Minute Nails.
“We were the only nail salon listed as open,” Brown said.
That won’t be the case soon. City officials announced last week that personal services — salons, barbers and spas — can reopen come Friday.
But it’s not just the monopoly on the nail hustle right now that’s got business booming.
While working on a client in Philly’s West Oak Lane neighborhood, Brown’s bus caught one neighbor’s eye. That neighbor snapped pics, and shared the images on Facebook.
“This sister has a mobile nail salon and I just thought that was so cool!” Facebook user Simone Collucci wrote. Her post went viral. It’s been shared more than 12k times — and gave Brown her next biz boost.
“I literally had over 800 calls coming in regarding my services,” Brown said. That was in one day. The next day, she got 1,000 calls, and now her bookings are double what they were at launch.
Hiding her Black ownership because of past experience
Last Minute Nails proudly lists itself as a Black-owned business on Instagram. But Brown, a serial entrepreneur, said she hid it at first.
“I didn’t want people to know that it was a Black-owned business because of the non-support that we get as being Black owned,” Brown said. “When I would go to certain clients, I would say, ‘No, I don’t own the business. I’m just an employee.'”
The increased support following George Floyd protests, Brown said, is not what she usually receives as a Black woman business owner — and she has plenty of experience.
Her other companies include a staffing agency and job training program, both on pause while Last Minute Nails gets off the ground, and an ice cream and belgian waffle shop called Late Night Munch & Crunch in Marcus Hook, Pa.
Brown recalled a time when one of her staffing agency clients, a doctor’s office where she’d placed three long-term employees, found out she owned the business.
“And all of a sudden, that took a downward spiral,” Brown said of the doctor’s office. “From that, it went to [him] not answering my calls, [him] not answering my text messages. So that made me feel like…I wasn’t good enough being a Black owned business.”
On the Last Minute Nails bus, Brown specializes in dip powder false nails because they’re quicker than acrylic application — and her entire business model is based on speed and convenience.
That jibes perfectly with the reopening guidance for the industry provided by the city this week. Brown said she uses hand sanitizer, sanitizes clients hands before and after their appointment, disinfects the pedicure bowl with bleach after each client and wears a mask…most of the time.
She caught a little flak for not wearing a mask in the viral Facebook photos.”That was just one of the customers that I felt comfortable enough not to wear a mask at that time,” she explained.
Ultimately, Brown believes she manifested her successful nail shop.
“Last year, I kept saying, I want to be rich,” Brown said. “Now I feel like, I’m not going to ever have to worry about my income anymore because all I do is answer the phone and say, ‘Hey, I can take you right now.’ And literally I can make money all day, every day.”