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The journey from one nail salon to a national brand

Lakewood Ranch residents Mark and Michele Schlossberg launched Paint Nail Bar nine years ago. It has since become a nationwide brand.


Mark and Michele Schlossberg founded Paint Nail Bar nine years ago.
Mark and Michele Schlossberg founded Paint Nail Bar nine years ago.
Photo by Lori Sax
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Before giving birth to her daughter 13 years ago, Michele Schlossberg decided to get serious about limiting her exposure to toxins. Schlossberg had majored in nutrition in college and had long eaten healthy food and exercised to stay in shape. As a former employee of Estee Lauder Corp., she marketed the hypoallergenic skincare and cosmetics line Clinique. Now, Schlossberg focused her attention on her nails. 

“When I was pregnant and trying to have a viable pregnancy, I was very particular about what I was eating, what I was putting on my body,” she says. “It felt that if you went to get your nails done, whether it was at The Ritz-Carlton or at a strip mall, you had to turn a blind eye.”

Although they didn’t realize it at the time, Michele and her husband, Mark Schlossberg, were gestating a brainchild — a chain of clean, toxin-free nail salons that treated staff well and made customers feel like guests in their Lakewood Ranch home. 

That baby, Paint Nail Bar, will turn 9 years old in March. The Schlossbergs own two Sarasota-area Paint Nail Bars — one in downtown Sarasota near Whole Foods, the company’s flagship location, and the other in Waterside Place in Lakewood Ranch. 

There are more than 40 franchisees nationwide whose owners look to the Schlossbergs for training, staff development, product recommendations and store design. At each salon, the Paint Nail Bar logo is written in all capital letters and the spaces are awash in different hues of pink. 

Paint Nail employee Mahogany Poinsettia works her magic at the Lakewood Ranch location.
Photo by Lori Sax

Before co-founding Paint with his wife, Mark spent 25 years as a Huntington Learning Center franchisee in suburban Washington, D.C. Mark says he built his business into the No. 1 Huntington franchise through the excellence of its staff and its tutoring service, which was skills-based.

Family members, friends and consultants helped shape the image of Paint Nail Bar. Some of these people prefer to remain anonymous, like a mystery billionaire who invests in franchises and gave them access to analytics. Other supporting actors are Michele’s mom, Marianne Schmid; Ashley Koshinski, who is the director of franchise operations; and beauty industry consultant Marci Krempel, to name just a few.

Mark’s father, Stephen Schlossberg, a labor leader and civil rights activist, didn’t live to see Paint Nail Bar. The former United Auto Workers general counsel and Labor Department official died in Sarasota in 2011. But his lifelong commitment to the rights of workers is why a chain of nail salons pays its employees what Mark calls an “ethical wage” and treats them with respect. 

“The safety and well-being of our employees is our No. 1 concern,” Mark says. “Without them, we don’t have any customers.”

Like many people who move to Sarasota, the Schlossbergs came here with plans to retire and enjoy the fruits of Mark’s labors from the Huntington franchise, which he sold. But like many other transplants, they didn’t stay retired. The Schlossbergs had been kicking the Paint Nail Bar concept around for a while and, after six months of relaxation at the beach, they decided to take the plunge with the business.

One of the reasons they chose their First Street location downtown, the Schlossbergs say, is the landlord was willing to lease it to them after a face-to-face meeting. Despite their financial wherewithal and business experience, they were turned down several times for leases because they had never run a nail salon before, Michele says.

When a reporter notes that it makes sense to have an organic nail salon around the corner from organic food purveyor Whole Foods, Mark sets the record straight. “There’s no such thing as organic in nails. Organic nail products don’t exist. Our products are non-toxic, non-carcinogenic, free from animal cruelty,” he explains.

Still, the people shopping for nutritious food at Whole Foods are likely to be interested in having their nails groomed in a safe, sanitary environment with good ventilation. Mark agrees and says what he calls “co-tenancy” is very important to Paint Nail Bar and its franchisees. “You’ll never see a Paint Nail Bar next to a Dollar Tree.”

It wasn’t long after Paint opened in downtown Sarasota in March 2015 that snowbirds were asking how they could get the same level of service and safety back home. With Mark’s franchise experience, it was a no-brainer to begin offering franchises. The first was in Lubbock, Texas, home of Texas Tech.

A university town in east Texas might strike some as an odd place for the first Paint Nail Bar franchise, but Mark says the location came to their attention because the franchisee’s sister lived in Sarasota and was a customer.  

“There are lots of nail salons in Lubbock, and that’s what we look for. A huge mistake people who are not versed in business don’t understand is there is no such thing as competition. People either help you grow your business or put you out of business. There are no competitors of yours. Lubbock has 47 nail salons, so we know there is a market for Paint,” he says.

 

Opened in 2018, Lubbock’s Paint Nail Bar was a great success. The Schlossbergs recently bought it back because its owner got an opportunity in Big Pharma.

As they did in Lubbock, the Schlossbergs initially franchised their Paint Nail bar location in Lakewood Ranch but ended up buying it back from the owner. Although they considered opening a salon in University Town Center, they opted for Waterside Place, which was in the early stages of development when they signed their lease.

Although Covid and ensuing supply-chain shortages slowed down the development of Waterside Place, which now boasts an impressive array of tenants, the Schlossbergs say it was the right place for them. They credit Kirk Boylston, retired president of Lakewood Ranch Commercial Realty, for his flexibility and patience. “Kirk was really easy to work with,” says Mark.

One of the main selling points of Lakewood Ranch is it’s where the Schlossbergs live. When they first moved to Sarasota, the Schlossbergs lived on the water for two years. They moved out to Lakewood Ranch because Mark loves to raise and ride horses. They live “country club-ish,” Mark says, declining to be more specific.

Each Paint Nail Bar offers jewelry, clothing, gifts and accessories.
Photo by Lori Sax

The Paint Nail Bar in Lakewood Ranch officially opened in February 2022, but because of Covid and delays in the development of Waterside Place, it only had a handful of commercial neighbors, including Kilwins and Good Liquid Brewing Co., for many months.

The relaxed start in Waterside Place gave the Schlossbergs the opportunity to build their team, which Mark calls the most “cohesive” of any Paint Nail Bar location. There are about 45 employees between the Lakewood Ranch and downtown Sarasota locations. 

According to Mark, the downtown Sarasota location does about 24,000 services a year, versus 18,000 for Lakewood Ranch. By contrast, the Miami franchise does about 27,000.


Great expectations

Whether you walk into a Paint Nail Bar in Lakewood Ranch or in Ann Arbor, Michigan, some things are the same. There is a reception desk where you are greeted in a friendly manner and get checked in. If you have to wait, you are invited to sit down on a big, comfortable couch. You can shop for jewelry, loungewear and gift items if you choose. 

With the exception of its Dazzle Dry quick-dry coating, Paint doesn’t sell nail polish, which it sources primarily from a manufacturer in Toronto that Michele and her mom discovered at a trade show.

Although a customer may not realize it, there’s a lot of emphasis on ergonomics and traffic flow in the layout of each Paint Nail Bar. There’s also a lot going on safety-wise that is not immediately apparent. There is a state-of-the-art ventilation system that promises “zero fumes.” All tools used during a manicure or pedicure have been cleaned with soap and water, dried, sealed in an envelope and sterilized the way instruments are at a hospital.

Missing are the whirlpool pedicure “thrones” found in many salons. According to Paint’s website, the plumbing and whirlpool jets can be breeding grounds for bacteria. Instead, the company uses ceramic pedicure basins that can be cleaned thoroughly between clients.

With its emphasis on safety and its commitment to paying its employees a living wage that can reach $60,000 annually and giving them access to health insurance, one might expect that Paint’s manis, pedis and other services are more expensive than at other salons.

Not so, says Mark. “When we go into a market, we do the analytics on all the providers from the strip malls to The Ritz-Carlton, and we set our price in the middle. We don’t want to be the highest, but we don’t want to be the lowest.”

In downtown Sarasota, the classic Uptown Girl manicure costs $36 and the Uptown Girl pedicure goes for $45. There are other services and price points, including Lickety-Split 30-minute mani ($24) and pedi ($29) — treatments that don’t use water — and the luxe Talk of the Town manis ($48) and pedis ($68) for those who want to indulge themselves.

To gel or not to gel? Talk it over with the Paint personnel. There are lots of options.

Like all service businesses, Paint Nail Bar was hit hard by Covid. Mark recalls how he and Michele shut down all the franchises for between six and eight weeks beginning in March 2020 so they could figure out how to adjust to the new environment. In the end, most Paint Nail Bar salons only had to install Plexiglass screens at the manicure stations because existing safety protocols were already robust.

Even when the salons reopened, some customers stayed away, particularly older ones. Mark’s mom, Nancy Schlossberg, an author and aging expert who is now 94, was one of them, he notes. 

But in the end, the business bounced back better than ever. “It sounds cruel and insensitive to say this because we lost people during Covid, but the pandemic was the best thing that ever happened to us because it opened up people’s eyes to the need for safety in salons,” Mark says.

Paint Nail Bar isn’t the only nail salon franchise in the country — according to Mark there are six or seven similar concepts. But it’s the top one when it comes to service and safety, according to the Schlossbergs. Testimony to the franchise’s allure is the fact that its owners don’t spend any money on marketing it to franchisees.

“We have not spent a penny to market the franchise company,” says Michele. “All of our franchise growth has happened organically. Our customers or their relatives often become franchisees in other locations. For instance, our Ann Arbor, Michigan, franchisee was a client in Lakewood Ranch.”

 

author

Monica Roman Gagnier

Monica Roman Gagnier is the arts and entertainment editor of the Observer. Previously, she covered A&E in Santa Fe, New Mexico, for the Albuquerque Journal and film for industry trade publications Variety and The Hollywood Reporter.