Sarah Gibson Tuttle, founder of Vogue-and-celeb-approved nail salon Olive & June, worked in finance for a decade before quitting Wall Street and setting on her sights on something a bit more hands-on. A self-professed mani/pedi obsessee— she considers her initial career “bootcamp,” having come across mentors and bosses who taught her how to interact in business, and how to treat a client’s time and space.
“Everyone assumes that I’m a nitty gritty numbers person, I’m not,” she says laughing. “I just hired a CFO, but I grew up within finance, and I couldn’t be doing this without that training. No grad school could have done that.”
The first Olive & June opened in 2013, appealing to a predominantly female clientele looking for a warmer, more community-based nail salon. “One of our clients likes to say we’re the Cheers of manicures,” she says. “I wanted to get into a career that enhanced lives, and nails are one of the least expensive ways to change your look, especially in the beauty business.”
In the beginning, Sarah admits to being nervous about opening a brick-and-mortar. “They are the hardest to make profitable, but there will never be a machine that does your nails." She was terrified but also so confident in the idea, feeling, "so clearly that this was a hole in the market. I had that blind entrepreneurial spirit.”
Founded on the idea that a manicure should be “downright lovely,” Olive & June was designed by the team behind at TenOverSix, and quickly attracted customers looking for something beyond the typical nail experience. Something a little brighter, boutique-ier, with non-toxic polishes and creams, the salons are both a getaway oasis and somewhere you can pop-in, get a quick mani and head to a meeting. The salons keep your preferences on file— round, square, favorite colors, and just how you like your cuticles.
There are currently three Olive & June locations, flagship Beverly Hills, Pasadena which opened almost two years after the first, and the latest of the bunch, Santa Monica, which opened about a month ago. The response has been overwhelming and tremendous. “I feel incredibly grateful,” she says, “that the Westside has embraced us so fully.”
Sarah is currently looking to open a fourth salon, scouting possible locations on a weekly basis. “I really want to have Olive & June in every neighborhood that it makes sense,” Sarah says, “but I am extremely cautious about fast and wide we extend our footprint.”
Studio City, Manhattan Beach, and Orange County are on the radar, but she insists that Olive & June is a “slow and steady company.” Explaining that, “Every time we open a space we want the time to make it perfect. Because we are both a people business and we give service to people, it’s extremely important that every location can stand on its own.”
The next spot has to be the right spot.
There have been incredible opportunities to open in New York and Austin, but Sarah knew the team wasn’t there. “I was certain that as an organization we were not ready to support a New York location.” She admits the offer was “devastating” to turn down, but creating a strong foundation is more important to the business than expanding.
“I try and get into a least one salon every day,” she says. “It’s very important to me to communicate with the managers and the manicurists, and make sure that the people who work for Olive & June feel a part of the community as well.” That means connecting with the manicurists and management team, connecting with customers, sometimes going to two locations in a day. “It is extremely important to me that everyone that we hire is placed in a position of success.”
She calls this her “number one concern,” refusing to put anyone in a position where the client’s aren’t there. “Manicurist receive commission,” she says, “so I don’t want to open where they can’t be busy.” Currently there are approximately 80 people working for the company.
Beyond expanding locations and taking care of the team, Olive & June is looking toward the future on other fronts— product development and continuing to partner with brands that make sense.
Though her now-husband thought that she “might be a little crazy,” for following her instinct, Sarah knows that there are certain things the digital world will never take away: breaking bread, for one, and nails. “Hands-on is so important. We become these women’s therapists, their friends, the ones they turn to in the midst of a divorce.”
In short: A manicure has never been about the polish-- that's just the beautiful bonus, and something that Olive & June understands from top coat, down.
Be sure to check out Sarah speak on panel at Create & Cultivate DTLA this May 7th.
Images courtesy of Olive & June.
Arianna Schioldager is Create & Cultivate's editorial director. You can find her on IG @ariannawrotethis and more about her at www.ariannawrotethis.com