How One Nail School Owner and Instructor is Making a Difference
When Chris Davis opened a Black owned nail school, she didn’t do it just to help herself. She wanted to help other people. Some of her students needed encouragement and others needed a second chance. Either way, Chris made a bold move to help anyone and everyone.
Buff Nail Academy is based in Charlotte, North Carolina. Chris is the proud owner of this nail school, where she makes every effort to empower others by creating real opportunities and teaching the skills she’s applied while working in the beauty industry for over 30 years.
This isn’t the first business venture that Chris has made. She also runs Buff Salon, which she first opened about two decades ago in Detroit, Michigan under a different name. Even though business was running smoothly, Chris felt inspired to teach, mentor, and train students who needed it the most.
Students who come to Chris are as young as 14 years old, while others are almost senior citizens. Chris teaches nail art, customer service skills, and she gives business advice. But she doesn’t stop there. She plants the seeds of entrepreneurship, where it didn’t previously exist.
Keep reading to learn about this creative nail tech, Swarovski educator, nail salon owner, Booksy Ambassador, and seasoned nail instructor, who gives back by inspiring others. Find out why we selected Chris to participate in our Women’s History Month campaign that features successful female entrepreneurs and draws attention to their accomplishments via the unique social media hashtag #whosinyourcircle.
The Power of Entrepreneurship
Although Chris enjoys the pace of living in Charlotte, she’s originally from Detroit. And one of the things that she fondly remembers while growing up as a child is the time she spent at the radiator repair shop owned by her grandfather and the hair salon owned by her mother.
According to Chris, part of the reason that she was able to succeed as a business owner was that the people in her family simply refused to accept or acknowledge the idea that they couldn’t achieve a goal or a dream. And that same mindset rubbed off onto her at a very early age.
“I remember being five years old answering the phone in my grandparents' business. I didn’t know what I was doing, but I remember doing that on Saturday mornings. And when I was seven, I’d watch, learn, and listen while sitting in my mom’s hair salon. Those types of things, even though you don’t think you’re learning anything at the time, when you start jobs or invest in your own business, you always refer back to those experiences,” said Chris.
Chris started her career in the beauty world believing that she could make things happen. And that’s a belief that she makes every effort to share with her students. Being a nail technician in the state of North Carolina doesn’t require a formal degree or higher education. And while some of her students may need a character reference, her classes serve as a fresh opportunity.
“You don’t have to have a high school diploma or a GED to be a nail tech. So, I may come across a young lady or a gentleman, who didn’t finish high school and may have been a teenage mom. Or they may have dropped out of high school for whatever reason. But that doesn’t mean they can’t succeed at becoming a beauty professional,” Chris said.
Helping Nail School Students Find their Path
One of the things that Chris wanted to accomplish in opening her own nail school was to make absolutely sure that her students developed the mindset, as well as the technical knowledge, to start working the moment they complete her 300 hour program in the six to seven weeks that it requires.
“Obviously I’m teaching them manicuring, pedicuring, and business ethics. And due to COVID-19, I spend a lot of time on infection control and bacteriology. But at the same time I’m teaching them core technical skills, nail art, time management, and customer service. These are things that they don’t teach in most nail schools—they just don’t teach the business side,” said Chris.
Local government officials, along with other successful businesses, are recognizing the work that Chris is accomplishing. The city of Charlotte donated a $10,000 grant to help sponsor the school, and in turn support the students who are short on income but desperately want to become nail techs.
This year, Chris was able to start a partnership with Tammy Taylor Nails, who provides high quality, professional nail products to each student at an affordable rate. The entire program that Chris runs only costs $3,500. It breaks down to about $10 per credit hour or per clock hour. And the kits costs students about $500. But industry experts value the kits at somewhere between $900 - $1,000, she said.
Chris offers her program to anyone and everyone. Students range in age and economic background. But many of the students are women, who identify as people of color. And the most important thing for Chris is that they all believe they can achieve.
“Especially these young ladies who maybe had a rough start, they can start fresh in doing something that’s not a three year program or a one year program where they may get bored, because of all of the stumbling blocks. My school requires 300 hours, which can really be done between five to seven weeks, especially with the online component that I’ve added,” she said.
Feedback from Nail School Students
When asked to describe her work, Chris said that she empowers one person at a time, especially the students who feel hopeless and come to her with a general idea that they want to invest in the beauty and wellness industry but still need some real direction.
“There are people that feel like, ‘but gosh, I didn’t finish highschool.’ I tell them that this industry could still work for you. Some of these people dropped out because they weren’t the best students in a traditional learning environment. But these same people are very creative. And they may be visual learners. Those types of people are able to do things hands-on. They typically do very well in creative areas. And the nail industry is a very creative area,” said Chris.
In particular, those students enjoy the visual aids that Chris provides. During the first week of class, she sets up a vision board. And each student in the classroom describes their ideal business. The goal is to write down clear intentions about what kind of business each student wants. And then they create a plan for what it will look like and who the customers will be.
Chris starts the conversation by talking about demographics. But then she quickly moves into a discussion about psychographics, which is the study and classification of people according to their attitudes, aspirations, and other psychological criteria, especially in market research.
“Who is your customer? What does she or he watch on television? Where do they live? What kind of things do they like? If you know who your customer is, what they like, and all of these things about them, you can go about marketing yourself to that person and start generating business from the very beginning of your career,” she said.
Inspiring Students to Walk Taller
After encouraging students to be entrepreneurs, spending hours upon hours teaching the actual craft, and talking to them about their future client base—Chris tries to leave her students with the desire to walk tall, regardless of what other people tell them.
For Chris, it’s important that all of her students remember that the beauty and wellness industry relies on people taking care of their appearance and even spoiling themselves. She reminds her students that all communities deserve wealth and privilege. And it’s important for beauty professionals to normalize self-care and luxury for themselves, regardless of their backgrounds.
Chris tells students to remove internal stories in their head about what type of people deserve to invest time into taking care of themselves. Chris knows that every nail service is essentially a luxury. And most people afford themselves that luxury because it makes them feel good. So, she tells her students to feel comfortable normalizing luxury, so that all types of people can become accustomed to feeling like their absolute best selves.
“So, even though I’m teaching them about nails, I’m also teaching them to rethink the way that they see themselves. I want them to rethink the way they see themselves in regards to business. And I want them to rethink who their most loyal customers are going to be,” she said.