Marketing Case Study for Competitions: Sparkle Nail Salon

Company Background

Sparkle Nail Salon is a nail boutique located in Cambridge, Massachusetts. In 2000, Kim Nguyen founded the business after working in salons for 15 years. Sparkle’s first few years were rocky as Kim struggled to compete with the full-service spas and low-cost salons around town. Luckily, the salon was located in a busy shopping center, which brought in enough walk-ins to stay afloat. With roughly 200 “clientele,” Kim decided it was time to advertise.

Original Marketing Implementation

Without a clear marketing strategy, Kim entered the advertising world somewhat unaware of what to do. She set-up a contract for weekly newspaper advertisements and also purchased a small billboard on a city street near the office. Her small, eighth-page ad cost $500 a week, with a 3-month commitment. The billboard was $1,000 a month, also with a 3-month commitment. This brought Kim’s total advertising expenditure to $9,000. Within those three months, Sparkle gained 51 new clients.

Nail Design Competition

Kim wasn’t satisfied with the return on her investment, so she let the billboard deal expire and dropped the newspaper ads to once a month, saying, “What I do know about marketing is that success doesn’t happen overnight, but I still thought I could get better results by being more-creative.” Her answer came when an employee suggested hosting a nail design competition. All of her nail artists were looking to expand their craft and be more-creative, so the idea took off quickly. Kim purchased a large vinyl banner to hang over her storefront promoting the competition dates. Customers were encouraged to book an appointment with one of 5 competing artists to receive an avant-garde nail design. In exchange they received a free manicure/pedicure that they could use at Sparkle later in the year. Pictures were taken of each design and the shop clientele were able to vote for their favorite design. The nail artists were charged with referring new business and driving new clientele into the salon to vote for their designs.

Growth and Adjustments

The competition received a tremendous response. Each artist booked 10 appointments, which led to 50 entries total, 38 of which were new clients referred through seeing the banner or word-of-mouth. The voting process became a bit complicated in the store so Kim decided to take the voting online to Sparkle’s website and social-networking pages. The banner only cost $150, made sure not to include specific dates in the design, Kim will be able to use it for future competitions.


In a crowded market, Kim knew she had to find a niche and be creative to make Sparkle Nail Salon a successful business. Since high-end and low-cost were already taken, Kim instead chose cutting-edge. Hosting a competition featured the up-and-coming art of extreme nail design, which built the credibility of her employees and at the same time became a viral campaign, spreading across town through word-of-mouth. The business signs outside the storefront also attracted new customers, so many in fact that Kim decided to order another banner to replace the competition one-this one featuring her regular manicure and pedicure special. All in all, the competition and its subsequent bookings took up a month’s time, which brought 75 new clients to Sparkle, for a fraction of her original marketing investment (using newspaper ads and billboards).


  • It’s important that your business has a niche in the market. Being all things to all people is often a tough sell-most business, especially when starting out, find a specific demographic and focus on reaching it in the most-effective way possible.
  • Tried-and-true forms of advertising have their place, but if they’re not in the budget, there are other alternatives. Look for mediums that provide high “bang for your buck,” such as a vinyl banner in this case.
  • Don’t be afraid to do something outside-the-box. Hosting a competition not only builds buzz and awareness of your business, but it also pushes your employees to be the best and bring in new clientele.
  • Utilize the power of word-of-mouth. New customers are more-likely to believe those they trust (friends, family, coworkers), than a random ad they see from a business.

Beauty and the Business

Are you aware about your branding aesthetics? Do you care if your business “sparkles” or just one of the ordinary?

Some of you probably say, “Who cares? I’m not in the business of being pretty. I’m in the business of selling good products and services”, right? Well, you’re partially correct. You are not in the business of looking pretty but you’re wrong about your customers NOT caring.

As a Graphic Designer, I learned a long time ago that I’m not in the business of being conceptual nor abstract. Nor am I in the business of being artistic for the sake of self-expression. I am, however, in a business of selling services through creativity, innovation, analytical strategy, provocation, and practical presentation, and “aesthetic” happens to be a crucial element of these selling recipes.

I know it sounds superficial to say that “if your product looks good, it will sell.” It is as big of a lie as the saying “If you build it, they will come.” But we all know that “beauty” is capable of single-handedly selling a piece of crap product. We all buy stuff even when we know that the advertisement is a flat out lie! The colorful pretty box on a crowded shelf always jumps at you first. It’s purposely designed for you not to miss it! It’s the one that screams, “Buy me! Buy me! I’m prettier than the rest of these ugly losers!” It’s true! Ask yourself, when was the last time you bought something because it’s pretty and you could careless if the damn thing last you shorter than your previous marriage? Sorry, didn’t mean to hit a nerve there. But pretty things do not mean good products. IKEA anyone?

Well, since I mentioned marriage, I might as well get in to it. I promise I’ll be careful this time. But before I proceed, I want to make it clear to you that I’m not favoring “beauty” by it self with no hint of any quality. Nor am I against marketing products through deception and blinding tactics using aesthetics. I love “beautiful” products and services because of their great presentation in marketing approach as well as the integrity from a consumer point of view.

To build my case, have you heard of this guy named John, who 5 years ago ditched Rose, whom everyone knew was the smartest and kindest girl on the block. Instead, he married Jane, who happened to be the prettiest and most popular girl in the whole town of Skinville. Now, Rose, happily married with 3 healthy children, is a successful CEO of her own well-established company while still manage to be a homemaker (not to mention cooks a lovely dinner for her husband every single night when he comes home from work.) and John, a broke-ass drunk who cannot remember if he became drunk because Jane left him or because Jane left him with half of his life earned savings.

OK, I just made it up…or did I?

But anyway, I know that nobody could have blamed John for choosing Jane over Rose. He went with his instinct, his gut feeling. Like a lot of us buy things through impulse or pressure. How could John know about Rose’s real potential? Research? Who has time for that?

But wouldn’t it be nice if Rose was as pretty as Jane and still had all the (non-superficial) good quality in a woman a man could ever wish for?

So you may ask yourself, is what your business offers to consumers a “Jane” or a “Rose” or both?

Making your business appealing through your marketing and presentation does not mean just hiring a good design and marketing team to create you a pretty logo, a slick packaging, and a stylish advertising campaign. It also means conveying your message to your consumers with promising quality and integrity. Now that’s a beauty.

Time for a Sparkle Inspection

It’s a normal workday. You drive to work, park your car in back and walk in through the “company” door. Just like any other normal workday but today I invite you to walk in the same way your customer does. Walk in through the “Customer Door.” Conduct a “Sparkle” inspection.

A Sparkle Inspection? What’s that you say?

Let’s step back a moment, back to your Foundational Statements – you know… your Mission, Vision, and Values. I’ll bet that somewhere in those statements there are references to customer satisfaction, quality, high levels of performance, that sort of thing. Maybe you wrote those statement because you felt obliged to impress someone, maybe you felt you were expected to mention these customer-friendly attributes, or maybe you wrote them in because you were sincere about wanting to impress your customers and prospects (or at least not turn them off because of slovenliness. Either way, it has probably been years since you inspected, really inspected, your physical location for “Sparkle.”

So, you walk into your place of business through the “public” door. Does that door have greasy fingerprints all over it or is it inviting? Does the entry look and smell like a used ashtray with cigarette butts (and their smell) sticking out of a flowerpot? Is the carpet clean? Are the plants healthy or do they look like they are about to perish in the middle of a desert drought heavy with spider webs? Does the public area appear to be part of a successful, bustling business? If not it’s definitely time for a change.

If you have a waiting area, it is clean, tidy, and orderly? Is reading material strewn all over the place or neatly arranged attractively? Are lightening fixtures clean or dusty? Are chairs lined up or do they look like a horde of teenagers have camped out for a day or two? Are there dust bunnies in the corners?

When you inspect the work area, does the work area pulsate with a busy hum with tools, work-in-progress and finished work orderly or does it look like chaos?

More importantly, once you have made any necessary changes and your business sparkles, how are you going to keep it that way? One small, local company formed a three-person committee charged with inspecting the public area the first Monday of every month. They go through a checklist and post it. Corrective measures are taken to insure they sparkle… always!