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.