“The Tenoverten Of The Southeast”: Clean Nail Salon The Water Room Opens In Charleston, Plans To Expand Elsewhere
Eight years ago, a visit to New York nail salon Tenoverten left an indelible impression on Jessica Morse, the Charleston, S.C.-based clean beauty and wellness influencer behind the blog Bare Beauty. “Not only was it nontoxic, but it was elevated in every way,” she says. “You could get in and out fast. The service was great. The technicians were professional. Everything about it was better.”
After her visit, Morse, who previously worked in sales at Vera Wang and Ralph Lauren, promptly called her friend Laura Pelzer, a strategic communications executive and former director of marketing at Polo Ralph Lauren, vice president of sales and marketing at The Urban Electric Co., and owner of bridal boutique Maddison Row, to gush about Tenoverten and discuss whether a similar format would fly in Charleston.
“We weren’t even close to being ready for green beauty at that point with the market here, but it was something we continued to talk about for years. She started consulting, and I kept blogging, but we never let go of the idea,” recounts Morse. “About two years ago, she and I were both finally ready, and Charleston, in the last decade, has gone through a renaissance. It’s a huge tourism destination these days, and people have become more interested in what they’re putting in their bodies. Clean beauty was the next step.”
Morse and Pelzer have pushed the clean beauty movement forward in Charleston by opening The Water Room, a new 1,800-square-foot nail-care salon located downtown at the historic Cigar Factory. Although they’re not in a rush to balloon their business, the duo plans to expand The Water Room beyond Charleston in cities with few or no clean nail salons.
“I would love to be the Tenoverten of the Southeast. I would love to grow slowly and organically in the right areas with the right demographics. I don’t see us going for major cities. I see us going for more tertiary markets close to home,” says Morse. “This concept is still in its infancy, and there is lots and lots of room for nontoxic nail salons in this country.”
“I would love to be the Tenoverten of the Southeast. I would love to grow slowly and organically in the right areas with the right demographics. I don’t see us going for major cities. I see us going for more tertiary markets close to home.”
Before The Water Room spreads, it has to succeed in Charleston. In an area filled with mom-and-pop nail salons, its sophisticated design sets it apart. Directed by Melissa Sutton of Plum Collective, The Water Room’s minimal, gender-neutral look is inspired by modern Japanese architecture. To suit what Morse describes as a “city of wedding venues,” the salon has a private room in the rear for bridal showers and bachelorette parties that fits up to 16 people. The pièce de résistance is The Water Room feature that gives the nail salon its name. It’s a glass-enclosed structure at the center of the space housing a sterilization and sanitation station.
“Instead of sterilizing and sanitizing in the backroom like most salons do, it’s in full view. It’s similar to an open kitchen where you can sit and watch how everything goes down in a restaurant,” says Morse. “It was important for us to show that we are transparent literally and figuratively. Clients like watching our technicians in there, and I think the technicians like it, too.”
The Water Room’s menu, which includes 15-minute express manicures and pedicures, and lengthier 45- to 55-minute services, owes a debt of gratitude to Tenoverten. In fact, Morse checked in with Tenoverten founders Nadine Abramcyk and Adair Ilyinsky as she was developing it. “They were so generous in spirit. They said, ‘We can’t be everywhere and, the more nontoxic salons, the better,’” reports Morse. “They embody what you see most of the time in the green beauty industry. So many people are willing to share, and there’s no ego involved. This is not a rat race like the conventional beauty industry.”
The Water Room’s prices range from $15 to $45 for a manicure and $20 to $55 for a pedicure, and kids’ options run from $15 to $25. There’s an array of add-ons such as nail art for $5 per nail and guided meditation headphones for $3. The Water Room is slightly pricier than other nail salons in Charleston, but Morse doesn’t think price is a major barrier to entry. She asks, “If price isn’t a barrier to entry, why would you go down the street for $10 less if you can have a great experience in a beautiful atmosphere? So many people are coming in for mani/pedi dates, and they’re having meetings in the salon.”
“Instead of sterilizing and sanitizing in the backroom like most salons do, it’s in full view. It’s similar to an open kitchen where you can sit and watch how everything goes down in a restaurant. It was important for us to show that we are transparent literally and figuratively.”
The salon uses nail polishes from Londontown, Jinsoon and Tenoverten, and Dazzle Dry as a gel alternative. It also has products available for purchase from Kari Gran and Grown Alchemist, and makes its own body oils, body butters and salt scrubs that could be bottled to sell in the future. The Water Room has 23 chairs and a dozen nail technicians on staff currently, but aims to increase the number of nail technicians to 20. During the weekends, 50 to 60 people have been patronizing its location daily.
Pelzer and Morse brought on board accountant Rae Phillips as a partner to provide financial expertise and Michael Meyer, head of global sales and training at Seaport Global, has invested in The Water Room as well. Allison Zimmerman, an experienced spa and salon manager in Charleston, has joined as salon manager. Morse estimates The Water Room’s first location will be profitable within a year.
“This isn’t just a vanity project. We want this to work. We want it to be profitable. We want to open more. In order for that to happen, we knew we had to be very careful about how we spent our money,” says Morse. “I think most businesses like this are in the red for a full year, and we were prepared for that, but I don’t think that’s going to happen. We have been really busy.”