Scared Of Nail Art? Growing Nail Salon Concept Color Camp Can Help You Choose An Insta-ready Design

If your legal counsel is rocking fabulous fingernail foil, Color Camp could be responsible.

The emerging salon concept has broadened nail art from cutting-edge early adopters to beauty consumers generally timid to try the latest styles. Now, it’s broadening its reach geographically, too. Color Camp has opened a second Los Angeles area location on Ventura Boulevard in Century City after premiering a year and a half ago in the city on Beverly Boulevard near bustling shopping center The Grove.

“When people see all the designs we do, they want to do them,” says Color Camp founder Lauren Caruso, a former The Walt Disney Co. associate with Harvard University undergraduate and graduate degrees. “Even if they are a lawyer, they can express themselves with a little stud. Almost everybody does nail art, which has been really great.”

Color Camp makes nail art easy to navigate by sticking only to manicures and guiding customers with a build-it-yourself menu of nail art options. The menu features polish for $30, durable gel for $45 and strengthening super gel for $50. Customers can enhance manicures with seasonal looks for $5 per nail or $35 for 10 nails, basics such as ombre and half moon for $4 per nail or $25 for 10, and extras, including studs, stripes and foil, for $3 per nail or $20 for 10.

Color Camp founder Lauren Caruso
Color Camp founder Lauren Caruso

“The type of art we offer is very minimalistic. It’s just a bit of flourish on top of a plain manicure. A lot of what we post on Instagram is neutral, and we dress it up with sparkles, sequins or metallic accents,” says Caruso. “It can be really subtle, but, when you get up close, it’s really cool. I think attention to detail is a fashion trend, and I also think it’s popular because of social media. So many people like to show off their individuality on social media, and this is a small way they can do that.”

It’s no coincidence that Color Camp’s nail art is social media fodder. Caruso created Color Camp with social media-savvy millennials in mind. She felt standard nail salons, while they got the job done, didn’t address millennial preferences for modern settings, sharable moments and personalization. Color Camp’s salon format was developed with the agency Weekday Studio and architect J. Byron-H. It has a blue, pink and orange wall at the rear that’s a backdrop for selfies, a long bar on one side with high stools and tables along the other side.

From the outset, Caruso was intent on spreading Color Camp, and the customer reception has validated her expansion aspirations. “It was pretty clear to us in the first three months that we were really onto something as far as crafting an experience that addressed a clear need in the market,” she says. “We’ve had a ton of consumer demand and a very positive response.” Color Camp started a waitlist in December 2017 for customers unable to nab their preferred appointment timeslots immediately and, so far, 2,000-plus people have put themselves on the waitlist.

“Our North Star is Drybar. They opened 100 shops in eight years. That is definitely where we want to take this eventually.”

The Ventura Boulevard location attracted Caruso because it’s a standalone retail space on a block with several beauty service destinations. Face Haus and Thread Eyebrows are Color Camp’s neighbors. The space is 900 square feet, about 150 square feet larger than the Beverly Boulevard spot. However, Caruso estimates the ideal size for a Color Camp unit is 1,000 square feet. She’s already scouting real estate possibilities for a third location in LA.

“Our North Star is Drybar. They opened 100 shops in eight years. That is definitely where we want to take this eventually,” says Caruso. She elaborates Color Camp will stick to LA for the next couple of years before moving outside it to cities like New York and San Francisco. Caruso emphasizes, “We will get there at some point, but, with everything, we want to be smart and calculated about what we do.”

Color Camp has enough funding to construct two more stores. To pay for its Beverly Boulevard salon, Caruso raised $311,000 from 22 investors. She went back to the original investors for further funding, and many of them along with additional investors pitched in, although she declined to disclose the amount they invested. Later on, Color Camp products will complement its service business, but Caruso is still sorting out what those products will be.

Color Camp
Color Camp’s build-it-yourself menu makes nail art easy to navigate for customers that might be intimated by it.

Not in the salon industry prior to Color Camp, Caruso admits she had much to learn about running nail salons. The human resources component has been the most difficult for her. Color Camp has 12 chairs in the Beverly Boulevard location and 14 chairs in the Ventura Boulevard location. On its slower days with 30 to 50 appointments, Caruso reports six to eight nail artists are working. On busy days with 50 to 75 appointments, twelve are working. Appointments typically last at least an hour.

“It’s taken us a year to have enough people to be fully staffed on a Friday or Saturday,” she says. “It’s been very challenging to find and hire nail artists for the shop, and that’s something we continue to figure out. We are confident we can get there otherwise we wouldn’t open a second location.”

Caruso has been visiting beauty schools to convince students Color Camp is an employer they should consider. She suggests one hurdle is that budding manicurists are told the commission model is preferable, and Color Camp employees aren’t commission-based independent contractors. “It’s my firm belief that, if you want to have a brand, then you have to have W2 employees because you need to have control over what they do,” says Caruso. “They get sick time, paid vacation and workers’ comp, all those benefits you don’t necessarily get as a contractor.”

In addition to employee benefits, Color Camp nail artists have the advantage of joining a rising company. “We get messages on Instagram almost every day asking, ‘When are you coming to Philadelphia? When are you coming to Boston?’” says Caruso. “It’s going to be growth here in LA first and then elsewhere once we have laid down the foundation.”