The brains behind Nails Inc Thea Green

We’ve all been obsessed with nail varnish for many decades, many generations over, but it was the idea of specialising in nail bars that set Thea Green from the rest. With a home to run and three kids under the age of seven, she saw a gap in the market for busy women wanting a cheap, quick way of treating their nails without having to sit around a day spa all day. Here is a day in her life and the secret to her success.

You started your business when you were quite young. Was it always the plan to have kids at that time, regardless of what was going on with your business?

I think you work out after the first two years, it’s easier in a whole lot of ways but it’s also more time consuming as it gets bigger. So I think I worked out that there was never going to be the perfect time to have kids and I’m glad that I’m not still sitting here debating whether or not it’s the right time. I work more now than I probably did in the beginning, so I don’t think there would have been a perfect time to have done it.

Your husband, Nick runs his own business as well. Is there ever a clash of the titans at home?

No…we always say we’re at our best at our ugliest moments because we’re brilliant together when we’re both really stressed and we have a million things going on. It’s almost like laughing through the pain a bit, you have to giggle about it. I think we’re both natural copers, so it’s almost like the more that’s going on, the more we rise to the occasion but when only one of us has got an issue I think it creates tension.

How do you deal as a working mum? Do you have people you can call and be like, ‘oh I’m trapped in this meeting or my flight is cancelled?’

I don’t really do it. You know why? Like I’m sure I could call on any one of my neighbours but I’ve got a nanny, I’ve got a husband, I’ve got myself, I’ve got a nice mum who although lives an hour away would be there if I needed her. So I just do it in my little group of system rather than… I’ve never kind of liked that, what I call a sort of a slightly flaky childcare where they’re going all over the place, different people picking them up and looking after them, I just feel like I would get in a muddle with it.  I like the idea that if my kids aren’t with me they’re either with my nanny or there with my husband or they might be with my mum and that’s about it.

Tell me about your day, because there must be so much in there, I mean you’re doing an interview from your holiday? What’s a normal working morning?

I’m up at six. Allegra is my rooster, my little one. We are so sure she wakes up earlier than everyone, because she’s the third child, to get some attention. She wakes up a whole hour before the boys and she gets an hour of mummy and daddy time. So she wakes up at six, religiously regardless of what time she has gone to bed, she has built in an alarm clock for 6am. Even ten past six is a lie in for her. She wakes us all up every morning and then my husband leaves early, he walks to work so he sort of leaves around seven-thirty.  Then Charlie is the next one up in my house. I give him breakfast and then Harry is my sleeping in boy, you literally have to go and wake him up. So I eventually go and get him up, get all the kids dressed for school, although Charlie is now able to get himself dressed for school. I somewhere in between getting them dressed, wash myself, probably don’t have makeup on. I usually do my makeup literally at that kind of last minute as I’m going out. But I’m definitely dressed quite early on… washed and dressed.

And what kind of thing do you throw on?

I wear probably quite a lot of dresses. I often go to work in high heels but they rarely stay on all day. I’ll run around in my flat shoes and have a pair of high heels for a particular meeting in my bag.

Do you have favourite pair of heels?

I’ve got black Stella McCartney heels that I can wear all day cause they’re not that high and then I’ve got a pair of fancy Allaia super high heels which I wear quite a lot for work but they’re the ones I’m in for only a couple of hours. Usually I have a suit jacket with me but I’m not necessarily wearing it all day but I sort of have a funny life I think now in terms of you go from very casual meetings to very business meetings to being in the office. So you need that sort of wardrobe where you can smarten yourself up. I usually have stuff in my car or a suit jacket on me. I definitely take things on and off all day just because I do have very different types of meetings.

Do you have any particular designers that you just love for dresses?

I’ve bought loads of Stella McCartney stuff this year for Summer, I’ve bought lots of her stuff and I love it, she did an amazing kind of crazy flower  so I bought loads of dresses and I bought quite a lot of denim. I bought a denim jacket for work that you can dress up with heels and I bought a knee length denim skirt that I wear with a suit jacket. I bought a couple of Celine dresses and I normally buy a lot of Chloe stuff. Feeling too old for Topshop at the moment. Usually I’m Topshop crazy but I’ve definitely felt too old these days. I’ve done lots of Zara. My High Street fix has been Zara this year. I’ve bought Maxi dresses from Zara which I’ve worn for work again with the suit jacket and I bought fancy blazers from people like Stella McCartney and Chloe but I definitely have a wardrobe of Zara jackets that are brilliant. You know like the random colour jacket.

Do you find you have a real passion for how you look or have you just always dressed a certain way and gone with it?

Love fashion. I love fashion. Love clothes. Proper shopper, love clothes. Used to work in magazines so I love clothes and I think I’ve never stopped being the girl who wants to make the newest thing. Definitely interested in the newest thing and something odd and all that stuff. But it is odd for me because I go from a meeting with a PR company or doing a photo shoot for nails Inc to a formal meeting. So I do have mornings where I think ‘I am really going to have to figure this out today’. You know, figure out a casual pair of trousers with a pair of high heels with a suit jacket and a vest underneath. I definitely think about what I’m wearing for the extra 5 minutes in the morning. Department stores are quite conservative, you know if you’re doing store visits or meeting the floor manager or meeting the buyer. They’d all be wearing suit jackets and those things. It’s quite a formal industry, beauty… more formal than fashion and department stores are particularly formal. You know, if you’ve ever been to a meeting in a department store, women are in corporate dress.

So getting back to your daily routine, you then drive into work and what about your HQ?

Drive. Yes, I’m very naughty, I park in the West End but it’s my super luxury and I love taking Charlie to school, you know Charlie’s my first child, my big grown up boy, that’s my half an hour every morning with just Charlie and I like it used to be. He’s almost a bit cheated if one of the others gets in the car for whatever reason, like that’s his special time.

What do you do in the car once you’ve dropped off Charlie? Are you on your Blackberry? Are you on your hands free?

I’m on my phone; I’m on my hands free and I’m usually calling Nails Inc people. I’m usually talking to the girls who run the stores, like our area management because that’s a great time to get them before they go into store. They go in at around nine, ten o’clock and so that’s a good time to get them. The person who does our marketing is in the office at that time so I often speak to her in terms of what things are going on. She does marketing and product management, her name is Heather. So her and I often speak at that time because there’s no one else in the office for another 15 minutes. So she’ll often have a catch up with me if we’re not going to see much of each other during the day.

What time do you get in?

I’m usually in work by about twenty to nine, depending on traffic. It’s quick from home.

What do you do, what’s your morning like? What are the kind of things taking up your list?

Totally different, I mean really varied so I definitely spend huge amount of time in a day in back to back meetings. I tend to do things like emailing and that sort of admin stuff from home at night. I don’t really do that much during the day. The odd email, but I spend most of my days in meetings either with external people like buyers or suppliers, manufacturers or PR companies. Otherwise I’m in meetings with Nails Inc people.

So when you say Nails Inc people, can you give me some specifics?

My team, so my team is.. I have a commercial director called Lisa, so her and I would be talking about sales figures where we are on the week, where we are since last year, where we are on budget, what we’ve still got left to do, how we want to out perform this. We’re constantly the challenge for each other on how we can stretch, how we can do better. We would then together have a meeting with Heather who is product and marketing, in terms of the next few months’ launches. Heather’s the kind of creative, the sort of back end that needs to happen which is when is the stock physically coming into the ware house. Then Caroline, she looks after the head of retail. So she’s the person who runs the area managers and effectively runs all the Nail bar stores. We would talk to her a lot about numbers in terms of where we’re up to on retail, what we need to do in terms of just motivating. We do a lot of competitions and all sorts of different things because you know, we run a lot of young people at Nails Inc.

How many staff do you have?

About 400 at any one time in the UK.

Is the company international?

We’re just starting. So this year we’re launching at Clicks in South Africa, which is like a Boots, in October and we’re launching in Sephora in the States and Canada in August/September. That’s our first big international.

How do you feel about it?

Sephora? I was so excited because I love Sephora. Love Sephora. I always shop there when I go for some bits, so it’s nice genuinely when you can say that. But it’s incredibly challenging in terms of the volumes you’re supposed to do in the States. But we’re really excited. You know, we have a good size stand and if successful  we’ll go into a whole lot more stores and probably do Sephora in a few other countries.

How did you win that client? Did you physically go over there and pitch to them?

Yep. I did. I did that six months ago now…  I think it will end up being 7 months from start to finish until we are in store.

How was that?

Fantastic. Really good. It was an interesting time in the nail varnish market because a couple of big brands had been bought in the last year, so it’s a good moment if you’re a younger niche brand to come forward and offer something different and also Nails has been really successful through the last recession. So nail varnish has been like the lipstick of the previous recession where everyone’s bought them in crazy colours and experimented with special effects, whether it was glitter or crackle. So it’s the right time to go and talk to a giant like Sephora because there’s so much happening with nails that most of the retailers that we’re talking to want more.

Have you ever made any mistakes or thought of things that if you did again, you might do differently?

Not to do with the brand but when you first start your own business you’re so in love with the business, that initial leap is the naivety. I just think if you could bottle it and keep it forever it would be amazing because you’re so confident that it’s going to work, you almost ignore everyone’s advice. You can only see your own vision and goal, which you only have when you first start a business and then like everything you become realistic about all the elements and you learn a huge amount. You need that initial tunnel visions that it’s going to work but then you really need to broaden out and listen to a huge amount of other people’s information and get a hold of as much as you can. I think Nails Inc is a very fast environment, it always has been and I think you can make mistakes when you’re working too quickly. But the other thing about Nails Inc is there’s never been anyone’s copy. So we’ve never really had a big competitor. There’s never been another big nail bar in department stores, there’s never been a UK nail varnish company that was solely focussed on nail varnish. There’s beauty salons and that side of things but there isn’t another competitor in Harvey Nichols on that ground floor or another nail varnish company selling nail varnish next to you. So the negative of that is that you never have anyone to look to to see how they’re going. The positive is that you’re doing it and you’re the first and you’re the obvious phone call because we are the choice in that. We’ve always got the retail deals because we’re the only ones to work with but at the same time there isn’t anyone to look at and mimic. There’s never been that with Nails Inc which is actually probably more negative than positive because there isn’t anyone to get that information from.

What time do you finish?

Well my nanny leaves between six and seven every day, so we kind of have a flexible arrangement for when my day finishes but I let her know at least a week ahead what time I’ll finish. I don’t overrun. I want to go back and see my kids for a couple of hours, so if I’m going to stay late, I will arrange to stay late because I’ve got kids I can’t do that whole staying in the office until my work’s done. I will often go home, have diner, put my kids to bed and work a bit in the evening when the kids are in bed. Particularly doing the stuff in the States, I’m now often on a phone call to the States late at night.

There are many entrepreneurs out there, hoping to become successful. Is there a key piece of advice?

Probably the biggest lesson is people skills because 90% of what we do is to do with people, so whether it’s presenting for buyers or motivating a team of ten working in a store, I think you really learn who you need to be in different environments and what people want from that meeting. I think the people skills that I’ve learnt will be invaluable to me forever, so I’d never change it. The people are what makes Nails Inc have the personality. Also realising what motivates creative people. A lot of the girls at Nails Inc aren’t necessarily business people, they’re not motivated by money like some people. Some are currently a manicurist and they’d like to learn ho two do gel false nails or they’d like us to be buying a certain product for them to use in a manicure. So you need to motivate them by creative things and training rather than just money. Really motivating people who are motivated by money you just offer them bonuses but motivating creative people is a bit more of an art form.

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