The door jingles as you walk into Aqua Skin and Nail Bar on Upper State Street in Santa Barbara, California. Without missing a beat, the exuberant manager of Aqua, Winston, sings out a welcome greeting. He knows the name and the desired service for every person who walks in the door and provides a fundamental component of the Aqua experience: a genuine, welcome environment.
The salon is gleamingly clean and the bright blue décor connotes being near the seaside. “Aqua,” it becomes clear through a conversation with the owner and founder Claudia Cordova-Papa, is as powerfully peaceful as the ocean that borders Santa Barbara to the west. With Claudia at the helm, the business fights daily to bring quality care to customers and genuine community to service providers.
We met up with Claudia as she came in from a meeting with a job-skills training organization. She came in brimming with ideas and smiling wide, clearly enjoying the life of a female entrepreneur.
But, life as an entrepreneur was not Claudia’s first venture in the job market.
She started in the retail and fashion industry as an administrative assistant and worked her way up the ladder to run an Italian manufacturing plant. This steadfast approach to working up a company demonstrates well Claudia’s, perhaps most valued, quality: determination.
“A good business owner is a good leader. First and foremost… as an entrepreneur your…goal is to create an environment and lead a group of people to success. Without leadership skills, I think you can’t be an amazing entrepreneur. However, it is also tenacity. Being really persistent because sometimes things don’t work out. So, it’s having the tenacity to pick yourself up off the floor and keep going.”
Tenacity functions as a mantra for Claudia and her business’ success are mainly due to this entrepreneurial spirit. That, and the help of WEV, a local organization that saw her determination and hand-picked her business to help grow.
Years after a grant to Claudia for Aqua, after the business was deemed unbankable, WEV presented the Business of the Year award to Aqua Skin and Nails Salon. Claudia attributes that success to a combination of surrounding herself “with really amazing individuals that help me grow my business” and her top-of-the-line service providers.
The best part of the award, she says, is simply that “it means a lot of my service providers and team members can be recognized for all the hard work they put in.”
And, indeed, for Claudia, the team always comes first. Paramount to Aqua’s mission as a small business is to tend to the employees and to provide meaningful job growth opportunities. “We are,” she explains, “a team-based pay company. So that means that we empower our employees to grow into careers as opposed to just a job and we also profit-share with our employees. So as our company is growing, they are participating in the profit of the company.”
This rests on the hiring and training mentality at Aqua. “When you come to apply for a position at Aqua we’re actually not really looking for skill unlike most of the beauty industry,” she explains, “We’re looking for… someone who has a service heart first and foremost. Someone who has a willingness to grow and so… adapts well to constant change and growth.”
Upon being hired by the Aqua team, the new service provider goes through a rigorous, yet supporting, training program that Claudia likens to an apprenticeship.
The program teaches not just, the skills necessary for the immediate position but also expands the service providers’ business acumen. This is instrumental in upholding the unique “profit-sharing” business model by ensuring that all “service providers are very proficient in financial literacy and they really understand what is happening and the health of our business from a financial point of view…”
Of course, with this great of a focus on finance, having a great bookkeeping team backing up the salon is critical. Claudia especially appreciates the way that the paperless and remote bookkeeping team at Accountix is able to help the team at Aqua embrace technology in order to make work easier.
Beyond the ways that a partnership with Accountix has helped to elevate the incorporation of technology in the salon, Claudia speaks fondly of the way that having accurate and reliable financials has eased the struggle of making important, and impactful, financial decisions for her team.
She reflects on the decision-making process inherent in small business ownership saying that “Sometimes the decisions we make with the heart aren’t really the best decisions for profitability. But as a leader, I know that that’s my responsibility. I take stewardship of that and it’s a struggle sometimes because there are real human beings who are behind those decisions. But, we’re getting better, and just understanding that and having the ability to reassure myself like ‘hey, I also have to look at the profitability of the company’ because we do profit share so that makes making those decisions a little bit easier.” Having a strong team backing finances and offering consulting when necessary certainly doesn’t hurt!
The next time you’re looking to take some important self-care moments in an environment that cares for the quality of service, quality of ingredients, and treats their employees with respect and care, there is no better place to go than Aqua Skin and Nail Bar.