Arlene Foy Arlene Foy

How To be an entrepreneur in the beauty industry

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with Karen Conroy, KC Skin & Nail Studio, Portlaoise, Co. Laois

This is the first blog of The How To Series. Firstly, thank you for taking the time to join in the conversation. Today we have the pleasure of finding out more about Skin and Nail Professional, Karen Conroy and her love for what she does.  Karen shares some insight on how to be an entrepreneur in the beauty industry.

Facebook: KC Skin & Nail Studio Instagram: @kcskinnailstudio

Karen’s business, KC Skin & Nail Studio is located in Portlaoise, Co. Laois. She has been working as a sole trader in the beauty industry for 18  years. Her passion and a genuine need to see her clients feel happy can only inspire you. Through this blog, Karen shares her career journey and advice for those wishing to delve into the beauty industry. As well as some How To Look After Your Nails and Skincare tips!

Like many of us, Karen was no stranger to the tiring, daily Dublin train commute. That was until 2002 when an advertisement put her career journey on a new path. Leading her to open her own business and experience some amazing career highs and some lows. 

I’ve always been creative and I love to work with people. I knew my ideal job was out there. It took me a while to realise the beauty industry was the right career for me.”

Karen, summarise your career in one word:


Talk us through your career journey

I was working as a customer accounts clerk in Dublin and getting really tired of commuting every day. I felt exhausted before I even started work!  It was a 9 to 5 job, but I was getting up at 6am and wasn’t getting home until 7pm. 

I knew it was time for a change, so in 2002 I saw an advertisement for a nail course in a beauty college. I knew this was the path I wanted to take. A completely new career. I was excited to enrol and I studied hard – unlike I did in school!

A lot of people think nails and beauty is easy. It’s far from it. There’s a lot of study involved. Thankfully I passed the course with flying colours. My next hurdle was finding somewhere to work from. 

Starting up a business was really scary. I rented a room in a beauty salon and I specialised in nails at first. After a few years of building a clientele, I eventually branched into beauty and bought the salon with a business partner. 

Running a ten treatment room beauty salon was tough, but so rewarding. When I had my son in 2006 I decided I’d like to go it alone again. I also became an educator for a nail academy. 

I am a big advocate for education. Keeping up with the latest research and trends within the beauty industry is so important.  Some years back I discovered the brand Juliette Armand and my love for skin was reignited. So I went back to college to further my training and learnt about advanced facials and microneedling. These investments enable me to grow as a beauty professional, add to my existing services and offer the latest products and skills to my clients. It’s by far the best decision I’ve ever made!

What is the most rewarding thing about working for yourself?

The satisfaction you get at the end of each day. It’s a job where you really get to know your clients on a personal level. It is far more than making people look nice. It’s also making them feel good which as corny as it sounds, makes me feel good. 

Before starting my own business, I always worked for other people but always felt unappreciated. I was always a hard worker, doing three jobs at once. I know this sets a precedent but I felt it was just unfair that I’d push myself and end up with the same wage as someone who wouldn’t. The benefits of being your own boss are not having to deal with that and there is no one to tell you what you do. You just get more satisfaction from it all. It is you reaping the rewards.

Tell us about your career highs

I’ve won both salon and nail technician awards over the years. Appeared numerous times on TV3’s Xposé as well as designed nails and worked backstage at some very prestigious fashion shows.  I’ve been fortunate to have worked backstage at the Xfactor in London. 

Karen pictures with Dalton Harris 2018 X Factor Winner

Can you tell me more about working behind the scenes and backstage?

It is not as glamorous as it sounds at all! With Xpose you know when they ask you to come on it’s because they know you have a good reputation. They know you’re good at your job. It wasn’t at all like I expected – pre-arranged and rehearsed. It’s very much of the moment and microphone at the ready. 

At the fashion shows, you’re often on your hands and knees getting the work done! It’s pressurised and against the clock. But it’s absolutely brilliant. Taking time to step back and watch the models as they hit the catwalk just gives you another level of job satisfaction. The imagery you can add to your portfolio when it’s all over is a great bonus.

X Factor was on my bucket list. So I jumped at the opportunity. It was very strict in terms of what you can do, where you can go or who you can talk to. Again not very glamorous. We were in a shed outside waiting for the contestants to arrive. Being Irish and impatient, we were a little cheeky and took a trip to the canteen to see what conversation we could strike up, who we could meet and get a picture with. 

There was little to no instruction as to what was needed for each contestant. Most of them arrived with an image of what they were wearing or like any other client, we’d chat about what they wanted. It was another very hands-on experience. Costumes were being made there and then, on the day even. Last-minute song changes led to look changes but with that came opportunity. We got the chance to go to the  X Factor house to make sure we could complete our work on time. It was great to get a look inside. First time I had pineapple on a  pizza too! 

The best part was to see the incredible work and energy that goes into the rehearsing. The whole set up of the show. The stage is terrifying so I can only imagine how the contestants feel. All in all, it was a great experience.

Tell us about your career lows

Closing my business for four months during lockdown was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do. I’ve been working since I was 15 years old. The uncertainty was awful. I wasn’t sure if I’d have a business left when we were allowed to re-open. Thankfully it’s busier than ever. I’m very fortunate to have the most amazing and loyal clients.

There was and still is so much uncertainty. How do you navigate through challenging times?

I completely wing it! Just go with the flow, don’t let things bother you. I think because I’m not afraid to change and adjust accordingly. I adapt. Honestly, I wouldn’t see myself as the best business person, my husband helps me with accounts. I’m not afraid to ask for help where I need it.  I know I do better front of house and person to person. Being in a big town and trying to keep things going can be challenging. I’ve seen so many businesses come and go over the years, so I’m proud 18 years on I’m still here.

What’s your typical day like?

My typical day involves carrying out treatments for clients. Gelish manicures, advanced facials and Microneedling are the most popular treatments. 

With the new regulations, I must have a very strict timekeeping policy. Fifteen minutes needs to be allowed in between each client to air and disinfect the room. 

I also try and make time each day to update my Instagram and Facebook pages. As well as reply to any messages and take bookings. I never clock off and try to reply to messages as soon as I can. Although I had to put a stop to the 3am messages – I have to draw the line somewhere!

Why did you decide to get into your line of work?

I’ve always been creative and I love to work with people. I knew my ideal job was out there. It took me a while to realise the beauty industry was the right career for me. I was 29 when I started my business – I’ve no idea why it took me so long, but better late than never! I appreciate it more.

What do you love about your job?

There’s nothing as rewarding or satisfying to me than making my clients happy. I’m also very excited about the technology advances in the beauty industry. 

Cosmetology has changed dramatically in recent years. Cosmetics must be comparable to the effectiveness of plastic surgery. When a client tells me they’ve postponed their appointment with Botox or fillers after they’ve had one of the advanced facials it’s the icing on the cake for me. I know I’ve done a good job and there’s no better feeling than seeing that client’s confidence grow.

What’s your least favourite task?

It has to be washing floors. I hate it. Does anyone enjoy washing floors?!

What’s your favourite task?

It’s hard to pick my favourite task. I adore seeing transformations, whether it’s nails or skin. The before and after always gives me a buzz and happy clients is what it’s all about.

If you weren’t in your current career, what would you be doing?

This is a really hard one to answer because I can’t imagine doing anything else. No matter what job I’d pick, I know it would have to involve dealing with people. I don’t just do my job for the money. I really care and I want all of my clients to be happy. So if I did another job, no matter what it was, if I made people happy, I think I’d be happy.

What advice would you like to give anyone looking to start a career in the beauty industry?

Education is so important. Not every course is the same. If you haven’t been taught what you need to succeed then go and learn it. It’s down to you at the end of the day.

Share some how to tips you learnt over the years

When it comes to nails, clients will often ask me why their nails are flaking and refuse to grow. Well, believe it or not, your nails are growing all the time – trust me, but like a pencil, they wear down as they are being used. If you have a gel polish on them like Gelish, it will protect them from wearing down, help them to grow and also protect them from water. Water is the worst thing for nails.

If you prefer them to be natural with no gel polish, it’s important to think of your nails the same way you do your hair and that makes it easier to care for them. For example, If you washed your hair in dishwashing liquid and didn’t use a conditioner for a few days, your hair would become dry and you’d get split ends. Your nails are no different. The same will happen to them. So gloves are important for doing any housework and using a good nail cuticle oil will keep your nails strong and flexible. 

A good skincare tip is to wear Spf every day! It’s been proven without a doubt to be the best anti-ageing product you can use on your skin. You need one that has UVA and UVB protection. 

UVB will protect you from the burning rays and UVA will protect you from the Ageing rays. So it’s B for burning and A for ageing and you need to wear it even if it’s cloudy.

If you enjoyed this blog on how to be an entrepreneur in the beauty industry why not read the next in the series with Ksenia from Viva School of Dance

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