Member Profile Series: Omary Gonell

Since Omary first moved in to her NY Studio Factory office, she’s been the most quietly popular girl in the building. If we ran a community beauty pageant, she’d score the Miss Congeniality banner in five seconds flat. Other members walk by my desk and murmur, “I love that girl!” pointing back down the hall towards her office. 

It’s easy to see why Omary’s private nail studio is thriving. She’s personable, kind, and incredibly artistic. It also doesn’t hurt that she’s done nails for the likes of Selena Gomez and Dascha Polanco. Tell a Brooklyn girl that she can have nails like the actresses on Orange Is The New Black and see her come running. 

Not only did Omary do my nails, she let me pepper her with questions about starting her own business as a single mother, working in Bushwick, and using technology as an entrepreneur. 

M: How did you become a nail artist? How did you start your own business?

O: I started doing nails four years ago. I was doing hair and makeup first, after quitting a job I had as an executive assistant at JetBlue. I was working as the executive assistant to the CIO there but had to quit. I needed to be doing something more creative with my life. I think everyone around that time started quitting their office jobs to start working for themselves. 

A client poses outside NY Studio Factory.

A client poses outside NY Studio Factory.

M: It’s interesting how that happened all at once, across so many career fields. In the past five years alone, it seems like so many people have quit their day jobs to become entrepreneurs. Do you think that has something to do with social media?

O: Oh yes. My friend started an event planning company around the same time I started doing nails professionally, and she says that Instagram is her biggest client source. She’s already booked through the whole year. 

M: Do you get the majority of your clients through Instagram as well?

O: At least 7 out of 10 of my clients are from Instagram. As soon as someone sees a photo of your nail art on their feed, it triggers them to think: “Oh! I need to go do my nails.” I think Instagram is so useful because a picture is worth a thousand words. When people can see what you can do, rather than just know about what you do, it makes them want it so much more. Pairing Instagram with a booking platform like StyleSeat makes it a seamless process. A client sees a photo, wants to achieve what’s pictured, and then can immediately book the appointment seconds later. I have a friend who got 650 new clients by using the booking system. 

M: How did you figure all of this out? Pure trial and error?

O: Because I have a background as an executive assistant in business, I already knew a lot about the business world and how to be successful. I knew that I needed to go to school to make sure that I was the best in my field, then I needed to get certifications and do advanced classes. I did that from the beginning. That first year, I found out where all the trade shows were. I would go to every single one. Within three months, I had met at least two or three hundred people in my field. When you go to a trade show, there are about five or six thousand people in attendance. I knew that I needed to go to networking events. I knew that I couldn’t just sit in my house for a year. No one would know who I was!

At one trade show, I met a makeup artist that I stayed in touch with through Facebook. That’s how I booked the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show! One day she reached out saying, “Hey, I need you for a show!” I didn’t know what show it was, but I was so excited, I just said yes. Then she emailed me: “It’s the Victoria’s Secret show.” I actually dropped to the floor! 

Through Facebook, I got a job with Victoria’s Secret. Had I tried to book Victoria’s Secret the old-fashioned way, I would probably have never gotten a call-back. Social media has been huge for me. 

M: So social media and networking are the primary tools you’ve used to grow your business?

O: Yes! Through social media, networking, and referrals. I get a lot of jobs through referrals. I haven’t paid for marketing or tried to get people to come get their nails done. Friends recommend me to their friends, or someone will see a photo on Instagram, and they book the appointment.

M: I feel like that also makes your business more desirable too, because you aren’t pushing people to come, they are asking you to fit them in.

O: Exactly! I wouldn’t want to do my nails with someone who’s trying to get me to to come all the time. It would seem tacky. 

M: So what prompted the switch from makeup and hair to nail art?

O: It was all chance! I was at a photo shoot doing makeup and hair and the manicurist didn’t come in. The photographer was going crazy, because it was a beauty shoot, so the nails would be in the shot. The photographer asked if I knew how to do nails. I always have a little nail kit with me, so I painted the models’ nails.

They were very impressed and afterwards people started to call me for nails instead of hair and makeup. Right after that, I got busy! This was about four years ago, and at that time, there were no freelance nail artists. Now there are quite a few, but back then there weren’t, so I was a coveted commodity!

I realized that I was so busy doing nails that I didn’t need to keep doing makeup and hair. It’s actually way more fun because I can do more extravagant, detailed work. Creatively, nail art is so much more fun and engaging. 

The reason I didn’t pursue nails from the beginning was because I didn’t think you could make enough money. But now that nails have gotten to be so popular, you can actually make a decent living. I make a minimum of $250 a day and I’ve gotten up to $600 a day just for painting nails. So there’s definitely a career to be made if you market yourself properly. 

M: I feel like you hit the sweet spot in terms of timing. You had the time to establish yourself without the pressure of competing with a wealth of other nail artists.

O: Yes, true!

M: How did you start working with celebrities like Polanco and Gomez? 

O: I met Dascha through a referral! Her makeup artist recommended me. I didn’t really know who she was beforehand, so I just showed up and wasn’t nervous. Now she’s one of my longest standing clients. I think it helped that I wasn’t nervous, so it made her more comfortable. She kept calling me after that. She’s very picky, but a nice picky. She just knows what she wants.

I did Selena Gomez’s nails while she was in town on her Revival tour! That job was also a referral.

M: Where do you see your business going? Obviously you’re growing, because you’re in your own space now.

O: I would love to have my own line of nail polish or accessories. That would take me to a whole other level. I would love to be a professor for a company. You can still do your own thing but they pay you to travel as a brand ambassador. That would be amazing. You can travel the world and make an amazing income. 

Right now, I love having this office. Having my own space is so refreshing. It’s quiet, and in such a crowded city where you are constantly surrounded by people, it’s very peaceful. The feedback I’ve gotten from everyone who’s come here for a private nail appointment has been that they’ve never felt so relaxed in this space. 

M: What’s your favorite part of the career?

O: I love being my own boss. I can make my own schedule, which is imperative because I’m a mom. I need the flexibility. I also love being able to say no to things. I can say no to negative experiences and negative clients. It’s amazing to be able to choose to work with and for people I really like.