Five minutes with... Nails Inc founder Thea Green

Thea Green left journalism to set up her own chain of nail bars in 1999. Despite no experience in the sector, she nailed it. Here's how she built a £18m empire.

by Kate Bassett
Last Updated: 28 Nov 2017
Also in:

What was the hardest part about surviving the first year? 

I loved our first year. It’s so dynamic and exciting when you start a business - you don't have the obstacles or trepidation that you might have with a more established brand or product. My light-bulb moment came on a work trip to New York, where I noticed nail bars offering quick, cheap manicures for busy professionals. I was a 23-year-old fashion editor at Tatler at the time – but I knew there was a gap in the market here so I went for it. In the early days, I did everything from establishing retailers to choosing product names. The main challenge was volume; establishing the quantities we needed and finding suppliers who would work to those limits. 

What advice would you offer other budding entrepreneurs on funding?

I raised £250,000 from private investors to open Nails Inc’s first store on South Molton Street in 1999. Investors will always want to know that you have as much faith in your proposal as possible. If you don't believe in what you're selling, then why would anyone else? Your strongest supporter is always yourself. Don't assume people will understand the ins and outs of your business, so make sure your business plan, projections and financials are robust and can stand up to intense questioning.

What were your biggest mistakes? 

Nails Inc was a totally new business area for me. I didn’t have any experience in the industry. We were big and bold and, with hindsight, we may have launched certain things too early, before the market was ready. Having said that, we’re still market leaders for innovation. In 2015, when the nail market was sitting stagnant, we introduced Paint Can, the world's first spray on nail polish, which was our biggest launch of the year!  

What are the biggest lessons you’ve learned from being your own boss? 

You have to multitask, especially when your business is young and you might not have the financial resources to hire a person for every role. I still juggle: I can be in a business meeting one day, meeting press another, and presenting our product on QVC the next.  Be humble and be kind. Learn lessons wherever you go and remember, your business is never too big for the little details. I like to work with every individual in my company to find out what motivates them; I've had assistants working for me who are still in the business today but have grown into bigger roles. Finally, don’t worry about being copied. Accept it as a true compliment.

What tips have you learned from expanding overseas? 

A winning product works in all markets. I've been in presentations where someone will tell me that a product will only fly off the shelves in a certain territory - but I believe if it's great, it translates. I’ve always tried to think globally.

What’s been the most pivotal moment in your career? 

I received an MBE in 2012 and the memory of that will always drive me. Receiving that kind of acknowledgement and recognition was awesome. Hearing customers rave about our products is still the biggest buzz; I walk into a store and it still blows my mind that my little ‘baby’ is sitting next to an incredible brand that I admire.

If you weren’t running this business, what would you be doing?

I'd love to say that I'd be sitting on a beach somewhere reading a book or doing nothing but that’s just not me. I love building brands. Get me on a beach for a week and I’ll be running several beach businesses by the end of it! I still go to bed thinking of new ideas. We launched Face Inc earlier this year and INCredible is coming next. It’s not like I’m not busy; I have a husband and three children....


Find this article useful?

Get more great articles like this in your inbox every lunchtime