Bijou Nails & Company is the Largest Black-Owned Nail Salon in Wisconsin
Tokara Whitman has been doing nails for 15 years, and after owning her own shop for eight, she’s not only Milwaukee’s, but Wisconsin’s largest black-owned nail salon. As the owner of Bijou Nails & Company, the journey to this title was accomplished by having one foot in front of the other and staying consistent, said Whitman.
Showing up to work on time and listening to others who’ve come before her are only a few things Whitman means when she says consistency is key. Too many business owners, especially in the beauty industry, don’t make it because of their inconsistency, she said.
A new stylist started working at her salon about a week ago and she has been consistent with everything she does, said Whitman. She dresses for success, asks questions, has a positive attitude, and in return, “she’s being financially successful.”
According to Whitman, Bijou Nails, located on 2107 N. Dr. Martin Luther King Dr., holds “professionalism in a very high regard.” Bijou Nails gives you a level of professionalism most nail shops don’t. Nail salons, specifically in Milwaukee, are typically very small, have a strong odor, are disrespectful to their clients and have long waits. Whitman wanted to make sure that when her clients come in that they not only receive great service, but leave feeling better than they came in.
“The world beats up on us enough,” said Whitman. “I want [Bijou Nails] to be an environment you actually enjoy being at.”
She wants her staff to feel the same way, which is why she’s always encouraging her staff to reach for their dreams. Although they may be working for her now, she just wants the best for them in the future, whether that’s continuing to work for her or starting their own thing.
“I know that my staff feel like family because they are,” she said. “You can be your own individual in this shop.”
When you walk into the doors of Bijou Nails, you won’t smell the harsh chemical scent that can be traced in other salons. For one, the shop has great ventilation, said Whitman. But, the real reason the smell doesn’t exist is because Bijou Nails doesn’t use harsh chemicals. Whitman said the sweet scent that most nail shops produce is from a chemical called MMA. MMA stands for Methyl methacrylate and was originally used in the dental industry for dental acrylic. Nail shops tend to use a thin layer of MMA on nails, so that their cheaper to make, but easier to break. The easier a nail can break the more likely that client will come back to spend more money to get the nail fixed. MMA also causes cancer, she said.
As a licensed instructor from the state of Wisconsin, Whitman uses her knowledge to inform her clients about their nail health, amongst other things. And, instead of the bulky furniture nail shops tend to have, Whitman wanted something that was more stylish and comfortable. She also wanted the vibe of her salon to match its name" “Bijou,” which means jewels and elegance.
Bijou Nails is a fully functioning nail salon that offers not only nails services, but makeup and a stylist. And although Whitman is the owner of the largest black-owned nail salon in the state, she said that doesn’t mean they have it all.
They are currently turning away clients because they are short-staffed. Whitman said they currently have availability for five nail technicians—full or part-time—and two stylists.
All together, Bijou Nails is about 1,400 sq. ft., with eight manicuring stations, three salon stations, they have three nail technicians, one hairstylist and one makeup residency. Just like most jobs, Bijou Nails goes through an application and interview process.
Being a black woman who’s a business owner is a daily struggle because everyone tells black women to be great, but when they’re too great they’re told to calm down, said Whitman. But instead of letting the negativity get to her, she continues to put her all into her business, which includes making sure her staff are getting the support they need.
“It’s not my job to prove anything to anyone,” she said about the naysayers.
Whitman went from teaching K4-3rd graders science to working in her home to owning a 500 sq. ft. shop. Now she’s expanded and has become a stronger business woman, but one thing that will never change is her drive.
“I am a woman who is always excited about the future,” she said. “I try to make choices that will propel me forward.”
To apply for a position at Bijou Nails & Company, set an appointment or want more information, call (414) 837-1864 or visit their site.