SEEN talked with The TEN co-founder Kelli Coleman, who’s the definition of a Detroit girl boss. She shared why she built the first modern nail salon downtown, her advice for women entrepreneurs and her favorite mani-pedi colors.
By Stephanie Steinberg
Name: Kelli M. Coleman
Title: CEO of KMColeman Group, co-founder of The TEN Nail Bar and founder of She Who Dares
Schools attended: Detroit Country Day and Spelman College in Atlanta for BA
1. You began your career in marketing and advertising at GlobalHue and worked your way up to executive vice president. What advice do you have for women trying to work their way up the ladder?
It’s always about the value that you add. With every position, relationship or friendship, know your strengths and weaknesses, always be willing to learn and always be willing to assert your thoughts and ideas.
2. You opened The TEN Nail Bar in September 2016. What motivated you to open a nail salon in downtown Detroit?
My business partner and I are both native Detroiters with experience living in major metropolitan cities. We believed that with the rebirth of Detroit came a need for true elevated personal service. There is a renewed demand and encouragement to live, work and play — providing true customer experiences are a large part of that. Additionally, we desired to be a part of the redevelopment of the city and to be a source of sustainable employment and to build a brand rooted in the spirit of Detroit.
3. What challenges did you encounter opening a beauty business downtown during a time when there were few beauty businesses in the heart of the city? And how did you overcome those obstacles?
The obstacle was not in beauty businesses being absent — that was the opportunity. Our greatest challenge has been with talent procurement and consistently paying off our brand promise. We’ve worked hard to build a team that understands and represents the brand we seek to build. We continue to work through this business challenge and others with fortitude and tenacity. We believe in our concept and its potential.
4. As a frequent guest of The TEN, I’ve noticed your team of technicians has an amazing work chemistry and acts like family. How do you foster an employee culture like that?
It’s still an evolving formula, and I think there will always be a need for that evolution. However, what remains consistent is our standard of excellence and our belief that anyone willing can rise to that standard. I always affirm that successful businesses are not just about profit but purpose. We are breaking the mold, and in our own way, disrupting an industry. This requires a distinct approach and standing firm in it. Our team respects that and appreciates it.
5. You have a co-founder Anika Jackson. What are some benefits of working with a fellow woman co-founder?
I’m very proud to work with Anika. She is brilliant but also grounded. We share the same vision for our brand and have complementary skills. Yes, it’s even more rewarding that she’s a fellow girl boss, but it’s about her business acumen and values, as well as our chemistry as friends and now minted co-owners.
6. You’re bound to disagree at times. How do you solve disagreements?
We thankfully don’t have many disagreements, but resolution comes with deference. We acknowledge our areas of expertise and defer to one another. We also communicate directly and actually listen to one another.
7. At one point, you and Anika considered expanding to another location. What advice do you have for other business owners considering expansion, but don’t know if they should or when?
First, if an entrepreneur’s intent is to scale, your growth plan must consistently be at the forefront of your decisions. One can’t make decisions based on what seems popular or trendy at the time but rather what truly makes sense for the business long term, in addition to the bottom line. The TEN will expand, but there is no one way to do anything. Anika and I reassessed what was best for our expansion.
8. A growing number of businesses in Detroit are women-owned and minority-owned. Do you have any advice for minority women who want to start their own business?
I think the key for anyone starting a business is to have a sound plan for brand-building and profitability. I think minorities in business have the opportunity to infuse themselves and their unique experiences into their businesses. All people, in their own way, are looking for a sense of inclusiveness and representation. My message is to never shy away from how your unique experiences can inform the way you run your business.
9. At a nail salon, customer service and catering to women is key. Do you have any advice for other businesses that target women and want them to return again and again?
Well, interestingly enough, customer service has not been at the core of nail care services among convenient neighborhood nail salons. However, we know the value in taking the additional steps to ensure customer satisfaction. Retention is not about the service or product, but the feeling. This has been proven by many thriving enterprises today.
10. You have an adorable little girl (who I’m sure has the best manicured hands in her class!) For other women business owners with young kids, do you have any tips for balancing both the business and family?
There is no such thing as having it all at the same time! However, my role as a mom never comes second. Sure there will be sacrificers, but not at the expense of my daughter’s confidence that she is always my top priority. Make sure that you’re saying “yes” to what makes sense and setting boundaries to preserve your personal responsibilities and desires. You must be whole to give.
11. What do you enjoy most about your job?
No two days are the same, and I thrive in the face of challenge, as well as need for problem solving. I’m also passionate about sharing my experiences and encouraging others with what I learn on my journey. That is my job, and I love it.
12. You started an initiative called She Who Dares. What is it, and why did you start it?
She Who Dares began as a passion project and has grown into a movement. I’m excited for what’s to come. SWD dares women to live fully and harness the power of personal development. When a woman knows herself, is confident in not only what she wants but what she doesn’t, navigating the challenges in life becomes less daunting. This takes work. Our world today has a tendency to promote within us what serves us the least. There is a lot to celebrate about the modern world (technology, constant connection, etc.) but also things we must fight against to reach our full potential. The first She Who Dares Summit takes place this November on the island of Anguilla. I couldn’t be more excited to delve further into these topics and have so much fun with a like-minded group of purpose-driven women.
13. Who’s been a mentor in your career?
My parents are at the top of my list. I was raised by two very successful entrepreneurs. Not only have they been successful but open and giving. They have imparted so much knowledge and encouraged me endlessly — in business and life. I also look to many of my peers for mentorship and inspiration. We must remember that there is so much power in our peers.
14. What’s the best career advice you’ve ever received?
No one owes you anything. Work hard, add value and know when it’s time to pivot or redirect.
Now on to some fun questions…
15. Favorite color for your nails?
I’m so into the pinks and the nudes. I venture out at times, but I’m pretty classic with the color choices.
16. Favorite color for your toes?
OPI Alpine Snow or CND Shellac Cake Pop
17. Coolest nail art you’ve ever received?
From Lo at The TEN. She gave me Roman numerals … I’m sure you can guess.
18. The TEN plays the best chick-flicks. What’s your favorite?
“How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days,” “Picture Perfect,” “Along Came Polly” … clearly I grew up in the 90s/early 2000s. Haha.
19. If you could paint anyone’s nails (dead or alive), who would it be? And why?
I’m completely incapable of painting nails (yes a beauty entrepreneur without a steady hand, I confess), but if I could, Oprah … obvi!
20. When you’re not working, where can we find you?
With my daughter, home, traveling or dinner with friends at amazing restaurants in Detroit.
Bonus question: Anything else you’d like to share?
I love Detroit, I’m grateful to be a part of its resurgence and blessed to have come home and realized my new chapter as an entrepreneur.
Each month, we interview executives in Metro Detroit to get their business and career advice. If you know someone who should be featured in SEEN Around the Water Cooler, email firstname.lastname@example.org.