A Polished Approach

Small business, big impact. Phoung Pham makes her mark on clients and community

Photo: Phoung Pham

IT WOULD BE easy to drive right past Fantastic Nails and Spa. Tucked away towards the rear of a retail plaza on Wellington Road South, it is surrounded by fast food restaurants and has no visible street presence.

The challenging location hasn’t stopped owner Phoung Pham from growing the business into one of London’s top-rated spas. “We’ve become a destination spa and nail salon,” she says.

In a cut-throat industry where convenience spas come and go, Pham has risen to the top through a combination of hard work, outstanding customer service and ­community involvement. “When you do things from the bottom of your heart and with honesty and integrity, you cannot go wrong,” she says.

Opened in 2006, Fantastic Nails and Spa was a 2016 Chamber of Commerce Business Achievement Award finalist in the Small Business of the Year category and the winner of the 2014 Integrity Award from the Better Business Bureau of Western Ontario.

Pham is understandably proud of those accolades, but it’s her ability to make women feel good about themselves and to give back to her community—both in London and in her native Vietnam—that drives her to succeed.

As a Buddhist, Pham is a firm believer in the law of attraction. A sign in her office reads, “Happiness is not having a lot. Happiness is giving a lot.” It is more than just spa-appropriate decoration. It’s a philosophy that has guided Pham along her path from impoverished child to successful businesswoman.

Born in the city of Vinh Long, located about 200 ­kilometers south of Ho Chi Min City (formerly called Saigon), Pham’s father was killed in action a few months before she was born. Her mother died eight years later.

Pham was raised by her brother and other relatives, and when they decided to leave Vietnam she joined them. The family spent 16 months at a camp in Indonesia before being admitted to Canada. “We arrived here in August, 1985. I was 14,” Pham recalls.

“I want to leave a legacy of good deeds that will carry on for generations. When you help someone, and fill in that gap where they feel like no one cares, that makes my day. That is what makes me get up and go to work” —Phoung Pham

Pham began grade nine at H.B. Beal Secondary School with little English and no formal education. “I had a lot of catching up to do,” she says with a laugh. “It was tough, but I did it.” She graduated with honours and was the ­recipient of the Ernie McTavish Award, which recognizes high school students who have overcome significant challenges to achieve academic success.

Pham went on to study business accounting at Fanshawe College and spent many years working as an accountant. “I’m more of a social person, rather than ­sitting at a computer staring at numbers all day,” she says. So, at 36 years old and with four young children, Pham went back to school to pursue her dream of becoming an esthetician.

For three months, she commuted to Metro Beauty School in Toronto, leaving London at the crack of dawn to arrive in time for early morning classes. “It was a tough, tough few months, but I was so passionate about it,” she says.

After graduation, Pham jumped at the opportunity to take over an existing nail salon and run her own business. “That was in 2006,” she says. “It was hidden. It was quite small. I started with one employee.”

Today, Fantastic Nails & Spa has doubled in size to 3,000 square feet and has 10 full-time and two part-time ­estheticians. “I still have my very first clients,” says Pham. “They keep coming back, and they refer us to their friends.”

Services have expanded from manicures and pedicures to include eyelash extensions, laser hair removal and waxing, permanent makeup, reflexology, as well as skin care and facials. The spa will soon offer eyelash perming and Pham is looking into adding medical esthetics services like Botox and microneedling.

“We keep up with technology and the services that are ­available,” says Pham, who is always upgrading her skills along with those of her staff.

“I don’t have a large turnover. Every time we bring someone new in, it’s because we are expanding,” she says. “I treat all of my employees like family, because they are my second family. I spend more time at the salon than I do at home.”

Everyone works together as a team, Pham notes, to ensure that each client enjoys the same spa experience.

“When people come in, it’s a friendly, welcoming atmosphere. It’s clean. We do everything above standard to make sure our clients are in the most comfortable and safe spa environment. That’s our priority,” she says.

That means using autoclaves to sterilize equipment and having extra ventilation to remove dust and chemicals from the air, as well as using only high-quality, brand-name products like Montreal’s Laboratoire Dr Renaud skin care line.

Shauna Rae has been a client since the very beginning. “Pham is very customer-oriented. She bends over backwards to make sure her customers are happy, and all of the girls who work for her are trained in the same way,” she says.

After almost a decade of sharing stories over manicures and pedicures, Rae considers Pham more than just a service provider.

“She’s become a friend, and I think she’s like that with a lot of her clients. People tell her a lot of things and she’s quite open about her own life,” says Rae. “She has seen me through some really hard times. That’s why I keep coming back.”

Loyal customers like Rae have been the key to Pham’s ­business success. They have also allowed Fantastic Nails and Spa to raise significant funds for charities like CIBC’s Run for the Cure, Make-A-Wish and the Children’s Hospital at London Health Sciences Centre. “We don’t ask our clients to donate money. We invite them to come in and get pampered and we donate a portion of our monthly sales to the charity,” Pham explains.

“When we first came to London the community helped us, so it’s important for me to give back,” she adds. “And I feel so blessed that there are so many people involved in helping me do it.”

In 2015, Pham realized another goal when she founded Compassion Lien Hoa Hanh Quang. The charity, named after her four daughters, supports struggling families in Vietnam. “They may not have food to eat, a place to live, money for ­surgery, or they can’t afford to buy a coffin for a funeral,” says Pham

Every day, Fantastic Nails and Spa earmarks $50 for the cause. “And the staff are so kind that they each donate a dollar a day, so every month we are able to send around $1,500 home to help less fortunate families,” says Pham.

“You do not need to be a big corporation to make a difference,” she adds.

For Pham, money comes and money goes. “I want to leave a legacy of good deeds that will carry on for generations,” she says. “When you help someone, and fill in that gap where they feel like no one cares, that makes my day. That is what makes me get up and go to work.”  Nicole Laidler