Sydney’s Most Talked About Nail Salon Is Painting a New Image of the Australian Nail Industry

Jade Pham is the founder and director of CJ Artistry – a state-of-the-art, two story nail salon hidden in the industrial back streets of Granville in Sydney’s Western Suburbs. Despite little foot traffic and an unassuming exterior, CJ Artistry has managed to cultivate a consistent waitlist driven by the business’  impressive 150k+ social media followers. Hannah Gay visited Jade in-salon to speak candidly on the state of the nail industry and what she anticipates the future holds.

Jade, run us through your start in the beauty industry and the lead up to opening CJ Artistry.

“I started in the industry when I was about 15/16 years-old. I left school and went into beauty because I grew up with family members being in the nail industry. Then, I worked in a nail salon and did a short course in nails, beauty and retail, but I went into it [thinking] ‘this is not for me’. Looking back, I think I only said that due to the stigma that surrounded the nail industry.

I left, joined the corporate world, and then started doing hair and makeup. In fact, CJ Artistry was created as a hair and makeup business in 2014. From there, my passion grew for business and offering more than just hair and makeup services. I would do a lot of bridal clients and would hear all their pain points and bad experiences. [I thought], ‘why can’t we go full-circle?’ and offer nails? [I thought] it would be as easy as riding a bike; jumping back in… that was not the case. Over time, I realised that my passion, my fire, was not actually in hair and makeup – it was in nails. So, I dropped all my hair and makeup to focus purely on nails.”

There were a lot of sacrifices and hard work. I’d work full time, and then on weekends continue with my hair and makeup clients. I was saving every single dollar I had and pouring it back into the business. And I was always looking at the business and saying ‘how can you reinvent yourself? What else can you do differently? How can we add more value?’ Today, CJ Artistry is constantly trying to improve ourselves; via an online presence or salon presence.”

You consider CJ Artistry to be the #1 nail salon in Sydney. What makes your business stand out against its competitors?

“Our motto here is changing our clients’ salon experience; that’s our mission. I make it very known to my team and to my clients that we’re here to change their experience. From the moment you see us online, the moment you call us, message us, come in to see us, and even after you leave us – it’s about the entire experience. It all comes back to the experience; how you make someone feel. You can make someone feel so confident in just a set of nails.

It could be a simple conversation, and just letting your client feel heard. It’s more than just nails; it’s about the way you communicate the service you provide to your client. And there has to be respect on both sides – client to tech, and tech to client.”

“It could be a simple conversation, and just letting your client feel heard. It’s more than just nails; it’s about the way you communicate the service you provide to your client.”

How many team members do you currently have on your books?


I am on the floor two days a week and then during the week I’ve got a lot of mobile jobs for VIP clients. It has never been on my agenda to step away because I use the time with my clients to upskill myself. I love difficult, particular clients because they challenge me in how to consult and to understand what their needs are. That’s how I grow. Otherwise, I’m the creative visionary for the business. I set the goals for the team and where we are heading for the year.”

What are the hero services you offer at CJ Artistry?

“Our main service is acrylic nails. But I would say now, in this new modern age of nails, it’s a 50-50 split between acrylics and gel services. We do a lot of builder gel services now, soft gel extensions, along with acrylic. 

Lately, I’ve been promoting feet and nail care services! I realised that if CJ Artistry wants to be different, we can’t just be known for pretty nail designs. There has to be [a focus overall] on care and the artistry for both hands and feet. I really want people to feel confident in their feet. It’s crazy to say, I’ve cried with some of my clients when I’ve given them a transformation on their toes; it is so rewarding.”

How do the nails on your feet differ to the nails on your hands?

“We don’t wear shoes on our hands! A lot of the [issues experienced] on our feet are due to our lifestyles; the shoes we wear, or not giving any care to our feet. The way you cut your toenails is also going to be different versus the nails on your hands.”

Which brands have you elected to partner with to deliver these services?

The Gel Bottle – we love their colours, their range, and the bottles fit perfectly in our cupboards. We offer Apres soft gel extensions – they were first to market, their system makes sense and is easy to use. And we’ve got our own acrylic brand, CJ Supply. I’m always searching for new technology, new products, new techniques to then teach my team and provide for my clients. 

For toenail transformations, for example, we’ve been trialing a new product – NanoFlex – and it has been amazing.”

From education to personality, what do you look for when onboarding new staff members?

“For the nail industry – and any business – [recruiting] is one of the hardest things to master. I take the onboarding process very seriously at CJ Artistry. I’ve had to rip apart my business multiple times to try and make it make sense for the onboarding process. 

I look for character, and how [an incoming staff member] will fit in with the team and our clients before I even look at their education. If they can’t work in a team environment, it’s never going to work within our team. If they’re a team player, however, training is provided. Everyone has to undergo heavy training before they start, then we give ongoing monthly training.

I’ve had artists come in wanting to work independently, only to learn whatever they can and then go out to do their own thing; that happens a lot in the service industry. This leaves business owners feeling disheartened by the whole process. I’ve always known that my mission is to change the industry. If I’ve been a part of your chapter to help you, teach you and train you a new standard of nails, and if you leave me to go and open up your own business, I know that I have done my part in changing the nail industry. I know that you will only produce this quality work for your clients and your team understands. I think it’s a positive thing. 

Over the years, I’ve changed my mindset as a business owner, and have seen that no matter how much you want to keep everyone, it’s just not a reality. So if you can give them the right training, the right mentorship, the right techniques, and the right mindset, then together, we’re all raising the industry and changing the industry. I also think that’s how you retain your team members. Let them feel like they’re a part of this whole process. You’re not just a dictator; I am not the star here – my team are the stars.”

“For the nail industry – and any business in general – [recruiting] is one of the hardest things to master. I take the onboarding process very seriously. I’ve had to rip apart my business multiple times to try and make it make sense for the onboarding process.”

Talk me through how your business managed through COVID 19 lockdowns. Have you found it hard to get back on your feet since?

“COVID was a blessing in disguise for us. It taught me that as a business owner, you need to adapt to change and you need to adapt to change fast. It was a very uncertain time, but we jumped on it straight away. We thought: ‘Let’s do DIY home kits to remove client enhancements, and the results of that blew my mind. 

I jumped on it straightaway, got all our products underway, and it was great because of my girls, I didn’t lose anyone. I didn’t need to let anyone go because they became delivery drivers for me instead. It was a great chance for them to get out of the house and it was actually a really good time. It was so chaotic and busy. I hardly slept.

That was how we launched CJ Supply, which was already on the cards during that time. Instead of launching our acrylic powders as our first product, we launched with DIY home removal kits. It just blew up!

It was definitely hard, because the bills didn’t stop. But I looked at it as a positive because I was still able to take care of my team. For me, that was like the most important thing. When I’m looking at how we adapt to change, what are we going to do? I don’t want my team to ever be without – they have a family to take care of as well.”

Australian nail salons often get a bad rap by the media and the public. Where do you see nail businesses going wrong, and do you foresee this perception charging in the future?

“Of the clients that come and see us, nine-out-of-ten-times, they’ve had a bad experience in a nail salon. I think we get a bad rep in the nail industry because of: 

1) communication and language – the language barrier is one of the biggest issues we currently have in the industry. I am Vietnamese-Australian, and most Australian nail salon owners are Vietnamese [where English is a second language]. I think they focus only on the skill of how to do nails, but they’re not focused as a whole entire service. There’s no customer service, there’s no education in the theory of nails. 

2) education – compare the nail industry to the hair industry, for example, where you have to do a three-year apprenticeship. Then you move up to levels one, two, and so on. The nail industry does not have anything like that, and there has to be something like that. We are so hands on; we’re working with living tissue. 

Plus, education nowadays is so outdated in [our training institutions]. They’re not teaching real-life scenarios. Whatever you learn in TAFE, for example, is not the same as what you do in the workforce. There are different techniques, different products, different tools – everything’s completely different. I can see how the nail industry is so disconnected because there’s really no one fighting for the industry. It always comes back to education; it needs to come back to the forefront of our business.

In saying that, I do see a shift changing in the industry. I feel like this is the era now for artists to really shine, for salons to reinvent the wheel, and for independent nail techs to really boom. There was like an era for lash artists, brows, and permanent tattoos. This is the era for nails.”

I can see how the nail industry is so disconnected because there’s really no one fighting for the industry. It always comes back to education; it needs to come back to the forefront of our business.

Do you see that this boom is a reflection of the fact that nails have become so big on social media?

“Yeah. I did a little market research and I love data. I started asking clients and any person I saw on the street, ‘If you had to pick three services that you cannot live without, what would they be? The number one was nails. [I thought], ‘so if it’s your nails, why are we still fixated that nails should be cheap?’

Nowadays, clients are wanting more from their nail servers. They’re wanting conversation, education, they’re wanting to understand ‘why is this happening?’ ‘Why isn’t that happening?’ ‘How do I achieve that design?’ There’s so much more in nails now that the length of the service is taking longer, but not only that, the artists on the opposite side need to constantly upskill [and raise their prices as a result]. The hardest thing to get across to consumers [is around higher service rates].”

jade pham cj artistry

You have a combined social media following of 150k! How have you achieved this?

“We don’t get fixated on the numbers, but I think we got to that point by being authentic. We’ve kept all our content in-house – the ideas come from me – and I am heavily invested in my content creation and marketing side. For me to get my message across around changing the industry and changing clients’ experiences, the message can’t be lost. We’ve been authentic and consistent, not looking around at what everyone else is doing and just hanging out in our lane. We just have tunnel vision when it comes to content.”

You are also a supplier and an educator via CJ Supply and CJ Academy. Talk us through how these other businesses operate, and how you’ve learnt to divide your time between each?

“The only thing I have yet to master is balance [laughs]. I’m a bit of a workaholic. My passion and my drive for change in the nail industry is so much bigger than balance. I divide my time equally in all where I’d have different focuses each quarter. Each quarter, we have an objective. This current quarter is all about education and CJ Academy, so I invest my time heavily in that. And then next quarter, we’ll be heavily investing back into my team at CJ Artistry.

And thank God for technology, because if we didn’t have the proper software and ways to improve our businesses, I don’t think we would be where we are today. I encourage all businesses to utilise technology to make everything seamless because I’m full of communication. We recently joined a new software called Click Up to manage tasks. It’s been great for us to understand as a whole team what’s currently on, what’s coming up, what we need to do, and we can assign tasks to each individual.”

For CJ Academy, we are running face-to-face training but are set to launch online very soon. That’s been my goal for probably two years now. I’m constantly adding more [information]; it never ends.”

Do you feel optimistic about where things are going in the nail industry?

“Yeah. I’m moving away from calling us nail techs, instead calling us nail artists. There’s so much more artistry that goes into what we do. We need to think, we need to be able to suggest, we need to be able to see what other products are out there. Techs are only trained to do one particular skill. As artists, we’re trained to be creative and to offer solutions. That’s what I’m trying to move our industry towards.”

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