“And after that, I go to work. It’s very difficult because you just have a license. Nobody hire you. Because you just go to school; you just know the basic. And they hire you, you know, but you don’t have the experience to do it. I was in San Diego — like University, El Cajon. The lady, she used to have a supermarket, but it so slow that she sold it, her business, and she go to school about the nails. And I see her and I say, ‘I have a license. Can I work with you?’ Because she have about ten people work with her. I’m the last person. Sometime I work a day, only $30 or only $20. They give me a commission, like 60:40. I get about $18 a day. And it’s not enough for me. But I try the best I can.”
Although Ann’s husband was employed at this time, the family still struggled financially. Ann realized that she needed to learn more than the basics. A man who worked with her taught her to apply acrylic nails. “I am so happy. After that he said, ‘Do you think you’d like to open a business?’ I said, ‘I like to, but I don’t have money.’ I ask him, ‘Do you have money?’ He say, ‘Oh, I don’t have money also. What can we do?’ And we talk about that and we just borrow money, and we open a business.
“That was 1987, and we have business. I have my own business. I am so happy. I’m working for a couple year, and after that I open a small one in the indoor swap meet. I get about three or four business for my own. I know that the business is really well.”
Along the way, Ann learned of Tony Le, a Vietnamese businessman.
“I find out about Tony. I call and I talk to him. I say I would love to manager with him. He says, ‘You don’t know nothing. How can you do with me?’ And I say, ‘Well,’ and after that he hang up the phone. I still remember.”
Not one to be daunted, Ann continued on, immersed in her enterprises.
“After that, I work in Carlsbad. I have own business. It was really cute. It looked real nice.” It turned out that one of her customers was leasing a business with Tony Le at North County Fair. “My customer says, ‘Say, Ann, I know the guy; he is so good. His financial is so good. And he want to do business, but I like your decorations. I like the way you talk with the customers, I really like that.’ And I say, ‘Oh, yes. Can you tell him, can I manage, work with him as manager?’ And she said, ‘Yes.’ And she talk with Tony. After that, Tony called me and I talk with him and he come over business and looked at it, and he really liked it. And so I and him work together. After that he say the way I do business, he really like it. And we open in center together. I am the one who work with him on so many. He is really, really nice person. I really like to work with him a lot. That’s why I do four or five businesses in the future. We have to build more business, you know.”
Ann believes that she and Tony are partners and that she owns a franchise, but Tony said this is not a franchise. Ann is subleasing from him.
“I am so happy. It is so easy because I know how speak English now, and the reason that Tony backed up me is that he is good financial. It is so easy because they can invite Tony to open business anywhere.” She never fails to give Tony Le credit. “I learn a lot in business from Tony. He is a good man. I ask Tony, ‘How come you are so rich? How come I am not rich?’ He says, ‘Because you have to learn more.’
“Tony, he’s straight. He’s all for work. It’s not for joking. When in a meeting, you have to be really straight. I like to do business with him. It’s really easy for him because he do a lot of things. He do restaurants. He do a tailor. The future, he maybe do like a jewelry.”
I asked Ann if she planned to stick with nail salons or branch out.
“I just love nail business, but the future I could work with him whatever he wanted to do. I learn a lot from him. I really like him a lot. When I do business, small business, I ask him about it. I think one of these days I need somebody to help me to build business. I think I’d really like to do a day spa, because when I look in the magazines, I dream about them, but I don’t have money to do it.” Ann’s dream is to tour day spas in Hawaii to see how they are run and then persuade Tony to invest in one that she would manage. “I like a location in Del Mar Heights. That’s why I’m so lucky to meet him, like I’m somebody, you know. That’s why I’m so lucky to meet him.
“And, however, I like with the decorations. He don’t have no idea about it. ‘Okay. Go ahead and do it the way you like it,’ and he just let me do it. And also, any location I say to him, ‘This is good,’ he says. ‘Okay.’ See, on the paper, he can sign the contract. He really trusts me, you know. If I say it’s not good, he don’t sign the contract.”
During my visits to the salon, I observed Ann tallying receipts and keeping records. But regarding the general accounting, Ann says Tony has “his own system. He takes care of it.”
The salon advertises in the local throwaway ads, but it also relies on location and word of mouth. The location is a great one, in a newly renovated center just off Lomas Santa Fe Avenue, with big-draw neighbors Henry’s Marketplace, Sav-On Drugs, and Starbucks.