From refugee to entrepreneur: How Vincent Nguyen founded a nail salon empire in Islington

Vincent Nguyen in his Nailology salon.

Vincent Nguyen in his Nailology salon. - Credit: Vincent Nguyen

Vincent Nguyen shares his compelling ‘rags to relative riches’ story, telling Emma Bartholomew how he has turned his life around since arriving in the UK as an asylum seeker 17 years ago

Long before he took a leap of faith investing his life savings to open two successful nail salons in Islington, Vincent Nguyen made a living just about any way possible.

He left Vietnam in 2002 aged 18 to seek asylum and work in the UK. He first took a night shift cleaning hotels until 6am and used his earnings to pay for English language classes held three hours later.

While studying for A-Levels in Manchester, Vincent worked at off-licences, bars, restaurants and farms, took jobs in roofing and construction, and even found work as a part-time nanny.

"It was very hard not being able to speak English, and working behind a bar when people were swearing at you and you don't understand," he said, "But some people were really nice and when I was unable to say something they forced me to repeat it until they could understand."

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A well-deserved break saw him get a scholarship to study at business school.

But when he graduated in 2012 there were no jobs because of the financial crisis, so he took on work at a nail salon. He helped make the business such a success he decided to open one of his own.

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Tip Top Nails in St Peter's Street, near The Angel where he lives with his wife, opened in 2015, and this year he launched Nailology in City Road.

"I did not want to do nails at all when I finished uni - I wanted to work in an office," he said. "But when I ended up in the office I couldn't see it was going to be me. I never sit in an office. I always do handiwork.

"A long time ago I didn't want to tell people I'm doing nails. I was just a little bit embarrassed. But the nail business gives a feel good factor, and it's worth a billion a year in the UK."

Vincent, who still paints customers' nails himself, hopes to soon open more branches of Nailology which he wants to turn into a big brand.

"We have gone to a whole different level now," said Vincent who employs 14 staff. "When I first opened we charged £10 for a manicure, and now it's £20. Before I ran a business to make a living but now we run a business as a brand and make other people a living."

His top tip is to always listen to the bad feedback.

"If you want more clients just make sure they are happy," he said. "It's not just the positive I like but the negative because once you know you can change that."

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