Ocean City resident Effie Russell has her hair cut by Lauren Moran, of Somers Point, at A Bella Salon in Ocean City. Owner Sally Onesty talks with Russel. A Bella Salon in Ocean City provides all the services of a day spa, including hair, makeup, skin care and massage. They cater to bridal parties and offer gift packages. (Dale Gerhard/Press of Atlantic City)

Dale Gerhard

OCEAN CITY — Sally Onesty knows how easy it is to lose a customer compared to how hard it is to win one.

So at her Ocean City business, A Bella Salon & Spa on Ninth Street, customer service starts the moment a client enters the door.

“Did you notice that three employees said hi to you when you came in? That’s important. All of our employees treat everyone the same, not just their own clients,” said Onesty, who lives in Ocean City.

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She started the salon in 1999 and gradually expanded it to a full-service spa that offers hair, nails, makeup, massage, skin care, body treatments, waxing and facials.

“We’re a community-based, year-round, family-friendly professional salon,” Onesty said. “I have an amazing team. We all laugh every day.”

The spa business is highly competitive. New Jersey added 1,289 beauty salons, barbershops and spas from 2000 to 2010 — a jump of 30 percent, according to the U.S. Census.

Nationwide, spas are expected to continue to be a growth industry, adding a projected 11,700 new jobs over the next decade, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Skincare specialists make about $28,920 per year nationwide.

Onesty said she knows new salons are ready to undercut her business at every turn. To guard against complacency, she and her staff undergo lots of continuing education on topics ranging from fashion to social media to the science behind beauty products.

Onesty said going to a spa or salon offers benefits besides the superficial.

When people look good, they feel better and more confident, she said. This can be especially helpful when people are under duress from a job or personal loss.

The staff focuses on little details — offering hot beverages or snacks to clients, some of whom have sacrificed their lunch hour for an appointment. In the winter, the spa takes each client’s coat and puts it in a warming closet that makes it toasty for when the client is ready to step back into the cold air.

“People come in and they’ve had a terrible day. We try to do the little things to make a difference,” she said.

The spa specializes in catering to brides-to-be with packages that include wedding day preparations or pre-wedding spa treatments.

“I have a great rapport with county clerks and premier wedding planners,” she said. “The brides like the camaraderie. You share stories. They’ve been planning it for years and they want to talk about their wedding. Our goal is to get members of the bridal party to come back.”

The salon also offers haircuts for men and children in keeping with its family-friendly business mission.

“Some salons don’t take children. That doesn’t make sense to me. Ocean City is ‘America’s Greatest Family Resort,’” she said.

The salon contributes to charitable causes on the island. Onesty said fund-raising is an important part of her business philosophy.

Most recently, the salon participated in the OCNJ CARE campaign to help victims of Hurricane Sandy on the island, she said.

The salon is open seven days per week to cater to the hectic schedules of her clientele. Onesty said she does not want to give her customers any cause to seek out a competitor.

And a big part of any salon experience is offering a sympathetic ear, she said. Men typically talk about sports or current events, but women often share what’s happening in their personal lives, she said.

“It used to be perceived as gossip. But it’s not. People share heartfelt stories, both positive and negative,” she said.

This is one reason many law enforcement agencies turn to salons for help in identifying signs of domestic violence, she said.

“You’re cutting their hair, doing their nails. You see them sometimes more than their families do,” she said. “The power of touch is amazing. Our regular clients come here and feel comfortable.”

For the same reason, the salon’s 18 employees are expected to put aside their own personal crises when attending to their clients, Onesty said.

“When you work here, you are on stage. You have to be on all the time here,” she said. “Your bad day is not welcome here. I might take you in the back and give you a hug, but when you come back out, you have to be focused on others.”

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