by Cori Hilsgen
Brandon Le wants customers to enjoy their experience at Solar Nails. He wants them to get comfortable and relax.
Le believes nail care should be a pleasant and memorable experience – one customers will want to repeat. He doesn’t want their experience at Solar Nails to be a one-time occurrence.
“If you are going to open a business, that business has to represent who you are,” Le said. “I take my work very personally. Every client that (comes) here, I see them as my sister or my mom. I put my feelings into it and I do a good job.”
Le said he likes to set his salon apart as different and doesn’t want to rush people through. He makes it a point to try to remember customers’ names so they feel more welcome. He encourages employees to interact with the customers and not with each other. He wants them to speak English.
Le encourages strict sanitization policies of all of his equipment. All metal tools are sterilized, and buffers and pumices are replaced instead of being reused.
Le, 34, opened Solar Nails on April 28 because his grandfather said that would be a good day to open the business based on the year Le was born and other things.
“We are really superstitious,” Le said.
This is Le’s first experience as a business owner. He currently employs three people. Much of his business comes from word-of-mouth and experiences people have had at the business.
“We believe if you do a nice, pleasant service – a memorable one – they will recommend us to their families and relatives,” Le said. “We also don’t want to let the client down who referred somebody. It’s the best advertising.”
Le immigrated to the United States from Vietnam in 1990 when he was 10 years old. His mother, sister and him stayed at a refugee site for a short period of time. He said they arrived in Fargo right before Christmas. It was the first time Le had seen snow. He remembers going to Kmart to shop for a toothbrush and couldn’t believe how many options there were to choose from.
One of the first things he noticed in his new Fargo home was electricity and lights. He and his family spoke very little English when they arrived in the United States. He was thankful they had a translator at first, but that was only for a certain period and then he had to learn English. On his first day of third grade, he followed body language. His teacher would point when it was time for him to sit down.
“Each day you pick up a word like yes, no, maybe and then you add on,” Le said.
A younger brother was born in the United States and is now attending West Point. Le said his brother was attending the University of Minnesota but felt lost. Le said he recommended he join the Army National Guard, which he did. The brother later applied to West Point.
“I’m really proud of him,” Le said. “It is a good way to pay back what we owe the United States. They gave us an opportunity to be here.”
Le said his sister’s son is also in the Marines.
His mother worked very hard to support their family while they were growing up.
“I appreciate each dollar my mom makes and I make,” Le said.
Le began working when he was 16 and was employed as a table buser, worked at a car wash, at a printing company, several factory positions, collections and others.
“I tried to make myself and my family better by getting a better job,” Le said.
He experienced several layoffs and saw how unhappy it made people, especially those who had families to support. One day a college student toured one of the businesses he was working at. Le decided he was still young enough to go to college and was encouraged by his older co-workers to do so.
Le graduated from St. Cloud State University with a bachelor’s degree in business management. He decided to pursue business because he does not want to be the type of manager that lays people off.
“To me, we have to come up with something better than laying people off,” Le said.
He had worked at Walgreen’s in both Fargo and St. Cloud. After graduating from SCSU, he applied for a position which he did not get. He was told someone who was related to a manager had been offered the job, even though Le had more experience.
“I felt kind of hurt and I fell back on to nails which I was doing part time,” Le said. “I started doing it full time. I worked at various salons in Willmar, Hutchinson, Marshall and Monticello. Then I got the opportunity to take over this salon. This place was vacant.”
Le’s previous supervisor in Monticello encouraged him to take a risk and said this was his chance.
Le said he now helps his mom out because she helped him out. In his culture children take care of their parents when they get older and it’s considered an honor to do so. His mother lives with him, his partner, Hoang Huynh, and their 16-month-old son, Aiden.
Le and Huynh met on a karaoke website. They talked on the phone for six months before he drove to Alabama to take her out on a date. When they met, Huynh thought he was shorter in person than he looked in his photo.
Le said he has returned to Vietnam many times to visit his family and tries to help them out a little. He enjoys learning about his heritage.
Located on Stearns CR 75 in St. Joseph, Solar Nails is open from 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday and Tuesday, 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Wednesday-Friday, and 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday. Le offers discounts for wedding and birthday parties and for students, who must show their IDs. For more information, call 320-271-3117.
Hilsgen is a contributing reporter for the Newsleaders. The central Minnesota native is a wife, mother and grandmother. She has a Bachelor's degree in Organizational Management and Communication from Concordia University – St. Paul, MN and enjoys learning about and sharing other people's stories through the pages of the Newsleaders.
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