After her husband died in 1979 and life became very difficult for her family of nine children, Linda Huynh's mother encouraged her children to seek a better future in America. For Linda, the journey from a small village 100 miles from DaNang, Vietnam, to Hacienda has been one characterized by unwavering determination.
In 1984, at age 18, Linda left her native country with her sister-in-law, who was expecting a baby. They spent the next two years in emigrant camps in Malaysia being interviewed and processed for immigration to the United States. During that time, three of Linda's brothers arrived unexpectedly at the camp, expanding their family group to six when her niece was born.
On September 26, 1986, the group arrived in the United States and settled with an uncle in Los Angeles where Linda met her future husband, Tien, and began cosmetology school. "I chose cosmetology because it was something I could do," Linda says. "I had almost no education, maybe second or third grade only, but I was determined to do well. I'd always loved art and doing nails felt artistic to me. I could earn a living doing something I enjoyed."
"I did very well in beauty school, but had problems with the language. When I began working at my first manicurist job in Oakland, I knew two words, 'yes' and 'no'." With characteristic determination, Linda listened to the shop's owner talk to the customers and then practiced saying those words in front of the mirror in the restroom. "Working there wasn't too difficult because most of the customers were walk-ins and we didn't have to talk very much," she adds.
Things were different in Pleasanton. In 1991, after borrowing money from family and opening her shop on West Las Positas Boulevard, Linda discovered that business in the suburbs demanded much more verbal communication than business in the city. A large majority of appointments, cancellations and questions were handled by phone and demanded a much better understanding, and speaking, of English. Again, determination was required.
"For example, I understood make an appointment," Linda relates. "One day, a customer called and wanted to schedule an appointment. I didn't know that word and it took me a long time to understand what she wanted. When the next caller said she wanted to schedule an appointment and I realized that schedule was the same as make, I said to myself, 'Okay, I got it!'"
Determination to perfect her English permeated Linda's personal life as well. When her daughter Eileen's preschool teacher instructed the parents to read to their children, she knew she must become fluent in order to help her child succeed in school. She hired a tutor for Eileen and learned along with her. In recent years, when her son, Ryan, was struggling to learn to read, she researched different teaching methods in order to help him. They worked together using CDs and both improved significantly.
"That's how I've learned, a little bit every day. I've watched TV and read my children's books and asked my customers to help me. No matter how tired I am, I read a few pages of a book every night and learn more words. Now, I can read a book in a month that used to take me two or three months," she says with a smile. "If you don't try, you don't learn."
After nine years of steady growth, Top Ten moved to Hacienda in 2000 in order to expand and to offer better customer parking, which was a constant challenge in the old location. "We had to move because of the parking," Linda explains. "If it was a busy time and I had 14 manicurists working and a customer for each one of them, that was 28 cars, too many for a small parking area like the one we had. Parking is not a problem here, even with the opening of Kohl's."
Top Ten is open Monday-Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. The staff includes eight full-time and six part-time manicurists. Staffing must be flexible in order to accommodate customers who have appointments as well as those who are walk-in customers. "Anyone who has walked in for a simple nail repair during Homecoming weekend understands this completely," Linda smiles.
The months between March and August are the shop's busiest because of special spring activities like proms, graduations, weddings and the desire for pretty feet in summer sandals. Despite recent negative publicity about the danger of spreading infection in pedicure salons, Top Ten's pedicure business continues to grow steadily. "The State Board has strict regulations in regard to cleanliness and hygiene which we follow carefully and we've never had a problem," Linda states. Top Ten replaces its equipment every five years and recently installed luxurious new pedicure chairs with built-in massage functions.
As convenience and "one-stop shopping" have become dominant in the California lifestyle, Top Ten has added to its services, now offering waxing services in addition to manicures and pedicures. Acrylic nail manicures have been and still are its most requested service, however, because of the durability and consistently well-groomed look they provide for Top Ten's busy customers, half of whom come from Hacienda businesses and half from the surrounding community. Many come by referral and word of mouth.
In recent years, the shop has experienced a continual increase in male customers whose wives or girlfriends have given them gift certificates for manicures or pedicures. "They think this is just for women, but they try it once and they enjoy it. They like how their hands and feet feel and look and they come back. More and more businessmen are stopping by for manicures on their lunch hours, too," Linda says.
When asked why so many manicure businesses are operated by Vietnamese immigrants, Linda explains, "It's a license that new immigrants can get quickly and they can start working without knowing much English, like I did. That makes this business a good way to start earning a living."
Linda and her husband, Tien, now U.S. citizens, visit their native country every two years with Eileen, a sophomore at Foothill High School and Ryan, a third-grader at Valley View School. Most of Linda's relatives, including her mother, now live in the United States, but all of Tien's family remains in Vietnam.
"I feel very lucky because all the people around me support me. I'm happy if customers call me to say they are pleased with our service. Even if they complain about something, I'm glad they called because I'm determined to make changes to improve my business. If they are not happy, I ask them to come back so that we can fix the problem. They know we are doing our best to satisfy them and they do come back."
When asked what advice she would give to owners of fledgling businesses, Linda did not hesitate. "It takes a lot of determination and you can't get discouraged. Stay focused on your dream while you talk to your customers about what they want, ask for help and do a little bit to improve yourself every day."
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