Homegrown Business: Valeria Mozheyko of Project Essence

Valeria Mozheyko, founder of Project Essence, created a top-notch beauty salon in Toronto, focusing on personalized nail, brow, and lash services. Inspired by a lack of quality salons, she wanted to redefine the beauty industry’s standards. Project Essence aims to break stigmas, with a clientele mainly of employed women. Their revenue comes from repeat customers, emphasizing quality over quantity. Valeria encourages customers to ask about their unique offerings.

Project Essence

What is your business called and what does it do?

Our name is Project Essence, and we are a premium beauty salon located on the iconic Ossington strip in Toronto. Specializing in nail, brow, and lash services, we are renowned for our highly personalized approach and expertise in Eastern European manicures, commonly referred to as ‘Russian Manicures’.

What made you want to do this work?

I moved to Canada over 10 years ago and consistently struggled to find a high-quality nail salon that prioritizes not only aesthetic appeal but also excellent quality and customer service. Despite trying numerous salons and private nail technicians, I never became a loyal client of any due to consistent dissatisfaction.

Inspired by my mother’s bravery and unwavering work ethic—she is a successful entrepreneur who built her business from the ground up over 20 years ago—I decided to create a salon that addressed the shortcomings I experienced. The idea struck me randomly, and I immediately began researching and planning how to establish a space where quality and safety prevail, customer service is impeccable, and guests consistently feel cared for in a peaceful atmosphere where every detail matters.

And although I am not a nail or brow artist myself, I see this as a strength. As a discerning customer in the beauty sphere, I have a clear understanding of what matters and how to ensure our guests are genuinely delighted with our nail, brow, or lash services.

What problem did you want to solve with the business?

In Eastern European countries, getting your nails, brows, and lashes done is ingrained in the DNA of almost every woman, regardless of age or socio-economic status. However, in Canada, it is still often considered a non-core service that many people prefer to ignore for various reasons. I aimed to change that by dismantling the stigma surrounding the nail salon industry – the fear of being overcharged and leaving unhappy with your nails, encountering unsanitary practices, and experiencing nonexistent customer service and inadequate education of beauty professionals.

At Project Essence, we prioritize the voices of our guests, constantly incorporating new services, perks, and features based on their needs and desires. Our most common feedback highlights our unparalleled attention to detail, exactly what I envisioned achieving with Project Essence. Every day, bit by bit, we reshape the way people perceive the nail industry and the way they view themselves. I have heard countless times that our guests come to us to feel better about themselves – and that makes it all worthwhile.

Who are your clientele/demographics?

Our clientele primarily consists of employed women aged 20 and older, constituting approximately 85% of our guests. While we also cater to male clients with enthusiasm, we actively encourage more men to experience the benefits of self-care for their hands, feet, and brows, transcending traditional gender boundaries. Interestingly, a recent survey conducted among our current clients revealed that a significant number of them reside in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), often travelling for over an hour to visit our salon. This positive response suggests that it may be an opportune time to contemplate the possibility of opening a second location!

How does your business make money? How does it work?

Our most sought-after service is the manicure, followed by pedicures, and the third spot is shared between our 4-hands service (where two nail technicians perform manicure and pedicure simultaneously) and brow services.
Unlike the conventional approach of maximizing the number of clients throughout the day and adhering to a “quantity over quality” mindset, our business model revolves around delivering personalized, top-notch service to each guest. The primary objective is to achieve an above-average rate of repeat customers. Integral to my role is a meticulous understanding of the numbers; every nail file and paper towel roll is meticulously tracked. I firmly believe that comprehending expenses is crucial for generating robust revenue—after all, numbers don’t lie. Moreover, I am dedicated to ensuring fair compensation and proper incentivization for my employees. Project Essence’s success is intrinsically linked to theirs and vice-versa.

Where in the city can we find professionals in your field?

If we are talking about entrepreneurs, you might spot them at any coffee shop around 2 p.m. on a random Tuesday haha. However, if we’re looking for skilled nail, brow, and lash artists, that’s a bit more challenging. Trust me, finding them in Toronto is no easy feat. Yet, I am always exceptionally selective when it comes to building my team, and our interview process typically spans 3 to 4 weeks.

Many fantastic nail, brow, and lash technicians opt to work from home or a small private studio. For them, it’s entirely normal, given their artistic nature, and they often prefer the flexibility of their own schedule over adhering to structured hours, even if it means putting in extra work and time.

In my case, most of my employees are Ukrainian and Russian women who recently moved to Canada. Even though each of them boasts years of experience, a robust education, and a strong work ethic, I never underestimate the value of regular professional development and quality control. Additionally, I am continually on the lookout for talented and driven individuals eager to excel in their beauty careers, and I’m committed to supporting them in achieving this goal.

Project Essence

What is the best question a prospective customer could ask a member of your profession when comparing services? Give the answer as well.

Ask us about how we differ from other salons! I love that question, and I could talk about it for hours, but I’ll try to keep it brief. From the moment our guests step through our doors for the first time to when they are scheduling their next appointments, we are dedicated to providing the highest possible level of service. Our goal is to offer a positive, easy, and awe-inspiring experience unlike any other.

For instance, we not only serve complimentary coffee and tea but also maintain a generously stocked drawer in the bathroom with everything our clients might need – from floss and dry shampoo to a tide pen and bobby pins. Additionally, we offer and utilize premium products that are not easily found elsewhere in Toronto, such as Gehwol footcare and professional Ukrainian and Russian gel polishes boasting an array of amazing colours. As a unique touch, we also sell rings and other jewellery from a local Toronto brand, which are not only affordable but also complement our guests’ freshly done nails perfectly.

While these are all added bonuses, our primary focus remains on employing the safest and finest manicure techniques along with delivering top-notch customer service. Some quick cool facts about us: we don’t soak nails in acetone to remove old polish – instead, we safely and gently shave it off using e-file bits. Furthermore, we abstain from using water for pedicures and don’t work with acrylics or plastic tips for extensions, as these can be extremely damaging to your nails -instead, we opt for gel extensions to ensure the health and longevity of your nails.
We are always happy when people ask us about what sets us apart – we’re passionate about our commitment to excellence!

What is the best part about what you do? What is the worst part?

One of the main things that I enjoy about my work is my staff. My team, which has grown to include more than 10 people, holds immense significance for me. I make it a priority to take care of them to the best of my abilities, ensuring a supportive and thriving work environment. Building a strong and collaborative team has not only contributed to the success of our endeavours but has also fostered a positive and fulfilling atmosphere in our workplace.

One of the most challenging aspects of my line of work revolves around the relatively high levels of stress and anxiety it entails. The constant juggling of responsibilities, from major concerns to minor details, tends to weigh heavily on my mind. Nevertheless, I am committed to learning effective strategies for managing my work-life balance and prioritizing my mental health, all while staying dedicated to my career goals. It’s an ongoing journey of self-improvement. I find solace in the fact that I’m not alone in facing these challenges. Many in the entrepreneurial field share similar experiences, and we’re all navigating the delicate balance between professional ambition and personal well-being.

What is your favourite joke about your own profession?

My go-to joke is that I’ve mastered a million professions – from being a handyman and decorator to an accountant and marketing specialist! Not surprisingly, it’s quite true; since deciding to open the salon, I’ve acquired various skills and knowledge, making me feel like a multi-specialist at times.

Where can we follow you?

Follow us on Instagram and TikTok for daily updates and behind-the-scenes moments, beauty tips, and entertaining snippets that give you an exclusive peek into the vibrant life of Project Essence. Our content is not only 100% authentic but also fun and aesthetically pleasing – make sure to check it out!

PAY IT FORWARD: What is another local business that you love?

I would love to highlight our neighbour, Park Medical Clinic. Not only do they boast a gorgeously decorated space, but their team also comprises highly skilled doctors and nurses who demonstrate unparalleled care for their clients. Be sure to pay them a visit!


About Emilea Semancik 105 Articles
Emilea Semancik was born in North Vancouver. Emilea has always always wanted to freelance her own pieces and currently writes for the Vancouver Guardian. She is also a recipe author working towards publishing her own series of recipe books. You can find her recipes on Instagram. @ancestral.foods