Cotati’s “Odd Couple”
By NICK WALDEN / Rohnert Park Correspondent
The first time they met, the two women had an almost instant dislike. Commonality and need eventually brought them together, and after 13 years in business, neither one can easily imagine life without the other.
Chantel Estrada of Rohnert Park, 46, and Diane vanRoyen of Santa Rosa, 56, became acquainted 19 years ago when vanRoyen began visiting the nail salon where Estrada worked. To say they weren’t fond of one another would be an understatement.
“She was a biker chick with feathered hair and a lot of turquoise jewelry. She had a really whiny voice,” Estrada said about her initial opinion of vanRoyen.
“I didn’t like her at all,” vanRoyen responded. “She was this young party girl who was really loud.”
“We had to do a makeover of her look,” Estrada added.
“I did it myself,” the now much more reserved vanRoyen fired back without missing a beat.
Initially vanRoyen was just a customer but ended up working at that same salon, much to the chagrin of both women.
“I couldn’t imagine sitting the same room for eight or 10 hours with her,” said vanRoyen. “She drove me crazy. I ‘shushed’ her all the time.”
They did manage to work together for a short while until the shop closed abruptly. Both women had already paid their station rent for the month and were stuck high and dry. They quickly banded together.
“I stayed with her because I was freaking out. We both offered something for the other,” said Estrada, who looked to vanRoyen for her stability and calm.
They worked from their homes for two weeks before joining a Cotati salon owned by Linda Giubbini. They told Giubbini they just needed a place to work for a few weeks and wouldn’t take any clients or get in the way. In the meantime they worked on a plan to open their own salon.
Giubbini let the pair start the next day but advised them not to open a salon, arguing that it would be much easier to work out of her shop than deal with the headaches a small business can bring.
“We were very progressive then,” vanRoyen said. “A lot of places were different, and no salons in the area really fit our personalities.”
Each woman paid down her credit card and invested 50-50 on Nailz & Co. The shop opened April 17, 2000, at 8099 La Plaza in Cotati. The building owner, Jim Hastings, was willing to help the fledgling business owners renovate the space by adding a dividing wall, painting the interior and customizing the lighting and fans.
“Landlords just don’t do that,” said Estrada. They started with six work stations because they planned to grow.
“I was the ‘talky one’ so I sat near the door,” said Estrada, while vanRoyen, who is more of a quiet observer, sat further away.
“The day we opened we realized that we were friends,” said vanRoyen. “What was amazing is that while we are so different, we picked the same style for the salon and didn’t disagree on hardly anything about the business.”
“I decided that if we would argue, it would be over by the next day,” said Estrada.
“…and that’s how we’ve done it all these years,” added vanRoyen.
Since opening the salon, the pair has grown closer while also growing the business, serving enough customers that now all six work stations are used.
“We have been through a lot together as business partners,” said Estrada. “Now, much more than then, we are really on the same wavelength about money, our future and how the business should progress.”
They have also been there for each other emotionally over the years such as when Estrada lost her father, or more recently when vanRoyen’s partner of twelve years passed away.
“She was so stable and was able to help me by being very supportive and holding down the fort here,” said Estrada. The same sentiments were expressed by vanRoyen during her more recent trying time.
“Even if we weren’t in business we would still be good friends,” added vanRoyen.
There has also been an aspect of mentoring that has taken place over the years. As the older of the duo, vanRoyen would often give advice to Estrada when they were first starting out to try and help her with her personal life.
“Honestly I never thought she was really listening until I heard her saying the exact same things years later to one of the girls here at the salon,” said vanRoyen.
According to their employees, Estrada and vanRoyen truly are “The Odd Couple,” with vanRoyen taking the role of Felix while the louder, brasher Estrada fills the role of Oscar nicely.
“Eventually she always takes care of things,” said vanRoyen when asked about her favorite thing about Estrada. “There is the giddiness and upbeat attitude along with how talkative she is. I can sit silent and watch.”
“I like how organized and methodical she is,” Estrada said of vanRoyen. She also acknowledged her good business sense.
The two are so close knit in some aspects that when vanRoyen discusses possibly going back to school and the future beyond the salon, she plans on Estrada being there with her.
Jen Busch, 28, who manages the salon and has worked there for eight years, said, “It feels like a family. They are like my mom and dad.” Estrada and vanRoyen paint themselves as more of a divorced couple with the girls at the salon being their kids.
“She’s the mom,” said vanRoyen pointing at Estrada. “Because she is the diva,” added Busch.
“But I don’t ever see myself working with anyone else,” vanRoyen added.
“We always end up making everything work,” said Estrada. “We always compromise if we both feel passionately about something. But I know that she always has my back no matter what.”