It was while George Schaeffer was working for his uncle Louie’s dental company that he realized the acrylic porcelains used by dentists were very similar to those used by manicurists to create artificial nails. Seeing an opportunity to formulate a superior product, he brought in a chemist and created the Rubber Band Special, the very first OPI product. That was 25 years ago. Since then, with executive vice president and artistic director Suzi Weiss-Fischmann at his side, Schaeffer has expanded the product line to include 1,600 items. Polishes like I’m Not Really a Waitress are favorites of fashion-conscious consumers in 75 countries.
NAILS recently asked Schaeffer to look back on his 25 years in the nail business.
When you think back over the past 25 years, which product introductions stand out as your most important?
Schaeffer: The first is Bondex. Since we introduced this first-ofits- kind, non-acidic primer, we have helped to eliminate one of the major obstacles to acrylic fingernail application. The issues of allergies, burning, and severe redness around the cuticles all but disappeared with the widespread use of Bondex and other nonacidic primers.
The other is our nail lacquer. When we first entered the nail color business in the mid-1980s, we saw that the other manufacturers of nail color were marketing solely on the basis of price. When we entered the marketplace, we had one thing in mind: Nail lacquer should be a complementary accessory to the person and the fashion they are wearing.
What other innovations are you proud of?
Schaeffer: Ingredient listing, batch coding, and universal bar coding on all OPI products. Although these innovations may not seem important, when OPI began in 1981, virtually no professional nail product had ingredient listings or batch coding on their products. Though they were, and still are, not required on professional-use products, we felt very strongly that professionals using our products had to know what ingredients were in them. Batch coding every item is the only real way of addressing any problem that could arise with any product in the course of its usage. Bar coding of all OPI products was completed in the early 1990s for the convenience of product handling and tracking.
How have you seen the nail industry change over the past 25 years?
Schaeffer: First of all, nails have been integrated into the world of beauty and the full-service salons in general. Distributors no longer look at nails as part of the accessories segment of their business but as a necessary part — and usually the fastest-growing part — of their product offerings. Nails usually accounts for 8% to 12% of every full-service distributor’s annual sales. Consumer awareness has gone from zero to 100%. This is evident on the covers of every major fashion and beauty magazine that is published today.
What advice do you give nail techs just entering the field on how to succeed?
Schaeffer: I give them the same advice I have been guided by for the past 25 years. Offer quality services and products at all times. Be fair and kind to your customers. Be consistent with your actions, yet do not be afraid of change. Welcome it — otherwise the world, and your competition, will pass you by.
How do you feel about what you do today, as opposed to 25 years ago?
Schaeffer: I love it more today than ever before. Whenever people ask me why I work so hard, my answer is, I haven’t worked for the past 10 years or so. Work is something that someone must do in order to survive economically. I go to OPI here in California and around the world because I love what I do every day. I love the professional beauty industry.