Acrylic Nails

The Big Product Switch

Who’s using which products, how long have they been using them, and why did they choose them in the first place? Here’s an inside look at what makes a nail technician say, “Out with the old, and in with the new.”

Two years ago, Nancy Pitts experienced a miracle. Not the kind that would start an international pilgrimage, but one that might convince nail technicians to make one to their nearest professional supplier. Pitts, owner of The Finishing Touch in Athens, Texas, discovered Eva New Nails, a natural nail product that she says turned a clients dry, peeling nails into strong, healthy ones. “It has garlic in it, and garlic is supposedly good for the nails,” Pitts says. “But I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it.” She buys the product in bulk now, and is being considered for a position as the company’s Texas distributor.

Product “conversions” are common in the nail industry. Nail technicians define their success not only by the excellence of their skills, but by the quality and consistency of the products they use. To get a sense of how nail technicians choose their products and why they switch, we interviewed more than 50 nail technicians about their product loyalty. A respectable 23% have been using one brand of product for the entire (or nearly entire) time they’ve been doing nails. The other 77% have switched anywhere from once to once a year. By studying the reasons and situations that lead to product switching, a quirky mix of loyalty and practicality emerge.

Acrylic Products Take Leading Role

It’s not surprising that most nail technicians define their product buying habits through their acrylic products. After all, acrylics and other artificial extensions account for 71% of all dollars spent on nail services, according to NAILS’ 1995 Fact Book. But it’s more than just volume — nail technicians place a high emphasis on maintaining consistency with an acrylic system. “You need to be consistent with a chemical product like acrylics,” says Rebecca Gregory, owner of Just Nails in Erlanger, Ky. “That way, if there’s a problem, you can go back and figure; it out. There’s a reason manufacturers put certain chemicals together so I don’t believe you should mix and match or switch around too much.”

Regina Best admits she is not one to try new things very often. “I’m pretty conservative,” says the Phoenix, Ariz.-based nail technician. A long-time Solarnail user, Best did try a few oilier brands over the past several years. However, she ended up returning to Creative Nail Design Systems and its Radical Solarnail system. “My opinion is that Creative might be the last to come out with something, but they do it the best,” she says.

Other nail technicians are loyal to more than one system at a time because they have certain clients whose nails respond boiler to different brands. “We use five different lines, depending on the client,” says Heather Sweat, owner of Talons Nail and Hair Boutique in Oakridge, Term. She stopped using one brand because it “yellowed terribly” on her clients when they used the tanning beds. Bonnie Johnson, a home-based nail technician in Independence, Mo., chose three or four systems that have finer-grained powders, but she claims her loyalty is “squat.” “If the price is high, or availability is low, I move on to something else,” she says.

Most nail technicians are impatient with poor performance — their biggest nightmare is to see a client return after a week with lifting or yellowed nails. It won’t be long before they give up on their old product if it no longer delivers the performance they expect.

Client needs are a very important part of a nail technicians product-buying decision. Most nail technicians see significant variances in the performance of an acrylic product from client to client, and they’ll respond in two different ways — they’ll either use more than one system or they’ll keep switching around until they find one product that suits the majority of their clients. Sandra Robertson, owner of Nekisha Glamoure Boutique in Flint, Mich., says she loved the pink and white acrylic product she was using before, but it wasn’t right for her clients. “My clients are primarily African-American,” Robertson explains. “The pink color looked very fake on them.” She has found a company, Trés Chic, that makes a peach and white product, and her clients love it. Is she set for life? “Well, I found another one, PSA, that doesn’t lift,” she admits. “But they don’t make it in peach.”

Weather and humidity also play a role in how well products work for nail technicians. Margarita Belmares was very impressed with an acrylic product she saw demonstrated at a show so she bought a sample and brought it back with her to her salon, Nails Central in McAllen, Texas. “It looked great, but with our humidity, it tended to come off,” Belmares says. “So I went back to my old system.”

They’ll Try Anything

“Seeing is believing” for the majority of nail technicians. They will try a new product if they see a demonstrable difference.

Average years as a nail technician: 8.7

What Makes You Try a Product?*

Perforrmance 23%
Live demos 8%
Advertising/articles 6%
Appearance (on the nails). 4%
Odorless  3%
Price 3%
Educational information 2%
Name familiarity 2%
Novelty 2%
Word-of-mouth 2%
Client needs 1%

 

Products You Don’t Mind Switching*

Nail polish (including top coat).......................... 14%

No answer............................................................. 9%

None..................................................................... 7%

All......................................................................... 6%

Natural nail products............................................ 5%

Acetone/polish remover........................................ 5%

Files...................................................................... 3%

Gel system............................................................ 3%

Pedicure products................................................. 2%

 

Primary Source Of Product-Information*

Trade magazines................................................. 45%

Tradeshows......................................................... 15%

Distributor/supply store...................................... 11%

Manufacturers....................................................... 2%

Other nail technicians........................................... 1%

Clients................................................................... 1%

*some respondents gave more than one answer

Non-Acrylic Products — Anything Goes?

Brand loyalty is less fierce in other product categories. When asked what type of products they would switch without any problem, 72% answered “all” or mentioned at least one product. Some nail technicians suspect that there is little or no difference between product brands. They are the ones who are more likely to switch products frequently, and to base their buying decisions on objective considerations such as price. For the most part, however, nail technicians discern differences and try to weigh the benefits of a product against its price, availability, and consistency. They tend to use products that they feel work best on the majority of their clients, but they are also open to client requests.

Nail polish is by far the product most frequently switched. “I stick with OPI because my clients love it,” says Pat Kestner, a nail technician at Cut Ups Hair & Nail Design in Centralia, Wash. Julia Graham, owner of Virtuous Nail Salon in Suitland, Md., finds that the more expensive polishes stay on longer, but that the less expensive polishes have prettier colors — so she stocks both. Although many nail technicians mention they notice a difference in the durability of nail polish brands, they still are very casual about the kinds of polish they buy. Other natural nail products, such as cuticle creams and oils, lotions, and pedicure products, also are switched frequently. Adonna Biennan, owner of Finger Fashions by Adonna in Rosemont, Ill., adjusts her product purchases according to the season; winter cuticles get a different treatment than summer cuticles. Nail files had a divided response? — some nail technicians are very choosy about their files, while others see them as commodities, like cotton balls or orangewood sticks. The choosy feel that some files cut too deep, and also mention features such as durability, shape, and whether the file is sanitizable, as choice factors.

A Switch Just Waiting to Happen

Short of a major disaster, what makes a nail technician consider switching the products she uses?

Responses were varied, but clearly product performance outweighed all other considerations. Nail technicians must see for themselves how a product works before they commit to it. They are influenced by live demonstrations at tradeshows and classes, and don’t have any problem buying sample kits. If the product lives up to their expectations, they are very likely to start using it, regardless of price. “I’d rather pay more and get durability and customer satisfaction,” claims Sandy Cooper, owner of Nail Niche in Truckee, Calif. Very few survey respondents base their purchasing decision solely on price. A lost client is more costly than investing in a premium product that works.

Product testing often involves one or more clients who agree to be “guinea pigs.” Some nail technicians will apply their current product on a clients left hand and a trial product on the right hand. Clients will then go home and take note of any differences. “We have great customers who are very willing to test things,” says Margo Reed, a booth renter at Haircrafters in Austin, Texas. “They provide excellent information on what works and what doesn’t.”

Product advertising and articles written about a product will pique many nail technicians’ interest, although they are not deferential to name brands. Again, how the product will help a busy nail technician produce beautiful, durable nails, and do them faster and more efficiently, is what really motivates her to try something different.

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