Personal attention and TLC are often more important to clients than a technician's skill.
Why does one technician work 12-to 16-hour days and find herself still unable to fit in all her regular clients, while another technician complains how difficult it is to find and retain clients in today’s competitive marketplace? Why is one salon packed with waiting patrons, while another sits empty; longing for people to walk through the door?
To find out, NAILS interviewed clients from all over the country and asked why they chose their salon and technician. Our research revealed that the majority of clients aren’t looking for bargain basement shops, flashy surroundings, or technicians who’ve won 15 awards. What they are looking for is comfortable surroundings, convenience, and some personal attention.
Harriet Wassner, a retiree in New Jersey, says she prefers a nail technician with average skills who can make her feel comfortable over one who has excellent skill’s hut is cold, distant, or unable to make her feel at home.
“I own apartments in both New Jersey and Arizona,” she says, “and I also visit Florida every year. I see a technician in each place, and choose ones who are friendly and make me feel at ease.”
Besides feeling at ease with a salon’s surroundings and technicians, several clients say their own physical comfort is important as well. “I have a bad back,” says one client. “And I’ll only go to a salon that has chairs comfortable enough to sit on for the hour or more it takes to get my nails done. That’s something many salons overlook.”
A nearby salon location, flexible scheduling, and convenience are essential to many clients, especially working women with limited free time. Many of these clients say they don’t have the luxury of finding a technician they like and then travelling 30 or 40 minutes to see her. Instead, they choose a salon that is located close to home or work. They also look for a salon that will allow them to make or cancel appointments up to the last minute.
Robyn Carr, a Phoenix, Ariz., writer says she has to go to a salon that’s close to her home in order to fit a nail appointment into her busy schedule. “I also like a technician who offers a variety of services, like pedicures,” she says.
A number of other clients also mention the availability of pedicures as part of the reason they chose one technician over another. “I like the convenience of getting a manicure and a pedicure at the same time,” says Eleanor Dorman, a retiree in Jacksonville, Fla.
Kristi Gleim, a busy Chicago attorney, says she prefers to get her hair and nails done in the same place to save time. “I need a salon that can accommodate my hectic schedule,” she says, “and a technician who can fit me in when I have time.”
Other clients speak of convenience in terms of outside services, such as adequate parking. “I used to go to a salon with darling people,” one client says, “but I had to check my watch constantly and have someone run out to put money in the meter every 30 minutes. Now, I only go to a place that has a big lot and free parking.”
Still other clients speak of convenience in terms of a salon that provides them with more than one entrance “I like to be able to go to a salon in sweats, with no makeup,” one woman says, “so I like a salon; that has a side or back door that doesn’t announce my arrival.”
Clients rank personality as one of the top five reasons they continue to see the same technician again and again. Gleim, for instance, stays with her nail technician because she’s easy to get along with. “She’s very responsive to my needs and has a good sense of humor,” Gleim says.
Joyce Larson, who used to own a hair salon in Anchorage, Alaska, likes her technician because she doesn’t talk too much, or too little. “At one point, she was going through a divorce,” Larson says. “When I’d ask her how she was, she’d say something about it, then drop the subject. She knew I didn’t want the details. That’s what I like in a technician: someone who can read people. What I dislike most are whiners and technicians who spend more time talking about their needs than trying to discover what their clients want”
To many clients, personal attention and tender loving care means taking the time for those little extras, like a hand massage before each sendee. “My favorite techs are the ones who take the time to rub cream into my hands,” Wassner says, “and give me a massage all the way up my arm.”
Other clients appreciate the personal attention when a technician remembers their name and a few personal details. Still others like their technician to remember their favorite nail colors and shape preferences. “I tend to wear my nails a bit longer than fashion dictates,” Gleim says. “My technician knows this and always asks me what I want before she starts snipping. I appreciate that.”
Gleim says her technician also helped her break a nail biting habit. “I used to bite this one fingernail,” Gleim recalls. “My other fingernails looked nice, but this one was chewed up and a lot shorter. When I first started seeing my technician she didn’t laugh, make fun of me, or look at me like I had two heads. She simply said, ‘I can fix that,’ and proceeded to put an artificial nail on so I had 10 nice-looking nails. The artificial nail also helped me break the nail biting habit. I don’t bite that fingernail anymore.”
Some client complaints center around lack of attention. “I always schedule my appointment at the end of the day, after work,” says one client, “and I’d really appreciate being asked if I’d like something cold or hot to drink. The salon has coffee or tea in the back room, but by the time I arrive, there is usually nothing left.”
Californian Lucy Stickler is allergic to cigarette smoke and strong chemical smells. “I get a very bad reaction,” she says. “My technician knows this and opens the doors and windows wide when I come in. She also doesn’t allow anyone to smoke while I’m there. She knows that if she didn’t do this for me, I wouldn’t go back to her.”
Dorman says she is also allergic to smoke, and her technician always asks other clients or salon workers to smoke in the back room when she is there. “They’re very accommodating, and I appreciate that,” she says.
But many clients aren’t as tolerant as Stickler and Dorman. Several we spoke to have changed salons in the last few years because smoking was allowed or because they were bothered by (or even allergic to) the strong chemical smells lingering in the air.
While many clients say personality, comfort, and convenience are as important, if not more important, than a technician’s skill level, competence still figures strongly in whether a client remains loyal or switches salons when she gets the chance.
For example, several women who go to their technicians for convenience over technical ability admitted they would readily switch if another shop with better-skilled technicians opened down the street.
Then there were a few women who say they continue to see their technicians out of loyalty. A few others say they feel responsible for their technician’s livelihood. As one woman explains, “My technician is so nice, and I’ve known her for so long, I feel responsible for her paycheck.”
Conversely, women like Dorman, who rates her technician’s skills as excellent, have faithfully followed their technicians from salon to salon for many years. “She’s constantly going to school to learn new techniques,” Dorman says. “She also knows about all the latest trends. She offers a wide variety of colors, and women constantly come up to me and ask “Where did you find that polish?” I like that a lot.”
So while a technician’s skill may not be the main reason a client goes to a salon, it can make the difference in retention rate. Clients who find a technician with a pleasant personality, convenient hours, and excellent skills tend to visit their salons more often and follow their technicians wherever they go.
A technician’s appearance is also important to many clients. “One nail technician I go to is so beautiful and well dressed, I can just sit and stare at her and feel good,” Wassner says. “Someone who is attractive like that gives me the confidence that she will also help me look my best.” Other women also mention they prefer technicians who are professionally dressed and take the time to keep their own nails looking good.
Most clients say they aren’t looking for rock-bottom prices. Some, like Larson, say they don’t even trust bargain basement shops that offer cost-cutting coupons. “If they price their services too low,” she asks, “how can they expect their technicians to earn a decent living? And if the salon workers don’t make a decent salary, how can they be expected to perform well?”
Larson says she’s suspicious of low-cost salons where technicians work 16-hour days, getting people out the door as fast as possible. “Service has to suffer,” she says.
Larson, like many other clients, prefers to go to salons where prices aren’t the highest, but they’re not the lowest either.
Clients report overwhelmingly that service is more important than price every time. “When I can’t afford to go to a classy salon that caters to my every need,” says one client, “I just do my nails myself. Why waste a few dollars going to a sloppy technician who slaps some polish on my nails or does a bad acrylic job, then throws me out the door? My main reason for going to a salon in the first place is to be pampered.”
You may think clients don’t notice, but almost everyone we spoke to rates cleanliness as a key reason for frequenting —or leaving—a salon.
“One of the things I love about my technician is that she sterilizes her tools immediately after she uses them,” Dorman says “She’s also not afraid to use towels. I’ve been in salons where a tech tries to use the same towel on your hands and feet. But my tech uses as many as she needs to get the job done. I like that.”
Some clients say they’ve stopped going to a salon because of their technician’s attitude “I left one technician after two years because she started to get lax with me,” one client explains. “When I first went to see her, she was attentive and took the time to tell me about my nails and ask me how I was doing. By the time I left she was practically ignoring me, talking to other technicians instead of me, or going on about herself.”
Larson says, “I think the most popular technicians are ones who have a positive attitude. The ones who begin and end each session with a few positive comments and feelings make a client want to schedule her next appointment right away.”
Gleim also likes a salon with an upbeat, positive feeling. “It can get boring sitting for an hour getting your nails done with nothing to do,” she says. “That’s one of the reasons I like my salon. There are so many different types of people who go there, there’s always something or someone to look at.”
Are you listening to your clients? Many of them complain that you aren’t.
One client says she constantly asks her technician to push her cuticles back farther, but the technician never listens. “I have to do it myself at home, in between visits,” she says.
Another woman dislikes it when her technician pressures her into trying something new. “Sometimes I listen to her, and I always hate what she’s done,” she says. “I wish my technician would realize that some people are happy with a simple manicure, week after week.”
So what do clients want? The majority of them are looking for old-fashioned service, comfort, convenience, and a little TLC. Take the time to give them these important “services,” add a little extra care, and you’ll be the key to the salon of their dreams — a place they look forward to visiting on a steady basis and where they don’t mind spending their hard-earned dollars.