Profiles

Nail Bars Target Japan’s Middle Class

Each Nail Bar location is designed to highlight a bright line-up of nail polish along the wall facing clients, a colorful contrast to the high-tech black chairs and sleek, modern design in the salons.

As recently as six years ago, if you wanted to get a professional manicure in Japan, it helped if you were a movie star – or at least very wealthy. “Every salon was located in a sophisticated condominium, and clients paid as much as $200-$300 for one visit, so the clientele was limited,” says Miyako Takeshima, a manicurist at Nail Bar, a group of nail salons owned by Life Beauty Company, Ltd.

“Then Nail Bar broke the ice and we changed everything. Now nail care is more popular than ever in Japan,” she says. Each Nail Bar is located inside a major department store. “The salon is displayed like a coffee stand, so it makes it easy for people to drop in,” Takeshima adds. Each Nail Bar location is designed to highlight a bright line-up of nail polish along the wall facing clients, a colorful contrast to the high-tech black chairs and sleek, modern design in the salons.

MAKING NAIL CARE AFFORDABLE

While the salon’s prices may seem high compared with those in other parts of the world ($50 for a manicure, $60 for a pedicure, and $200 for a full set of acrylic nails), prices at Nail bar’s six locations (two each in Osaka and Kyoto; One each in Kobe and Tokyo) are affordable for the salon’s middle-class customers, Takeshima says. “Most of them are housewives and office ladies, plus a few college girls,” she explains.

“We are really trying to target the middle class,” adds Hisashi Matsuoka, president of Life Beauty Company, Ltd.

Even though Nail Bar targets the middle class, some customers splurge on retail items. “Can you imagine Chanel and Christian Dior nail enamel are selling for $30-$35 here!” says Takeshima. “Japanese ladies are very fortunate to get such luxuries,” adds Matsuoka. “Maybe their husbands love them deeply.”

YOUNG BUT THRIVING INDUSTRY

Despite the success of Nail Bar, the nail industry is still new in Japan, says Matsuoka. He estimates there are about 500 nail technicians in the country and that approximately 200 if the 180,000 beauty salon in Japan are nails-only. But the combination of attentive service and affordable prices has made Nail Bar a winner and has introduced many Japanese women to the concept of nails-only salon. “In the past six years, our business has grown steadily,” he says.

Takeshima says her greatest reward for her work is hearing her clients’ compliments and knowing they are satisfied. And her clients do enjoy being pampered. One of Nail Bar’s most popular services, according to a recent review in the Yomiuri Daily News, is the application of avocado oil to the nails followed by a luxurious hand massage. “Skillful hands apply gentle pressure to the fingers, palms, and back of the hands so that it is almost impossible not to give in fall asleep,” the reviewer notes.

Takeshima says it’s important to make clients feel like they’re getting away from daily pressures and being catered to when they’re in your care. “You must have the spirit of service and take pleasure in making your clients beautiful,” she emphasizes.

But the rewards go beyond satisfaction for a job well-done. Nail technicians at Nail Bar earn an average of $30,000 annually, says Matsuoka. (According to the Japanese statistics Bureau of Management and Coordination, the average age income in Japan in 1993 was $42,912) And as this new industry continues to grow in Japan, the country will need more talented, creative nail technicians. So Takeshima is spreading the word to technicians around the world: “Why not come to Japan and get big money!”

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