The Power of Polish

A gauge of high-fashion savvy, nail color has trickled down from the runways to become a sizzling retail commodity and an integral part of the way consumers use color to build their wardrobes.

Polish sales have become so explosive that companies are making room on the exclusive counter space at your favourite department stores to display lacquer bottles — real estate previously reserved for makeup-intensive lines like Clinique or Estée Lauder, who have had to make way for “upstarts” like Hard Candy and Urban Decay. Mainstream cosmetics companies have had to “polish” their nail lacquer lines, offering various creative shades to attract new demographics and add a new dimension of color to fashion.

So why has consumers’ interest in fashion conscious polish skyrocketed over the past few years? You can trace it directly back to Chanel’s Vamp. “By patting Vamp on model’s nails on the runway Chanel made a major fashion statement explains Jan Arnold, president of Creative Nail Design Systems (Vista Calif.). “Suddenly it was OK to be a rebel with your nails and women love the controversy that causes.”

Arnold explains that women like the fact that a small investment in a bottle of colour makes them feel fun or dangerous as if they had dared to get a tattoo, or as glamorous as wearing great jewelry without the investment — it’s not a permanent decision. “If a woman looks down and is horrified by the colour on her nails, she can easily change it,” Arnold says.

Suzi Weiss-Fischmann, executive vice president, OPI Products (N. Hollywood, Calif.), agrees, explaining that Chanel not only introduced the world to fashion-conscious color sense, but actually started polish’s journey toward becoming a legitimate fashion accessory in itself. “All of a sudden there are a rainbow of colors for polish wearers to choose from,” she says.

To get an idea of the magnitude of Vamp’s success, consider these figures: Vamp alone was responsible for 8.5% of Chanel’s total product sales in all 48 Mac/s West stores — that $15 bottle of polish brought in more than a half-million dollars in sales when it debuted in 1995, according to Anna Zappettini, prestige cosmetics buyer for the department store. And though the Vamp trend has dropped off considerably in 1996 and 1997, unique-colored polishes from several companies continue to flourish.

Zappettini points out that the increase in sales of consumer polish can be a positive for nail salons. “The popularity of consumer polish has really made it an expanding category. Even though people buy polish in department stores they are bringing it to salons to have their nails done.”

Proof that the polish trend is here to stay (at least for the next few years) is evidenced in sales of Chanel’s newest nail color sensation, Night Sky (a deep midnight blue with tiny metallic silver specks), which have shot through the roof since its market debut in December 1996. Three months worth of sales of Night Sky (which also sells for $15 a bottle) was netting Chanel more than a year’s worth of black mascara sales (it sells for $20 per unit and has always been a bestseller). “It is just unheard of that a short-lived, trendy product like nail polish would outsell a product like black mascara, which is considered a fashion staple,” emphasizes Zappettini.

Companies, like Chanel, are deliberately targeting new demographics with extremely daring polish colors in hopes of tempting younger customers to visit their counters. “In the past, young teenagers never visited a Chanel counter because the prices were too high,” Zappettini explains. “Chanel’s nail colors are still high-priced, but now seem affordable to younger customers.” Polish also acts as a fountain of youth for Chanel’s steady older customers, she says, because it allows them to stay hip to the latest fashion trend.

While Chanel may have started the polish bottle rolling, Hard Candy Inc. (Los Angeles, Calif.), an entrepreneurial company with good timing and an eye for fashion, has helped drive consumers’ taste for unique polish colors since its debut in 1995. The unprecedented success of tread-setting Hard Candy polish allowed the company to transcend the makeup first, polish second” cosmetics Totality, further legitimizing and encourage bold fashion polish colors. It is part reason that shades of grape, azure, and lime come alive — not just on a runway or a hanger, but also on many women’s fingers and toes.

Basically Hard Candy was developed because decided one day that I wanted paste blue polish to go with an outfit I was wearing,” says Dineh Mohajer, president and founder of Hard candy who adds that her vision did not come from a love of polish, but a love of fashion and accessories. The bottled hues she created were never about functionality, but a hip, young, funky image. The idea became so popular, that within less than a year, Hard Candy had direct competition from other retail companies, like Urban Decay and Revlon’s Street Wear.

Even though blue and many other creative colours were around before Vamp and Hard Candy (many of use can remember wearing it in elementary and junior high school), the marketing and distribution clout of a consumer products company can go much farther in gaining feme for a polish color.

Because of this, “designer” polish has trickled down to middle- and low-income markets, targeting consumers with knock-offs of Chanel’s Vamp, Hard Candy’s Trailer Park Trash, and Urban Decay’s Smog. You can now buy them in Victoria’s Secret catalogs, Limited Express and Windsor Fashions stores, and in your local drugstore.

Reaction From the Professionals

During the polish “explosion,” professional polish companies have not been idle; they’ve created their own mix of exciting colors for salon clientele of all ages. And their success shows: One beauty magazine chronicled Creative Nail Design’s latest collection, Summer Camp Colors, which was designed to match Nicole Miller’s sizzling summer clothing line. Another one reports about a TV personality so inspired by one of OPI’s latest polish colors that she bought enough to paint an entire wall in her house with it.

Many professional companies focused their advertising, promotions, and marketing to take advantage of polish’s popularity. As a result, they have attracted as much attention on runways and in consumer publications as the consumer companies.

Sawy Salons Can Ride the Wave

Nail technicians should capitalize on a product category that is already a retail natural and extremely popular. “Salons need to think like the specialized boutiques do. Start by capturing the audience already in your salon and build from there,” says Weiss-Fischmann.

She suggests developing your retail business as much as possible by asking suppliers for the latest colors, watching magazines for trend articles, and attending local trade shows. “Nail technicians should be as knowledgeable about fashion and trends as they are about polish and how to apply it,” Weiss-Fischmann emphasizes.

Keep in mind the demographics of your salon’s clientele, but like Chanel and the professional polish makers, don’t let it limit the polishes you carry in your salon. More of your clients may be open to unique colors. Begin by asking them what they like, and what their friends and daughters are wearing or talking about. You may be surprised with their willingness to try new shades, especially with the splash polish is making on the consumer level.

Next, create a retail center in your salon that is clean, well-lit and makes use of display racks, color charts, and polish testers. “Don’t just have one or two bottles of polish sitting on a counter. Have a big variety to appeal to your clients,” Weiss-Fischmann says.

Wear the latest colors yourself so that clients can see what they look like on nails. And be knowledgeable about how colors go with skin tones and nail shapes.

Make sure that the professional products you use in your salon are available for purchase by your clients. Cut out any magazine coverage of these products and display it in your salon so that clients can see that even the beauty magazines agree that professional products are the best. “Educate, motivate, and inspire your clients and turn them into customers,” says Arnold. “We have caught women at a time when style is very personal; they are wearing few additional accessories to compete with polish for color, and color is important, so nails are a key accessory — take advantage.”

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