Business Management

Full-Service Salon Owners Look to Nails for New Profit Centers

At a recent Intercoiffure gathering, top full-service salon owners share insights on the promise of their nail businesses.

How has your nail business changed in title past three years? Where do you see the nail business going in the future? NAILS Magazine asked 16 owners of some of the top full-service salons and day spas in North America those questions at the Intercoiffure America/Canada Atelier held recently in New York City. Intercoiffure is an international organization of almost 300 of the most successful salon owners in the United States. Founded in 1912 in Hamburg, Germany, the organization encompasses all aspects of the business: fraternity, friendship, fashion, and finance.

Although the people we interviewed are business experts in their own right, their salons’ success with nails varies greatly, depending on their geographic area as well as their commitment to nails as a profit center.

Gino Ruotolo, owner of Gino (Cambridge, Mass.), says he’s seen a tremendous increase in his nail business since the salon departmentalized. “We’re now operating our nail department as a serious, separate business unto itself, just like our color department,” says Ruotolo. With this new outlook, his nail business has doubled, accounting for 7% to 10% of total business, but Ruotolo says he’d like to see that number increase to 20%. His nail department staffs two nail technicians and he sees it growing. In fact, Ruotolo’s so committed to his new nail venture, he spent $2,500 each on custom-made, laminated nail tables to match the rest of his salon decor.

“I hired a wonderful nail technician a year ago who has turned my nail business into a powerful profit center — it’s increased more than 70%,” says Geri Mataya, owner of Uptown Hair Design Studio (Pittsburgh, Pa.). “She’s very committed to her profession and continuing education, really enjoys the nail business, and is very good at it. Plus, she has a wonderful personality and super people skills,” adds Mataya. “She’s now booking more than some of my hairdressers and she’s getting ready to hire another nail technician.” Mataya believes that the key to success was giving her nail technician free rein by delegating all decisions and responsibilities to her using a goal system — from ordering supplies to setting sanitation standards. “She surpasses her monetary and retail goals every month!”

Were adding more pampering, relaxing services, such as paraffin treatments and hand massages, for the total well-being of the hands,” say Sam and Holly Brocato, owners and general managers of the four Lock- works Salons (Baton Rouge, La.). Their staff includes eight full- and part-time nail technicians. Holly says they recently solved a problem — the smell — that was hindering their artificial nail business by installing vents under their nail tables to pipe the odors outside. Now, their artificial nail business is booming. “While nails represent 3% to 5% of our business, the/re more of a customer service than a profit center,” says Holly.

David Porris, owner of Arnold & Davids Hair Design (Cleveland, Ohio), staffs seven full-and part-time nail technicians. Porris says his salon could accommodate several more, especially for pedicures. “I’m adding 900 square feet to the salon and will devote a good portion of it to nails,” says Porris. “Currently, we can only offer pedicures Monday through Thursday because on the weekend we devote our nail space to manicures.”

Most technicians are fully booked for standing appointments. “We’re in an area on the chic east side of Cleveland where teenagers have seen their mothers get their nails done for years, so they start with manicures at an early age. Many book standing appointments with their friends for a social gathering,” reports Porris, who says nail services represent 12% of his busi­ness and this number is growing. In October 1991, the salon did 918 regular manicures alone, as well as 24 nail art services! His business secret: He promotes nail services to regular hair clients for special occasions, and once they try them they’re hooked!

Thomas Ramagnano, co-owner of Michael Thomas Salons (Chicago), says that while his nail business has grown — it’s about 2% of his total business for his three salons — he has trouble finding nail technicians who fit in well with his staff. “Even though we offer full-service nails, we don’t really nurture our nail business as much as we could,” he says. And he doesn’t see the situation getting any better. One reason is because of an “obsession with high percentage commissions.” If you care about doing a wonderful, professional job and keep up to date with training, the money will come,” says Ramagnano. “We’re looking for nail technicians who believe that way, too.”

Today’s client is more demanding,” says Dee Levin, owner of Salon NormanDee (Philadelphia, Pa.), who staffs seven nail technicians plus an esthetician who does nails. Clients are more interested in professional, image-oriented, no-frills services, too. For example, while acrylic nails are big sellers, there’s almost no demand for nail art, a service that used to be quite popular. Levin foresees a decrease in her nail business in the next few years, with more emphasis on home care. She cites the difficulty in finding nail technicians and the low profitability per square foot of nails as two reasons. “While my nail business is status quo, that’s not good enough for a serious businessperson,” says Levin.

“Our biggest change is the switch from the regular manicure to the spa manicure,” says Richard Calcasola, owner of Maximus Total Beauty Day Spa Deluxe (Merrick, N.Y.), who staffs four nail technicians in his salon/day spa. The spa manicure takes a basic manicure and adds a paraffin treatment, aromatherapy oils, an exfoliating scrub, and a deluxe, high- quality nail polish and hardener, all for $20. The standard manicure costs $12. “We try to convert all of our clients to the spa manicure by offering it the first time at the same price as the standard manicure,” says Calcasola. ‘They’re really getting a bargain because the paraffin service alone normally costs $10.” This new emphasis has also changed his retail business to focus more on hand treatments, like creams and aromatherapy oils. “Even though many of our clients get manicures, we’ve never really had a booming nail business before,” says Calcasola, “because we’ve treated it more like a stepchild. We’re giving it more credibility now that we have a spa.”

In the past, we looked at our nail business as a courtesy to our clients, rather than as a profit center. We’re changing that belief right now,” says Robert LaMorte, owner of four Robert Jeffrey Hair Studios (Chicago), where nails currently account for about 10% of business. Two immediate changes involve education and the commission structure. “We used to start new nail technicians at 70%. Today, they start at 50% and earn promotions and raises through service price increases,” says La Morte, “and we’re focusing heavily on an in-house education program. They’re making a commitment to come into this industry, and through education we want to take them to the very highest levels they can reach with pride. After all, every person in the salon is a reflection on the rest of the staff.” He staffs seven technicians plus two in training and could accommodate up to his goal of 1 4.

Frances London Dubose, owner of London Hair (Charleston, S.C.), sees a strong resurgence in nails, particularly pedicures, a service that’s grown by 25% on its own. “I’m going to perk up my pedicure room,” says Dubose, who is currently remodeling her 6,000-square-foot downtown salon. “We could use another nail technician strictly for pedicures,” she says. “In fact, we’ve probably turned some business away.” Dubose adds that extensions, aciylics, and overlays are all hot services, especially for professional women. Nail services are about 15% of her total services. Her dream? “If I had six nail technicians each doing $800 to $1,000 per week within the next three years, I’d be happy.”

“Upscale salons are getting killed by the influx of cut-rate, booth-rental, nails-only salons in Atlanta. We’ve seen a 30% drop in our nail business,” says Don Shaw, owner of Don Shaw & Associates (Atlanta) and international artistic director for Intercoiffure. As a result, he’s kept nail services in his spa but taken them out of his three mall salons because, “We can generate more capital cutting hair.” His spa staffs five technicians, and nail services generate about 5% of his total dollars. ‘The spa caters to an upper-class clientele who wants nail services in a full-service salon. We’ll keep nails in the spa strictly as service to them.”

Nails bring in about $25,000 per month at the two Geneses Salons (Boston), says owner Connie Sullivan. “The nail business is strong for manicures, pedicures, and specialties,” says Sullivan, who staffs 12 nail technicians — two who do strictly pedicures—in the two salons. “Our nail business could keep growing and growing, but we have no more room,” she says. Sullivan also forecasts a new trend for the ‘90s: combining nail and skin care salons that work with, rather than against, neighboring hair salons. “I see a strong demand for a nail/skin duo and the opportunity for estheticians and nail technicians to make a strong, professional impact,” she says. “I’ve already seen one salon do this successfully.”

My nail business has grown by about 40%; it’s automatically happened because women in the work force want to look good and professional and will spend the money on themselves to achieve that,” says Sal Calvano, owner of Cutters Hair (Phoenix, Ariz.). He adds, however, that there’s been an influx of booth-rental salons in his area, which he says could hurt the business tremendously.

 “Nail services have dropped off by about 10% to 15% because the economy, in general, is down here and people are watching every dollar carefully,” says Fran Marasco, owner of A Touch Class (Ontario, Canada). He does expect business to pick up “Women want to look beautiful, and their hands are in view more than any other part of their bodies.” To ensure that nail techni­cians stay busy and motivated, Marasco is running a variety of promotions, including “bring a friend and get one manicure free,” and he always includes nails when the salon does fashion shows and makeovers.

“Our nail department has grown 167% in the past three years,” says Gene Juarez, owner of six Gene Juarez Salons (Seattle). “Women feel that having well- groomed nails is part of their professional total look, and people who want to make a success statement need well-groomed nails. We will continue developing our artificial nail services, but were seeing more of a natural look — a soft feminine finish to an artificial tip. Our biggest future growth will be in retail because we now have a giant department—35 nail technicians — and a customer base. We will also move our weekly manicure clients to haircuts.”

Frank Rizzieri, owner of two House of Capri salons (Runnemede, N.J.), says his nail business has changed in a very positive way. “Clients are coming in on a more regular basis for fills and manicures, but they’re also more conscious of pampering. We’re doing more hand treatments, massages, and other more personalized hand services.” In the future, Rizzieri, who staffs seven nail technicians, says, “We’ll set up packages that combine nail services to show our clients how much we appreciate their business and offer super services, such as hair treatments and nail services at the same time, so clients can fit their appointments in more easily.” It’s all in the name of the service.


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