Money Matters

Retailing Polish: A Slick Way to Profit

When it comes to making money in the salon, sometimes it's the little things that count. 

Connie Lockwood (left), owner of Trendi's in Flint, Mich., and Sandra Lee Kipp show off Trendi's display of polish. 
<p>Connie Lockwood (left), owner of Trendi's in Flint, Mich., and Sandra Lee Kipp show off Trendi's display of polish.&nbsp;</p>

Do you think a bottle of nail polish is just one of those “little things” you’re too busy to be bothered with in the salon? Think again. That little bottle of polish can bring in big profits for you. Gary Ahlquist of Gary Ahlquist Information Services in Hixon, Tenn., cites a recent Modern Salon study that concludes that the average profit on all types of salon services in 1992 was 7.02%, while the profit on salon retail was a whopping 23.51%. “Retail is continually creeping upward .02% to .03% a year, while service is moving downward .03% a year,” Ahlquist says, “There has been a dramatic drop in service profits since 1980. In 1980, profit on service was 11%.”

Ahlquist says salon professionals need to begin asking themselves: How can I make money in the current marketplace? “Retail is still the easiest, quickest, and most dramatic cash-flow and profit enhancer there is,” he says. “Retail is a high-profit, modest investment. It yields three times more profit than service. If you figure 7.02% profit on a $10 haircut, that’s only $1.40; but at 23.51% profit on retail, the profit on a $5 bottle of nail polish is $1.20.” Ahlquist says that such a profit picture suddenly shines a high-powered light on that little bottle of nail polish.

To find out what salons are doing to retail nail polish, NAILS interviewed 13 salons, selected randomly from the 1993 Reader Survey, who say that polish is their best-selling retail item. Here, in their own words, are the ins and outs of profiting from polish.

Kathy McGrady, who has co-owned Shaker Heights Country Inn Salon in Shaker Heights, Ohio, for six years: I retail Develop 10 and Orly My best-seller is Orly’s Red Sea Pearl. The polish retails for $4.28 a bottle, and polish constitutes 35% to 40% of my retail. Each customer buys an average of two bottles of polish a month. We have a credenza for the polishes only and we display specials on polish where all the clients can see them. For holidays, we make a gift package for our customers---a little basket with a nail file, polish, sometimes a key chain. When we change colors, we put the old polish in a basket and sell it for $1 a bottle. I go out of my way to tell customers a polish color is “in.” I mention during the manicure that we retail everything we are using on the client. I suggest colors for my clients.

Jill Godfrey, who has owned The Polished Nail in Bellingham, Mass., for three years: I use OPI nail lacquer on my clients. I sell it for $5 to $6 per bottle. I stock three of each color, more of the best-sellers, such as OPI Red, Grand Canyon Sunset, and Maui Mango. I sell two to three bottles per client per month. I have two display racks on the reception desk.

Every month we hold drawings for retail items, such as polish. I take in about $100 per month in polish retail and my profit is 50% of that.

How do I promote polish in my salon? I tell clients that they need to keep their nails covered, that they should touch them up during the week with color and a top coat, and that will help their nails last longer.

Shirley Zawada, who has owned Betty’s Beauty Salon in Zion, III., for nine years: Of my retail profit, 25% is from nail polish. We are a tanning and nail salon with a clothing boutique. I retail a variety of polish brands: Tammy Taylor, Orly, OPI, Silicone Shield, Creative Nail Design, Amoresse, Zoom, Peau de Peche, and Tantra. I display every hot new color available---about 500 bottles altogether---on glass shelves. Whatever colors are in right now, I display in front. I put the brighter colors on a mirrored shelf. I have so much polish, everywhere my clients look, they see polish. I retail between $4,000 and $5,000 worth of polish per year, about $50 worth to each customer. The average price of a bottle of polish in my salon is $4.50.

Barbara Griggs, who has owned Nail Visions in Pasadena, Md., for two and a half year: I retail the same brands of polish I use on clients---Creative Nail Design, Peau de Peche, and Develop 10. The best-seller is Creative Nail Design, even though I carry the same amount of each brand. The reds sell the best.

A bottle of nail polish retails between $3.95 and $4.50 and I sell 10 to 15 bottles of polish per week. I display the polish by the front desk at eye level in an area where there is good lighting. In addition, a display of polish is set up at each of the seven nail technician workstations in the salon, on tiered shelves attached to the manicuring tables.

Clients buy color for touch-ups; we have a few people who stop in just to buy polish. I carry about 100 colors and display three of each.

We promote polish sales by asking the clients whether they need color for touch-ups. If the client didn’t get a pedicure, we ask if she would like to buy the polish to paint her toes to match.

For birthdays, we sometimes give clients a bottle of polish. For holidays, we make up gift packs---easy buys for a secretary or a friend. We take green plastic Christmas-tree shape candy dishes and put candy and a bottle of nail polish in them. Then we wrap them with cellophane, tie a bow, and sell them for $5. Also, we have mugs with our salon name on them. We put in a gift certificate for a service, a polish, a top coat, a file, a small hand lotion, and whatever else we have around and sell them as a gift year-round. The mugs provide a good way to reduce old stock when the new colors come in, and they’re a good way to introduce clients to polish. We display our new colors on glass shelves at the nail technician stations for the first few weeks after they’ve come in.

Sandra Lee Kipp, who has owned Kipp’s Kreations in Davidson, Mich., for three years and works as  a nail technician at Trendi’s in Flint, Mich.; We use OPI lacquer on clients and retail it as well. We recently purchased a generic brand of polish, but it doesn’t retail as well even though it costs less. The number-one seller is Grand Canyon Sunset. Number two is the original OPI Red, and number three is the French manicure combination of Coney Island Cotton Candy and Alpine Snow. We retail the OPI polish at $5 a bottle and the generic at $3. It’s our natural-nail clients who purchase polish. We sell about 20 bottles minimum per month. Our markup on polish is 50%. We earn about $600 per year retailing polish.

We display six of each color on a 100-bottle rack and reorder as it gets low. Sometimes we might run a special---if the customer purchases a lipstick, she gets a bottle of polish free. Last year for the holidays we put a ribbon around each bottle of polish, put the polishes in a glass carafe, and let our customers choose a bottle of polish. We also gave out little samplers of cuticle oil and cuticle cream.

Cynthia Ikola, who has owned Images Tanning & Nail Salon in Stevensville, Mich., for eight and a half years: I try to sell what we use on clients---Peau de Peche, OPI, Amoresse, and Matrix. All our polishes retail at $5 except Matrix, which retails at $6. I display 300 bottles of polish on racks all the way down the walls. At the beginning of each season, I put out the new colors. Customers come in and grab them. Polish is displayed on Plexiglas wall shelves in the lobby, one bottle deep so that each color shows up. This way, clients don’t have to dig through them. OPI’s OPI Red and the OPI mauves sell best. So does Peau de Peche’s  Pink Shimmer and their French manicure colors.

For the holidays we make up gift baskets that consist of a file with cute little animal nail brushes, maybe some cuticle remover. We wrap them in colored cellophane paper. Sometimes we put in nail wipes, a base coat, and a top coat. We make the baskets for Valentine’s Day, Easter, and Christmas. All we do is change the cellophane color.

I promote polish sales by handing my customers polish color charts. We might have 80 to 90 colors available at one time. If we don’t have the color to use on them, the clients buy it. We never have to “push” polish.

Lynne Gallo, who has owned Experts Nails and Hair Salon in Marlton, N.J., for 14 years: We use and retail Essie and Amoresse. Our best-sellers are the French colors in Essie and the iridescent and pearlescent polishes in Amoresse. Essie retails for $4 and Amoresse for $5. The markup is 70%. Our polish displays, 10 racks of 20 bottles each, are in the front of the salon. The polishes are aligned by color: salmons, peaches, and oranges together; miscellaneous such as gold and silver side by side; and browns, beiges, and mauves together.

We rearrange the polishes every day. When we get new colors in, we try to match them up with lipstick and lip liner and we put it all on top of a little Plexiglas box on the nail technician’s table. We arrange four sets of different colors this way. A set sells for $15. Our clients are always asking what’s new for the season and these sets are a way of showing them and getting the conversation going.

The key thing is to not let polish get dusty. We work in a dusty environment. Keep your polish clean so that people will want to buy it. We try to set personal goals for ourselves to sell 10 bottles per week per operator. Our receptionist sells a lot of polish. We have our retail display behind her.

For special holiday sets, we buy corsage bags from a florist and stuff them with two or three different polishes, lipstick, lip liner, and quick-dry, and tie the bags with a colourful ribbon.

Thomasine Woolfolk, who has owned Claws in Chicago, III., for four years: I use OPI on my clients. I retail Nail Perfection for $2.89 a bottle and OPI for $4.99 a bottle. I probably sell 50 to 55 bottles of Nail Perfection polish a month. The reds sell best. I display the polish on clear acrylic stands right next to the workstations. I don’t clutter the stands. If a client is going away, I suggest she buy nail polish and nail glue. Around the holidays, I wrap a nail brush and a top coat in a ribbon and give it to my regular customers.

Phyllis Weatherbee, who has owned Changing Attitudes... A salon in Tallahassee, Fla., for one and a half years: We retail OPI best-sellers are Orly’s Crawford’s Wine and OPI’s Monroe’s Red, Tasmanian Devil, and Grand Canyon Sunset. We sell three to six bottles of polish per month per client, and we have eight to 12 clients a day five days a week.

We display 90 to 120 bottles at a time and replenish the displays, which are located next to the reception area, twice a week. The polishes are displayed in color-coordinated order. Sometimes I obtain velvet jewelry pouches and put a buffer, a file, some cuticle oil, some glue, and a bottle of nail polish in each pouch. I give these as gifts to our regular clients.

Cindy Kappeler, who has owned Fingernail Parlour in Pittburgh, Pa., for 10 years: We retail Essie, OPI, and Bar-Lor. Essie and Bar-Lor sell for $3 and OPI for $5. The reds and corals sell well. I have three Lucite displays, one for each brand, located at the nail technicians’ stations where clients can touch the polish and pick one out. I display only one bottle of each color at a time for a total of 80 to 120 bottles.

When a client has chosen a color and is having it put on her nails, we say, “We have this color available. Would you like to purchase it?” and she often does. At the end of a season, we put the old polishes in a basket and discount them. We rotate our colors when the new polishes for the season come in, which is twice a year.

Natalie Kurz, who has been a booth renter at Sleek Images, in Berkley, Mich., for two years: I retail Amoresse and Peau de Peche. I do my retail polish sales very uniquely: I special-order polish for my clients so they feel special. The polish takes no more than a week to arrive. When a client says she loves a polish color, I tell her I will be happy to order it for her right away. The client’s polish is waiting for her at her next service. I charge $5 for a bottle of polish and I sell about 15 bottles per month.

For the holidays, I gave my clients a bottle of Peau de Peche Christmas Red. The polish absolutely sells itself. I display about 200 bottles on white shelves right next to my station.

Pat Genardo, who has owned Serendipity in Tinley Park, III., for ten and a half years: I tell my nail technicians. Once you find yourself in the situation, sell it! Don’t send the client somewhere else to buy nail polish. I display all the Sation colors. I carry every color they make. They have 204 colors in their regular line alone. Their new line has 50 colors. Seven shelves hold the Sation colors.

I have a whole rack of Tammy Taylor colors, a whole rack of Zoom colors, and a full rack of Tantra colors. People think I don’t sell all these colors, but I do! I try to keystone (double the wholesale price of) the colors on markup. The Sation line sells for $2.50 a bottle, the Tantra for $4, and the Tammy Taylor and Zoom for $5. Always figure the shipping charges in when you are considering how much you should charge for a bottle of polish.

For the holidays, we have a lady who makes up these gorgeous foil baskets for us. We put in a little synthetic colored grass and some quick-dry, polish, base coat, and a colourful nail file. Every year we try to come up with something different for our baskets. We promote all the time. For valentine’s Day we put out our most gorgeous reds and throw in a little nail art for free---maybe a small heart drawn on a nail. People will come in and ask, “Do you have any new colors?” I laugh. If I get much more, I’ll be buried in nail polish.

Marnie Traylor, who has been a nail technician for five years and works at The Julie Balay Salon in Wichita, Kan.: We use Peau de Peche polish, and most of my clients buy polish for touch-ups. I suggest it to them. We sell about five bottles per week at $5.50 per bottle. Our best-selling colors during February are Bordeaux, Alluring Mauve, Mystical Wine, Cinnamon, and Ripping Red. We sell about 74 colors. We have one rack by the reception desk, which we keep dusted and looking nice. I have two racks at my manicuring station. We display the polish alongside the makeup.

Once in awhile we match up lipsticks and polishes and sell them together. During the holidays we tie them together with some garland. We give our standing appointments a bottle of red polish.

A lot of clients bring their little girls in. They buy a bottle of polish so they can go home and polish their girl’s nails the color of their own. To help sell polish, I suggest clients buy it to cover the re-growth and the wear and tear on the ends. I also suggest that they put another coat of clear polish on to bring up the shine. The clear coat is easy to sell.

When promoting polish, always focus on how much the client needs the polish. Also, have the polish displayed up by the reception desk so the receptionist can promote sales. She can ask them if they would like to have the color the nail tech put on their nails. They usually want it.

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