"After I started doing nails, I still did hair for a while, but I was making more money doing nails so I just transitioned into it,” Van Strander says.
Pat Van Strander
Pat Van Strander remembers the early seventies as a time when hair changed. Women stopped getting roller sets and came in for haircuts and blow-dry styling every six weeks. Men started wearing their hair longer. For Van Strander, then a hairdresser, it all added up to burnout.
So she changed, too. She started doing nails. “I just always loved nails and I wanted to do something to make nails look fine all the time. After I started doing nails, I still did hair for a while, but I was making more money doing nails so I just transitioned into it,” she says.
Van Strander, who owns P. A. Van Strander Hair and Nail Works in Newbugh, N.Y., is a nail industry pioneer. When she started doing nails 20 years ago, there was no one to teach her how. She sent away for mail-order acrylics from a company in Massachusetts. The product came with written instructions that Van Strander spent six months trying to follow.
“It wasn’t coming out right. I was ready to throw it all in the garbage and go back to doing hair when one day, then nails came out right,” she says. The next product she tried was Lee Nails, which you could buy at any drugstore at the time, and, finally, a professional product that no longer exists. “It dried so quickly you couldn’t work with it,” she remembers. Her next and final move almost 12 years ago was to OPI Products, which she’s stuck with ever since.
Van Strander has seen big changes in the nail industry, and they are all for the better, she says. “The products are better, there are schools now, and there’s so much product information. It’s a growing industry and it’s just going to keep on getting better,” she says.
Van Strander’s personality and reputation for excellent work are the keys to her success. “Her customers couldn’t wait for her to expand,” says Arlene Parness, OPI’s Northwest regional manager. “She’s got an eight-foot wall in the salon that was white. She handed each of her customers a black marker and asked them to sign the wall and add a little comment. They couldn’t wait to do it. The wall is covered with signatures and humorous remarks.”
Van Strander teaches other educators, a nail technicians, and students, and puts on seminars with distributions and in salons as well. She conducts a five-day training session every year for new OPI educators, teaching them how to use, sell, and educate on the products. And she does lots of travelling, attending all the major tradeshows in the Northeast. “If another educator is having a problem with a product and it seems unsolvable, we call Pat. She always has a solution,” Parness says.
Van Strander was born and raised in New York. When a cosmetology course was offered in high school for the first time, she took it and graduated from high school and cosmetology school at the same time. Her uncle owned a beauty salon and put her to work right after graduation.
And it looks like the cosmetology gene may have been passed on to Van Strander’s 15-year-old daughter.
“She’s interested in cosmetology school. I’d like her to go to college also. She’s interested in hair and she’s very talented. If that’s what she wants to do, OK. The business has been very good to me, “Van Strander says.
It must have been, because after 20 years, she’s still enthusiastically doing nails. Van Strander specializes in sculptured nails. She believes they are more durable and look more natural than tips or wraps.
Nails have become part of women’s everyday wear, Van Strander believes. And she is no exception to that rule. “I wear them myself. As the saying goes, I don’t leave home without them,” she says.