Marketing & Promotions

The Pricing Maze

Deciding what to charge for your services isn’t always easy, but it helps to know a few basic pricing facts.

Deciding what to charge for your services isn’t always easy, but it helps to know a few basic pricing facts.

Knowing how to price services and retail items is one of the trickiest and most difficult aspects of operating a nail salon today.

Advertise too low a price and you may attract only bargain hunters. Other clients will think your shop is inferior. Price services much higher than other salons in your area and some clients will complain you’re charging too much. Others will reason your services are worth more.

There are so many factors in setting service prices, including clients’ wants and needs, overhead expenses, marketing strategies, and psychological factors that affect buying decisions. It’s easy to get lost in the pricing maze.



Because there is no standard formula for pricing services, deciding what to charge can be baffling. One way to find a way through the confusing maze is to understand a few basic facts.

  1. Expenses and client’s needs

Because a shop’s location, type of clients, overhead, and other expenses vary greatly, it’s important that each salon owner conduct a detailed analysis to help determine what prices will and work in her salon.

Factors such as your shop’s image, your technician’s salesmanship, the number of services and products you sell, what services and items are in demand in your particular area, the amount of competition you face, and how your shop is perceived (upscale or discount) all contribute to its pricing strategies. An item priced at $6 may not sell in one shop, but could be a best seller priced at $8 in another. Rent, electricity, staff salaries and benefits, as well as operating costs----including advertising, printing and inventory---also figure into final decisions.

To know which prices will work for your shop, you need to know how much markup on services and products will allow you to meet expenses and stay in business. From there you can begin to figure what prices will and won’t work.

  1. Pricing not an exact science

 Clients can’t always tell you precisely why they’re willing to pay more for one item or nail service and less for another, because they often don’t know themselves.

To add to this difficulty, a recent NAILS Magazine survey revealed that prices often differ greatly by region. The average price for a full set of acrylics in Colorado is $36.07, for example, while the average price for the same service in Connecticut is $53.75. This makes the national average $41.83. But in many areas a salon owner would have to work hard to convince clients that the service merited even the national average price.

To better understand pricing, think about a common product that everyone has to buy toothpaste. Some shoppers manage to spend less than a dollar for a medium-size tube of their favorite national brand. To accomplish this, they carefully cut coupons from their local newspapers or drive across town to the store that offers the lowest price.

Other shoppers know a medium-size tube of their favorite toothpaste ranges in price from $1.88 to $2.49, depending on whether it’s on sale. Sometimes they pay less, sometimes they pay more. But while they’re willing to span a 61c price difference, the majority of these shoppers wouldn’t pay $4, because it’s out of their acceptable price range for what that item should cost.

Still other shoppers might be willing to pay up to $3.79 for a new brand of toothpaste that claims to have revolutionary cavity-fighting abilities or that their dentist recommended. But it’s doubtful anyone would fork over $6 or $7 for a similar-size tube of toothpaste.

The same principle applies when pricing services. While only experimentation can help you determine exact figures, you can easily learn what range of prices are acceptable in your area.

  1. Perception of worth

Why does one person pay full price for an item that another person won’t buy unless it’s on sale? It has to do with perception---what a client believes a service or item is worth.

If you’re the only salon in town that specializes in silk or fibreglass wraps, for example, most clients will be happy to pay whatever prices you set. They perceive your services as special, something they want and need, and they’re willing to pay for it.

But you can bet that if one or more salons open in your town that specialize in silk and fibreglass wraps, and their technicians charge $10 less, it’s going to affect your business. Some of your clients are going to balk, a few will try your competitors, and others will remain loyal.

Why? Some of your clients will suddenly believe you’ve been cheating them by charging higher prices. Others will perceive your services as less specialized and will begin to resent the price difference. Still others will assume you charge more because you were the first salon to do wraps (and therefore you’re the best). Nothing in your salon has changed but your clients’ perception---which, in the pricing game, plays a big factor in how much they’re willing spend.

  1. Number madness

Try charging $20 for a service that only costs $19.88 across the street and it’s amazing how many clients complain about the 12c difference. Why? Clients may feel they are getting a bargain when an item is priced at $1.98, yet they’ll gripe about inflation when that same item costs $2---only two cents more. Research shows that people perceive whole numbers such as $2 to be higher than they really are over uneven ones like $1.98 or even $1.99.

One study revealed that some people perceived the 14c difference between 93c and 79c as being greater than the (also 14c) difference between 89c and 75c.

What this means to the salon owner is that every cent counts when pricing a service or item. It also means that the only way you’re going to find out which price suits your clients is to experiment and track the results.


Factor into your pricing decisions rampant discounting and a weakened economy and it becomes increasingly difficult to settle on dollar amounts that are both profitable for your salon and fair to your clients. So what’s a salon owner to do?

Many salon owners with the pricing game by developing marketing strategies that minimize price and zoom in on the needs and desires of the clients they want to attract. Creating a clear identity that lets clients know who you are and what your salon is all about can also ease pricing woes.

For example, several salons around the country have risen above neighbourhood price wars by emphasizing a particular feature of their salon, such as their cleanliness and disinfection techniques. Still others beat discounters in their area by offering luxury services that pamper and cater to their clients. Then there are those salons that hire the fastest technicians in town and advertise that clients can be serviced on their lunch hour, in one hour or less. Last but not least, there’s the village salon where clients like to hang out and socialize with friends before and after their manicure.

If clients perceive your services as out of the ordinary, timesaving, convenient, cleaner, friendlier, or a higher quality, they won’t question why you charge more than the salon across the street.

For instance, a few months ago, a woman came rushing into the gift shop at the Denver Airport.

“Is there a nail salon in this airport?” she asked the clerk.

“No,” the clerk replied.

“Well, there should be,” the woman said indignantly. “ I have a two-hour layover and I need my nails done.”

You can bet this woman wouldn’t blink twice at the rates she’d probably have to pay at a salon in an airport terminal.


Once you’ve considered all the above facts and figures, you can begin to set prices.

If you’re familiar with the price range for services in your area, you already know, for instance, that a few discount salons charge less than $10 for a particular service while a few upscale salons charge $20. What should you do?

After adding up your monthly expenses, you may find you need to charge closer to $20 than $10 to make a profit, yet you don’t want to appear as if you’re competing with the high-end shops. Knowing your clients like quality products, long hand massages, and pampering, you might pick a price in the range of $16.50 to $17.99. Why not settle on $17? The price you set could mean the difference between your business growing or just making it. Choose the higher price range and experiment with different dollar and cent combinations, while emphasizing to your clients your quality products and expert technicians.

Try a few innovative strategies, like one salon owner who buys purse-size bottles of nail glue in bulk and gives one to each of her clients as a bonus---yet she charges them exactly what she needs to. Another technician periodically gives her clients a bottle of their favorite nail polish.

Rely on your business instincts and experience, and you’ll find there are lots of ways to play the pricing game and keep clients happy.


Salon owners catering to different types of clients may want to establish two price levels. For instance, if you have a large number of working male and female clients and an almost equal number of senior citizen clients living on a limited income, you may want to offer a less costly bare-bones manicure that is just right for your older clients and a longer manicure with a hand massage, paraffin wax, and other added benefits that costs a little more for your working clients, who are probably looking for a bit more pampering.

Additionally, you might advertise a senior citizens’ discount on days of the week when business is slow to accommodate your older clients living on fixed incomes---a gesture that your other clients won’t object to and may even applaud.


In today’s fast-changing market, it’s important to keep on top of pricing strategies by constantly tracking results to see which items and services are selling well at what prices.

It’s also important to pass on increases in nail product prices and overhead expenses to your clients from time to time so your business remains profitable.

Ultimately, time and experience will help you find your way through the pricing maze. But while playing the numbers game, remember that prices say something about your shop. And it’s up to you to ensure you’re sending clients the right message.

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