Customer Service

Winning Ways to Win New Clients

Rewarding current clients, befriending hairstylists, and joining the chamber of commerce are just a few ways to bring new clients into the salon.

Except for a very lucky few, nail technicians are constantly trying to find new clients. Whether it’s by offering their current clients an incentive to refer new clients or an all-out advertising assault; nail technicians are as creative at finding new clients as they are doing nails. We asked several established nail technicians what the best sources of new clients are. Their sources range from the tried-and-true to the truly unique.


They say competition brings out the best. In the case of Elizabeth Truong, owner of Magic Nails in Virginia Beach, Va., it brings in the best, too. “I win a lot of awards at nail competitions,” says Truong. “I have a case with 14 trophies in it that customers can see. It’s proof that we do a really good job. Plus, every time I win an award for sculptured nails, tips, or nail art, local newspapers and magazines come out and I get publicity.

Truong advertises in the yellow pages, but she says word of mouth is still her best source for business. “My customers recommend me,” says Truong. “They see my name in nail magazines and on the trophies and they tell their friends about me.”

Cheryl Dietz, owner of Cheryl’s Nail bar in Peoria, III., agrees that customer referrals are the number one resource for getting new clients through the door. She goes an extra step however; to give clients an incentive to refer. “We give each client an appointment card that offers a $15 discount on a set of nails, which she can give to any customer she refers. On the back of the card the client signs her own name. When two of her referral cards have been tuned in, she gets a free fill.”

According to Dietz, this card system benefits the client twice: She gets to offer a discount on nail services to her friends, and she earns free services herself. “If a customer is at the grocery store and someone compliments her on her nails, she can say, ‘I can get you a discount, and hand her a card,”says Dietz.

Dietz receives about 50 referral cards each month. “It only costs us $18 for 1,000 cards. It’s so successful, we’ll do it forever.”


Vicki Peters, who now manages the NAILS Magazine Shows, did nails for 10 years and says, “A free set goes a long way in advertising.” She would offer to put a free set on women who were constantly in the public eye. She recommends that nail technicians befriend the makeup consultants at major department stores. Offer to do a free set on them, give them a stack of business cards, and then watch the referrals roll in. In her own clientele Peters had a number of flight attendants, all of whom had heard of her through the first free set she did on a flight attendant friend.

The best way to develop these allies is to first put on a new set of nails (a French acrylic manicure with no polish seems to get the most attention), grab a stack of business cards, and start making the rounds. Talk to grocery store clerks, bank tellers, retail salespeople, waitresses, secretaries, and women who work in large companies.


Debbie Graf, owner of Talk of the Town in Grand Prairie, Texas, likes to play cards. But her ace in the hole is her business card. Wherever she travels, she leaves a handful of them behind. “When I first started, I took my cards and put them everywhere,” says Graf. “I left them on restaurant tables when I went to dinner. I pinned them on the bulletin board at the grocery store. In stores, I’d go to the cosmetics counter and leave them next to the nail polish.”

Although Graf knew that the chances of picking up new clients in this fashion were slim, she still felt it would be worth her while. “I didn’t get more than one or two clients from each of the locations I left cards at,” says Graf, “but that one or two make a big difference, because they in turn tell other people.”

Another great place for leaving your business card, says Cynthia Kappler, owner of the Fingernail Parlour in Pittburgh, Pa., is bridal shops. “Bridal shops are an ideal location. Nails are a necessity, just like a photographer and wedding cake, that every bride is going to need. I also go to bridal shows and set up a small booth. By giving out coupons, I get a good return.”


David Porris, owner of Arnold & David’s Hair Design, a full-service salon in Woodmere Village, Ohio, doesn’t need to leave his styling station to find new nail clients. Most are already there having their hair done.

“You have such a tremendous, untapped market,” says Porris. If I’m doing somebody’s hair, I’ll take the time to look at her hands and say, ‘You have really pretty hands. Who does your nails? Or, ‘Your hands could really look great with regular manicures. The first one’s on me.’’

At that point Porris introduces his client to one of the salon’s six nail technicians. “We have terrific nail technicians who do great manicures and nail art. Because most of the people [ I offer a free manicure to] are first-time clients, they usually end up liking it and staying.”

Another strategy Porris learned from his background in hair is wearing your work. “As a hairdresser, if you wear a really cool hairstyle, people are always stopping and asking, ‘Who does your hair?’ If your nails look great, they’ll ask the same thing.” He says.

You might try developing a referral relationship with salons in your area that don’t offer nails. Talk to the salon owner or head stylist about cross-referring clients--- you send hair clients to her, she sends nail clients to you. If you can’t refer hair clients because your own salon offers hair care, offer to do the hair stylist’s nails in exchange for referrals (for example, for every three referrals she sends you, she gets a free fill).


While Porris looks internally for new nail clientele, Evelyn Regnier, owner of Designing Nails in Woodbury, Minn., doesn’t mind pounding the pavement in search of new clients. “Our salon opened in October 1992 in a neighbourhood with the highest percentage of new homes in the entire Minneapolis-St. Paul area. We’re in a huge white-collar area with lots of new people arriving, including businesspeople and housewives,” says Regnier.

To grab this audience’s attention, Regnier engaged the services of local teenagers to deliver what she calls “door knockers.” Wednesday through Friday during the summer we had kids go house-to-house hanging door knockers. Door knockers are small bags that contain an explanation of acrylic and fibreglass nails, a small soda can opener so you don’t break your nails, and a discount coupon for a first set of nails. Everything has our logo on it,” says Regnier.

Was the promotion successful? “After the first batch went out, we had 22 new full sets of acrylic nails in three days. We did market research and we knew where we wanted to be. We have 10 fulltime nail technicians and we’re turning people away at the door,” says Regnier.

Regnier carefully keeps track of new clients, being sure to send them thank-you notes as well as monthly mailers promoting specials, services, and retail offerings such as a free bottle of nail polish.

New clients aren’t the only ones to receive something in the mailbox. “We ask clients who it was that referred them to us, and we send that person a thank-you note and a special discount.” Says Regnier.


Your local chamber of commerce can be a invaluable ally. Many chambers publish membership directories (where you can list your salon), some conduct informal networking functions (where you can mingle with other business owners and exchange business cards), and some even provide membership lists for promotional mailings. Call your chamber and ask what benefits are available to members.


According to Graf, an important rule that must be followed when developing a clientele is maintaining your own nails. “If you don’t keep your nails in great shape, you can’t go out and see people and say, ‘I do nails for a living.’ I met a new client at my son’s swimming lessons. She said, ‘Your nails are great,’ and I told her that that’s what I do for a living and I gave her a business card. Always have your business cards with you. I don’t care if you’re going to the ladies’ room at a concert. You never know when someone is going to walk up to you.”

Rhonda Crawford is the owner of Sessions in Suitland, Md., where she’s also a nail technician. Her flare for creativity and originality has enabled her to develop a tremendous referral business. “I do a lot of hand-painted nail art,” says Crawford. “I do beach scenes with palm trees; the New York City skyline; and I use a mixture of polishes, glitter, and paint to create abstracts. It’s all unusual and you won’t see it anywhere else. It’s my signature, my trademark.”

Her innovative work is instantly recognized and coveted. “Clients see my work on other people and they go up to them and say, ‘I know who did your nails Rhonda did them.”

While creativity is Crawford’s forte being reliable has helped Kathy Borror, manager/nail technician at Exquisite Design in Reynoldsburg, Ohio, gain a stellar reputation and many new customers. Many of Borror’s clients travel long distances (from as far away as Colorado and West Virginia) to have her work on their nails. What’s her secret?

“I try to always be there for them,” says Borror. “I know there are a lot of nail technicians who are always cancelling and rescheduling. I try to be personable and give my clients what they want.” While this might sound trivial, in today’s hectic, fast-paced world, adjusting yourself to your client’s calendar is not only smart, it’s a necessity.

Is there one method that works best for expanding your customer base? If there were, wouldn’t everyone be using it? Explore new ideas. You may just discover some great new untapped sources yourself.

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