Nail Art

Dedicated to the infinite joys of nail art and design: handpaint, airbrush, colored acrylics and gels.


Shed the Starving Artist Image

There is no single customer for nail art. So with smart promotions, it can appeal to the trendsetting and the conservative.

By Suzette Hill

“Tired of small paychecks and routine work? Have fun and make big money with just a $25 investment. Call (555) NAIL-ART now for our detailed information packet!”

How many times have you seen ads like this in weekly shoppers and the backs of magazines? Although we know that great fun and good money don’t always mix in the work world, it’s hard to resist dreaming.

Ho ahead and dream, say nail technicians and manufacturers. There are opportunities for both high profits and creative, fun work right at the tip of your brush – that is, your nail art brush.

“If the technician handles it properly, she can add $3 or more to each ticket with just one minutes or more of extra time,” says Beverly Bennett of A Show of Hands in Meriden, Connecticut. “Once you get clients to wear something, they get bolder and bolder until you’re decorating all 10 nails. Add a minute or two to each client’s service, and with 30 clients you can add at least $60 to your weekly service tickets, and that’s the base minimum.”

Nail art gives technicians a chance to go beyond perfecting their application techniques. “They’ve labored to make the perfect nail. Art is the frosting,” says LynnRae Ries of San Francisco Nails in San Leandro, Calif. “She can relax, have fun. Doing nail art lets her be easy on herself after the trauma of trying to create perfect nails.”

Can I Really Make Money?

Some people say there’s no money to be made in nail art. And it’s true – with that attitude there is no money to be made. But nail technicians can bolster their service tickets with nail art services. Nail art is more than just decoration – it allows both client and technician to express their personality and individuality. As Bennett points out, getting your nails done is no longer special – it’s almost expected. Even the most conservative business people sport well-maintained nails, whether or not they wear polish. But even a stripe or a rhinestone on one nail can add a subtle dimension that no one could label tacky.

“Everyone has the potential to wear nail art,” says Linda Kaplan of Lindy’s Nail Products in Northridge, California. “Even your most conservative customers will wear it if you show them the right designs. It catches on right away as long as you’re demonstrating it and showing it right. Show them what can be done with an item; it’s the finished effect that sells.”

Liz Fojon of Phenomonails of Fair Lawn in Fair Lawn, New Jersey, says 90% of her clients wear nail art, whether an airbrushed French manicure or something on the wild side.

“All my clients are professional women. Some women can get away with more than others. The conservative client can have delicate, subtle designs – they’re not locked into a cream polish.

“I feel it’s a service a client should have. It makes them feel they’re getting something special.

“The costs are low, profits are good, and it’s a lot of fun,” Fojon declares. “I have 11 technicians and, in one week, I make more than all of them together. I work quickly, but there’s a lot of money to be made. And clients are dedicated. They stay here because even though they can get a manicure at another salon, they can’t get the art anywhere else so they remain very loyal.”

Little Costs, Big Profits

Nail art supplies are relatively inexpensive. Bennett says the average cost of striping is ½ cent per nail, and you can charge an average of $2 per nail. It only takes 1-2 minutes to apply striping, so the profit margin is high. Bennett cites rhinestones in another example. The average bag contains 144 rhinestones and costs about $5. If you use three rhinestones per nail, a bag will do 48 nails. At $3 per nail, you’ll make $144 from your $5 investment.

Set-up costs minimal for most nail art techniques. An airbrush system does require a larger investment. But don’t reject airbrushing because your initial cost is high; it can pay for itself quickly, says Diane D’Agnolo, manager of Professional Nail Resource in Phoenix. “When I bought my system, it was almost $400. The system paid for itself in about 60-90 days with French manicures. It just has to be approached right,” she says.

Setting The Price

Some nail technicians encounter problems selling nail art because they price themselves out of the market, says Fojon. “If a person is spending $20 on a service, you can’t expect her to spend another $30-$40 on nail art.

“Search the area you live in and see the prices being charged,” Fojon advises, “Also, look at your supplies and time, and then justify your price. Time and detail are the most important things to consider when setting your price.”

Advice on pricing varies, but most experts recommend not charging less than $2 per nail for the simplest designs. Also, remember that salons in Illinois may be able to charge only $2 for a design that may sell for $5 in New York.

D’Agnolo and others recommend setting your prices according to the complexity of the design and the amount of product used. “You need to charge for the work being done. Nail technicians need to do what hairstylists do, which is itemize their services,” she says.

Group types of nail art based on time and product usage. For example, price handpainted designs based on how long they take to do. Sue Tumblety of Bloomingnails in Morganville, New Jersey, has trays of designs that she can paint in 20 minutes. The designs differ for clients’ tastes, and all are priced $20. Others base airbrushing prices on how many colors are used.

Whatever price structure you choose, strive for consistency and fairness, and make clients aware of your system up front. When you give clients complimentary art, tactfully let them know that you normally charge for it. This avoids confusion later.

Read the Cover and Open the Book

Train yourself to look beyond the obvious difference between a client dressed in a business suit and one in blue jeans. Don’t write off anyone automatically as a possible nail art customer. You can tell many things about a client by observing how she dresses and talks, as well as by reading her body language.

“Many people think nail art is a young thing. But, depending on the type of styles you create, it can be worn by anybody,” says Larry miller of East Coast Air Brush in Massapequa, New York. “An older woman won’t wear a lightning bolt on her finger, but without a doubt she’ll go for a French manicure.”

Ries agrees, “The professional woman thinks nail art is too wild until you show her how soft it can be. Ordinarily if she’s in a suit, she favors a tailored look. Try striping, shaded airbrush designs, or handpainted flowers on one finger.”

Arlene Homaidan of Princess Nails in Hesperia, California, likens nail art to earrings and other accessories. “They can dress their nails, make it simple and elegant. It’s just like jewelry – something to wear, show off, and talk about, like a ring or bracelet,” she says.

Never assume a client won’t buy nail art, no matter how conservative she appears. Says Tumblety, “I thought I could pinpoint what type of person buys nail art, but I can’t. They are just people who get nail art if they like it. I do a lot of people in their early 20s, a lot of lawyers, and women who work with computers and at insurance firms.”

Kaplan sums it up, saying, “Everyone has the potential to wear nail art. Even your most conservative customers will wear it if you show them the right designs. You need to know what kind of designs to sell your market.”

Making the Sale

Some technicians protest that their clients would never wear nail art – they’re too conservative, it wouldn’t fit their professional image, nail art is too wild. But once you know your client, you’ll know which designs she’ll favor.

Nail art is only as wild as you make it. Marbleized polish, a rhinestone here and there, and a single stripe are all nail art. Clients’ reactions depend on how you present the art and make the sale.

“Clients look forward to my nail art,” says Fojon, “It has a lot to do with establishing a trusting relationship. And they have to understand that the art can be as understand or crazy as they want.”

Making the sale is up to you. Few clients will ask for nail art if they don’t know you do it. You are your best advertisement.

Keep your nails manicured and wear your own designs, even to the grocery store. Prospective clients will notice and ask who does your nails. Of course, you’ll need to keep extra business cards on hand.

While doing services, Bennett advises keeping two of your own nails decorated – one with a flamboyant design, the other a subtle, elegant design. Says Bennet, “This gives clients a cross reference so they can make a choice. If you’re wearing it every week, they’ll eventually start wearing it too.”

Displaying nail art is very important. “You have to display your designs because people can’t imagine what a design will look like. And once a week or once a month take out one of these designs and put it on special,” says Ries. “Displays also stop clients from saying ‘Just do something’, and then not liking what you do.”

Do your nail art designs on nail tips and display them at your station. Show a range of designs, from the simplest to the most flamboyant. Group designs by price. Some technicians recommend putting your prices on the display, while others caution that cost may turn away otherwise interested clients. If you don’t display prices, tell the client what a design will cost before you do it on her nails.

Give clients complimentary art for special occasions – birthdays, anniversaries, vacation. If she mentions that she’s celebrating a wedding anniversary this weekend, ask what she’s doing to celebrate and paint a small flower or add a rhinestone on one nail. Keep it simple and act quickly before she can say no. When the design is complete, be sure to ask if she likes it. Explain that there is normally a fee for nail art, but that this is a special gift because she is a good client and celebrating a special event.

At the next appointment, ask how she liked it. Did she get any compliments from friends? When you finish the service, ask if she would like to try another design. This time, explain you will have to charge and repeat your pricing policy.

When giving complimentary nail art, avoid using the word “free”. Call it a bonus, a gift, or a thank you for a client referral. “Free” can devalue the service and make it difficult to get clients to pay for it later.

Hold nail art promotions. Give one complimentary design with a manicure or handpaint a design on the big toe with each pedicure, Ries also recommends running a weekly or monthly promotion on a particular nail art design.

Less traditional promotions can also be very effective. Before Bennet became a nail art manufacturer, she volunteered at charity events. Instead of selling manicures for charity, she did nail art. “They only had to pay a dollar, and I ended up with a lot of new customers,” says Bennett.

Ries agrees, saying many local churches and volunteer agencies seek donated prizes. Donate a set of airbrushed or handpainted nails to raffle drawings and offer you services at other benefits. She also recommends adding nail art to your business cards as one of your services.

Hold monthly drawings in the salon for nail art. Post the winner’s name and a picture of the art, says Ries. Clients will be enthusiastic about the chance of winning, and it will heighten interest in your art.

Take pride in the trophies. Granted, the designs are often much more detailed and pronounced than your clients will purchase, but you can learn from other competitors. Display any trophies you win, and when clients ask how you won the trophy, use this conversation starter to sell your art.

Marketing your nail art is a matter of careful promotion and appropriate pricing. Says D’Agnolo, “Market airbrushing as an alternative to nail color. It’s not something your client can go to the drugstore and get. It’s the ultimate pampering because you can custom mix colors. Your client feels she’s gotten something special and it is individualized.

“Handpainting is something that I think is even more an art than airbrushing,” continues D’Agnolo.

“I find a lot of people tend to stick with literal designs, but if they were to do abstract designs it would really sell. Do anything to be further individualized as well as anything that can lock that customer in even more.”

Nail art unleashes your creativity and profit margin. At the same time, you bind clients to your salon because it’s a service they can’t do at home or buy at the drugstore. Practice your art, display your designs, and emphasize all types of nail art as individualized alternatives to plain nail color.

The following companies contributed information to this article: A Show of Hands (Meriden, CT), Becky Lynn Co. (Valencia, CA), China Glaze (Beverly Hills, CA), Designs by Donalyn (Sacramento, CA), East Coast Air Brush (Massapequa, NY), EmbossArt (Hooper, UT), IBD (Gardena, CA). Jani Nail Designs/Sweet Lady Jane (Chatsworth, CA), Lindy’s Nail Products (Northbridge, CA), Pacific Airbrush (Anaheim, CA), Professional Nail Resource (Phoenix, AZ), San Francisco Nails (San Leandro, CA), and Snails Italian Jewelry (Miami Beach, FL).


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