Profiles

Nail Techs Chat About Their Differences & Similarities

Editor’s note: For this piece we paired techs from different facets of the industry and gave them the microphone, so to speak, and got them to interview each other about their experiences in nails. Each tech asked and answered questions about their business, their clients, their motivation, how they cope, pushy coworkers, and, among other things, what they would change if they could. Read on for eight unique perspectives on your industry.

City Tech, Country Tech

Justine Hartel, a big city nail tech in Los Angeles, and Holly Schippers of Oskaloosa, Iowa, a town of 10,938, talk about small-town charms and big city challenges.

Holly Schippers: In a big city, do your clients seem to respect your career, or is it viewed as a menial job?
Justine Hartel: The respect given to a nail tech here is either enormous or non-existent. There are Beverly Hills ladies who don’t even look me in the eye and consider the dogs in their purses more accomplished than me, and then there are huge celebrities who totally appreciate my skill in the very important arena of making them look beautiful.

HS: What are your views on continuing education?
JH: Continuing education is the most important weapon in a nail tech’s arsenal! The beauty business in L.A. is super-competitive so being up on the latest products and techniques is very helpful. Anything that makes the nail tech look good at the table is going to give her more credibility in the salon. Our clients read style magazines and want to tell their friends that their tech is the hottest thing in town.

HS: Do you have a strong male clientele?
JH: Yes, there are lots of men getting pampered around here. Most men are completely comfortable getting regular manicures and pedicures. I’m also surprised at how easy it is to convince guys to wear polish. I’ll suggest it half-jokingly and they’ll usually say, “Oh, alright, let’s do it!” Silver, blue and black are popular colors for fingers and toes.

HS: What cliché best describes your city?
JH: “It’s better to look good than to feel good, daaahhling!”

Justine Hartel: Do clients ever use your salon as a marketplace for their goods and services?
Holly Schippers: Yes, clients leave all kinds of catalogs in our magazine rack — from Discovery Toys to At Home America.

JH: How hard is it to get cutting-edge nail products?
HS: The difficulty does not lie in getting cutting-edge products, but knowing where to look for them. In a small town, the distributors do not necessarily come to you, so you have to be willing to strike out on your own. NAILS, the Internet, and tradeshows are valuable research tools.

JH: What kind of music or other entertainment do you play in your salon?
HS: Normally there is a radio tuned to whatever station will come in as it is difficult to get a station on some days.

JH: What’s the craziest nail art you’ve ever been asked to do?
HS: Ha! The irony of this question is rich! It would be more crazy if I ever talked a client into nail art, as most would never have requested it. Luckily I have conned them all into thinking it is a necessary accessory these days. It was a challenge to talk clients into tiger stripes much less something crazy! Probably, if you asked my clients, they would say the most out-there design was watermelon nails and toes. Not too crazy by nail industry standards, but definitely “out there” for our little town!

Single Tech, Full-Service

Jerry M. Garcia Jr., a nail tech at a full-service salon in Mesa, Ariz., and Margaret Omstead, the only nail tech at a nails-only salon in Eureka, Calif., discuss safety in numbers and the freedom of being one’s own boss.

Jerry Garcia: In a full-service salon nail techs can receive a good chunk of business from their coworkers. Do you find you are missing out on this avenue of getting clients by working in a nails-only salon?
Margaret Omstead: I have been in the business for about 19 years now. I have made my own business profitable by being reliable and dependable and doing the best work I can at all times. I find my salon is a more pleasant place for both myself and my clients when I am the only one working there. There is no stress or underlying tension.

JG: In our business there are occasionally a few bad apples that spoil the whole batch by using poor sanitation techniques and sacrificing quality and client safety. Do you find that you are faced with damage control with people’s perceptions of nails-only salons?
MO: On occasion I get a one-timer who doesn’t come back because I can’t get her nails done in 30 to 45 minutes. I am always educating my clients. I love it when they come back from a trip or vacation and had to have a fill and insisted that the person put the dirty file away and get a new one.

JG: How do clients of nails-only salons differ (if they differ at all) from full-service salon clients?
MO: Some people prefer to do one-stop shopping and will choose a full-service salon. But the rest of them get my undivided attention. And let’s face it, our favorite topic of conversation is ourselves.

JG: Given the choice of relocating to a full-service spa/hair/nail salon with all of your clients or remaining in a salon that specializes in nails only, which would you choose?
MO: There is no question! I would never go back to a full-service salon. I love being my own boss. I am very disciplined and work well by myself and have a full enough clientele most of the time that I’m not lonely. My customers are my friends. If I had been in a busy full-service salon I don’t believe I would have had the privacy to become such good friends with them.

Margaret Omstead: Have you ever mentored someone at your salon? What were the results?
Jerry Garcia: Yes, I have had the opportunity to mentor a couple of people. I was lucky enough to have had a great mentor so I know how important the mentoring process can be. Mentoring turned out pretty well once I stopped trying to get her to do nails my way and just made myself available if she needed information.

MO: Is there a self-appointed “top dog” in a full-service salon who tries to tell you how to do your job?
JG: Yes, I have in the past had to deal with people who felt I had to prove myself before they would accept me. They felt I had to prove myself because I was a) new to the industry, b) new to their salon, and c) a male nail tech in a predominantly female industry. At first I was intimidated, then I just got settled in to work and forgot all about them.

MO: How do you handle it when someone doesn’t like you and you have to work with them every day?
JG: There are always going to be people that don’t like you for one reason or another. It might be because of your work. It might be because you remind them of someone who picked on them in third grade. My mom gave me the best advice on this topic. She said, “What other people think of me is none of my business.” I try to live by that.

MO: What do you do when you know you should have gotten the next fill or set of nails, but it went to another tech, or your coworker took the set knowing it was yours?
JG: I’m busy enough with my steady clients that I usually appreciate it when walk-ins are distributed to the other techs. When I first started out though I had to really watch how clients were being booked. If it turned out that certain people in the salon were being favored then usually everyone else in the salon raised a ruckus. You do not want a bunch of beauty professionals mad at you!

Pretty in Pink-and-Whites or Nice and Natural

Michelle Marchand, owner of The Nail Bar in Denver, and “natural only” nail tech, discusses client preferences and earning potential with Bethany Boyd, an AEFM educator and nail tech specializing in acrylic enhancements from Tucson, Ariz.

Michelle Marchand: Is the time between a client’s manicures dictated by how often they need a fill?
Bethany Boyd: Some of my clients only come in for fills every two or three weeks. Many of them, however, come in between fill appointments for polish changes, a buff and polish, or pedicures.

MM: Do you find that clients like to use colored acrylic as an overlay instead of polish? What look do they prefer?
BB: I only have a couple of clients who prefer the colored acrylic. But, I have noticed that there has been a rise in colored acrylic inquiries lately. The majority of my clients wear pink-and-whites, with others wearing natural or just pink acrylic.

MM: Do you address the health of the cuticles and skin on the hands during a client’s regular acrylic appointment? Do you perform a full manicure, or just focus on the nails?
BB: I do address the health of my clients’ hands and cuticles at every appointment. I can’t imagine a client walking out with a beautiful set of pink-and-whites with dry, peeling cuticles and dry, flaky skin. We should all be concerned with the health of our clients’ skin and cuticles, whether we are natural nail techs or acrylic techs. They are a package deal.

MM: For the short time I did acrylics I found my clients were there for the instant gratification. Now my natural nail clients view their nails as works in progress — it takes time to get them healthy and maintain them. Do you find that your acrylic clients view their nails differently than other clients?
BB: I’m sure that some of my clients view their nails as instant gratification but I believe that the majority do not. They understand that their nails are not indestructible and they must take equal care to keep them looking nice. I have a policy that if I believe a client is able to grow out her natural nails, I will not apply acrylics on her. I feel that acrylics are an “enhancement” not a “replacement” and that, once the client feels ready, we can grow off her acrylics and transition her to natural nails. Of course, I have some acrylic clients who would rather keel over than quit wearing acrylics and that’s fine too!

Bethany Boyd: How many different natural nail services do you offer?
Michelle Marchand: I offer a basic manicure and a deluxe manicure. The key for my clients isn’t variety, it’s achieving beautiful, natural nails. It’s very dry here in Colorado, which means the skin and cuticles become dry and chapped, so I focus on hydrating the skin and making the cuticles look brand new. And since this isn’t an easy thing to do, clients will wait in line and pay top dollar for it.

BB: What special techniques and add-ons do you offer to your clients to make your services more special than other natural nail techs?
MM: Like I mentioned before, precise cuticle work is how I set myself apart. I am meticulous, I avoid products with formaldehyde (which can dry out the skin and nails), I add edible almond and grapeseed oils to my lotions at every service, and I soak my clients’ hands in warm milk and oil instead of soapy water.

BB: I know that acrylics are the “bread and butter” of my business. How do you make it on only natural services?
MM: Mani/pedi combos are very lucrative for me and are popular with clients. Where I truly make my money is in pedicures, where I earn $50 for 40 minutes of work. Ninety percent of my pedicure clients are standing and they come in every three to four weeks like clockwork. I actually don’t have time for new clients.

BB: What products do you use?
MM: I use products with low formaldehyde and that are gentle to the nail. I use unscented lotions with no alcohol (scented lotions tend to have alcohol) and no paraffin. I add almond oil or grapeseed oil to my lotion at every service.

BB: What is your favorite French manicure combination?
MM: My clients wear sheer pink with a natural white tip because they want their nails to look as natural as possible. For the most part they wear their nails short, sporty, and clean.

Me Tarzan, You Jane

Male nail tech Terry Lee Hunter of Las Vegas and Allison Baker of Allie’s Perfect 10 in Talent, Ore., discuss the advantages and disadvantages of gender in the beauty industry.

Allison Baker: What was your motivation for getting involved in a business that has been dominated by women?
Terry Lee Hunter: I started out by going to school for hair and I did not like the idea of standing all day. I loved to watch the nail techs do such detailed work and so I switched to nails, got to sit, and just took right to it. I’ve loved it ever since.

AB: As a male tech do you find that male clients are more or less comfortable with a man doing their manicure?
TLH: Honestly, I prefer not to do men. I find that they are much more high maintenance than women. Like any situation, it all depends on the client’s perspective as well. I work in a major resort in Las Vegas and the phone room knows that I don’t do men, except in desperate times.

AB: When you decided to become a nail technician, what kind of reaction did you receive from family and friends?
TLH: Friends and family both reacted the same way: “Will you do mine?”

AB: As a female tech I know my clients tell me very intimate details of their lives and vice versa — “girl talk.” Do you find the same to be true with your clients?
TLH: It is just amazing what my female clients tell me. I think they confide in me because, first, they don’t know me, and second, they won’t see me again until their next trip to Vegas. People just want to be heard. So I listen, and I think that is one of the main selling points for male nail techs. I listen to what they want and give them what they ask for.

AB: A lot of times I have heard women brag about their hairstylist or nail tech being a man. From your point of view, why do you think this is?
TLH: I think women like the idea of having a man work on them for several reasons. I am not competition to her, and women like to have a male perspective on what men like to see on a lady.

Terry Lee Hunter: From a woman’s perspective why do you think that only 7% of licensed nail techs are male?
Allison Baker: I would think that it has something to do with the stereotype that some associate with male techs. A lot of people assume that a man who does nails is feminine and I think that might keep a lot of men that could be very good at it from trying. It isn’t seen as a “manly” profession to some people.

TLH: If a walk-in client had a choice between two equally skilled techs, one male and one female, which one do you think she would choose and why?
AB: I think it depends on the person. Some might think it would be weird, others might think it would be nice to have a man work on them. Comfort levels vary from person to person. Also, is she single and attracted to the male tech?

TLH: I find that it’s easier to sell retail to a client than it is for my female coworkers. Why do you think that is?
AB: I know that from my experience I feel that women trying to sell something to me come off as pushy. That always turns me away. Men can seem more friendly when selling.

TLH: It seems to me that men tend to be extremely good at nails. From a female perspective, why do you think that is?
AB: My feeling is that men who get into the nail business usually have great artistic ability and pay attention to detail. I also believe that men who get into this business have a great passion for it and they don’t take it for granted.

TLH: Most women tend to ask me to pick out a color for them. Why do you think that is?
AB: I don’t believe that this is really a male/female issue. My clients do the same with me. When you develop a relationship with a client she knows she can trust that you won’t put something hideous on her. She values your opinion. My clients know I don’t want my name on something that I don’t think looks good.

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