That was about the only thing I knew before heading to the Beauty International Show in Dusseldorf, Germany, this past March. I had never been to Europe before and spoke no German, but I was eager to learn everything I could about the German nail industry. Unearthing stiletto styles, licensing loop-holes, the economic recession and more, the German nail industry proved to be a fascinating player in the worldwide nail market.
The Beauty International Show in Dusseldorf, Germany, is one of the biggest and most important shows for German nail techs and nail manufacturers. It has a massive show floor filled with booths of varying sizes, and the aisles are filled with eager attendees looking to expand their knowledge and product lines. The nail presence was very strong and healthy, with row after row of booths showcasing products and demos in front of attentive show goers.
The booths at this show were slightly larger than the average booths at U.S. shows, with many even having full bars with cocktails and separate lounge areas for business conversations. One of the first people I sat down with was the owner of Hollywood Nails, Sylvia Huckenbeck. Hollywood Nails is one of the larger German-based nail manufacturers, and Huckenbeck talked about the differences between the U.S. and German markets. “In Germany, almost everything is gels — 80% to 90%,” she said. “We are actually one of the few companies to offer acrylic products, but it’s a very small part of our revenue.”
According to Huckenbeck, nail salons in Germany first started cropping up 20 years ago as small additions to hair salons and tanning salons. Manicurists would open a table and offer add-on nail treatments, and after a few years they became so successful they started to open salons of their own. The first nails-only salons would usually only have one or two techs, and the services were primarily gels and natural nail care.
Probably the biggest difference between nail techs in Germany and their U.S. counterparts is that German techs do not need a license to perform nail services. Huckenbeck wishes there were a licensing program, but in the meantime manufacturing companies have been trying to fill the void by offering training and education. “It needs to change,” she said. “The overall quality of techs could improve with a nation-wide licensing program.”
New Salons on the Block
Germany has also seen its nail industry evolve as new immigrants take up the profession. A significant amount of Chinese immigrants have opened up nail salons across Germany within the past few years, offering lower-priced services in order to be competitive and earn a share of the market. The co-existence between Chinese-owned salons and the German ones is similar to the Vietnamese and American salons in the U.S. In both countries the competition between the two can at times be heated, but each fulfills a different need within the industry and one group will not necessarily cancel out the other. Huckenbeck said the Chinese salons offer more acrylic services, and their prices are cheaper, but she is not worried about the effect it will have on business. “Three or four years ago we were afraid the lower-priced Chinese-owned salons would overrun us, but as of now they haven’t.”
A Familiar Competitor
As the show was drawing to a close, it was time for me to make my way to the nail competition awards ceremony. The Dusseldorf show is a championship show for nail competitors. Nail techs have to win a national award in their respective countries to be eligible to compete at this show, and the contestants came from all over the world — Spain, Turkey, Korea, Dubai, USA, Norway, Denmark, and more.
Vicki Peters was one of the judges for the salon style category, where competitors designed a traditional pink-and-white set as well as a set of square extensions with a solid color. Peters addressed the competitors at the beginning of the award ceremony saying, “I came here with high expectations because everyone here is a national champion, and you did not disappoint me.”
Though the competition was tough, U.S. competitor (and the number-one competitor on NAILS’ Top 25 list in 2008) Lynn Lammers took home the gold, coming in first place with an astonishing 28-point lead. “You know, it’s my first time here, and it feels so great to win because the competition was so tough,” Lammers said. “They have some real talent here and it was even tougher than it was in Japan.”
When asked on her plans for the future, Lammers said she wants to continue her winning streak once again this year and then move on to teach.
A Learning Experience
After the show ended I was in-vited to attend a training seminar by Alessandro International, another large nail manufacturer based in Germany. Alessandro’s corporate headquarters and training facility are stationed in Langenfeld, a quaint city about an hour southeast of Dusseldorf. The company had called in all of its top international educators and distributors to instruct them on its newest products and techniques. They came from all over Europe — England, Holland, Romania, Kazakhstan, Russia, Estonia — and everyone spoke and understood English well enough to communicate and learn from one another.
While I was there, I got a chance to talk to the CEO and founder of Alessandro International, Silvia Troska. Troska started the company 20 years ago after learning about the new light-curing gel materials that were then being used in the dental industry. She was already working in the nail industry at that time, with dental acrylics being used on nails. But Troska favored the gels over acrylics and began manufacturing a gel line specifically for nails.
It was quite an innovative move at the time, and Troska is still pioneering new gels to this day. The main reason for the educational seminar was to train the educators on Alessandro’s newest gel line. “We created the High Speed Gels to help techs during the toughening economy,” Troska said. “We had a brainstorming session to try to figure out what we could offer to techs to keep clients coming in.”
The speed gels are designed to cure faster than normal gels, and require less filing as well to further cut down on service time.
By the end of my brief stay in Germany I felt like I had a good understanding of the nail market there. It was interesting to see the similarities and differences to the market I had come to know from my work on NAILS back in the U.S.
A lot of companies from America were represented at the show through their German distributors. Some U.S. companies like NSI, Odyssey, Essie, and Color Club had their own booth with brand name banners and full product lines, while some distributors grouped manufacturers like CND and OPI together with other brands in large, elegant booths. I learned from Michael Rose, vice president of Color Club, just how important it is for a company to make a strong presence in a foreign market. “You have to come and support them,” Rose said. “It’s so important to keep good communications with your foreign distributors and make sure they know you well so you can take care of problems quickly and easily.” Color Club has distribution in many locations around the world, and Rose said that each market is unique, so having a good personal understanding of what works is vital to maintaining quality service.
The absence of a government regulated licensing program probably surprised me the most during my trip. But even without imposed licensing, manufacturers who care about the quality of a nail service produce their own training protocols to insure that the overall quality of service remains appropriate. Many manufacturers have ample training courses available to make sure techs are doing top-notch and safe applications.
The fact that gels are so predominate over acrylics was also interesting. Gels are just starting to make a presence in the U.S. market, but I learned they have been firmly established in Germany and the rest of Europe as the dominant enhancement product since the beginning.
But regardless of licensing procedures or product preference, techs in Germany are practicing the same day-in-day-out business techniques and application methods that techs in America are. And life in the salon is much as it is back home, focused on customer relationships and quality services, and making sure clients leave feeling better than when they came in. I imagine that techs around the world who are passionate about what they do carry the same attitude with them, no matter what country they’re in.