Veteran nail techs have seen significant changes in the nail industry, and they may fear the best years are over. However, growth is still possible when you stretch yourself and your business to meet the demands of the new customer. It’s never too late to reinvent yourself.
Do you ever find yourself thinking of the “good ol’ days”? The days before the discount salon, before computerized scheduling, before the constant white noise of clicking and vibrating from tuned-out texters. In the good ol’ days, the scent of acrylic enveloped us like a warm hug when we opened the salon each morning. Our books had standing appointments filled with customers who knew to arrive on time. They understood the need to prioritize their commitments, and would submissively schedule vacations and the birth of their children around their nail appointments. In those days, techs could even enjoy a cigarette while we sculpted nails that were long enough to touch the base of the palm.
It’s easy to see why a veteran tech with a book full of clients would be tempted to tune out industry changes and hope her loyal client base will carry her through to retirement. But what if you own the salon? What if you want to reduce your hours behind the desk and need the salon to grow? Nobody knows better than you that it could be time to reinvent yourself.
It’s my firm belief that successful nail techs are independent, tenacious, and creative. But even the best techs can get weary from listening to negative talk about the economy. It seems the ideal client books appointments further and further apart, and the only new clients calling sound like teenagers. (And they want to come in today. With a friend. For a full set. And art.) It’s easy to see how a tech from the “old days” could be tempted to view herself as washed up. Or worse, she could develop a chip on her shoulder that the “new” client type isn’t one she wants anyway. Both -attitudes are toxic to your professional (and personal) success.
“I think many techs have shrunk their dreams to match their income instead of matching their income to their dreams,” says Millie Haynam, industry educator and owner of Natural Beauty Salon and Spa in Twinsburg, Ohio. “Remember, the enemy of great is good.” That’s a great encouragement for those of us who have settled into the predictability of our careers.
Of course, you might think there’s no reason to reinvent yourself. You might be completely satisfied with the rhythm of your business. But what about your client? Is she satisfied, or does she visit a different salon for other services, such as pedicures, polish changes, or fixes? Did she ever ask if you could do something different because she saw it on her friend’s nails? Do you ever hear her “joking” that she wouldn’t dare switch her appointment because she doesn’t know if she could ever get in again? Listen closely, because that client is communicating to you. She’s looking for more than you offer.
As you consider the idea of reinventing yourself to achieve the next level of success, think of building on the foundation of your excellence. You won’t want to give up your signature service of perfectly sculpted pink-and-whites, for example. Instead, think of ways you can expand your business to excel in other areas to attract a broader range of clients.
“I always tell people to find something that no one else is doing and do that,” says Athena Elliott, a Houston-based certified medical nail technician and a celebrity manicurist who owns Spathena at MinxHouston. “Don’t just read NAILS to learn about the next thing or the latest product,” says Elliott. “Implement the ideas you’re reading about!” As a certified medical nail tech, Elliot offers clients a unique service, and she’s consistently busy from referrals she receives from area podiatrists. How-ever, Elliot saw a lull in the economy, so she wanted to broaden her client base. She introduced Minx nails, targeting the client who seems the antithesis of her “medical” clients. That bold decision helped cement her position as a celebrity manicurist.
The possibilities to reinvent yourself range from conservative to a total salon makeover. You could start by introducing a new service: permanent pink-and-white gel nails, soak-off gels, art, or personalized colors, to name a few. You might be ready to have a complete overhaul and invest in multiple pedicure booths, a natural nail bar, or a license that allows you to sell glasses of wine to clients. Where do you see yourself in one year, five years, even 10 years? How can you reinvent yourself to meet the demands of the new client?
One frustration common among seasoned techs is that they are willing to take the risk to appeal to a new clientele, but there are no techs to hire. “We know we aren’t meeting the demand,” says Lauren Cawley, a 19-year tech and owner of Volpe Nails and Hair in Johnson City, N.Y. However, all three techs at her salon have been in the -business over 15 years, and their books are full. “We’re already overextending ourselves. We have been looking for someone new, but we haven’t found anyone to hire.”
Cawley is looking for a tech with fresh ideas, one who has grown up in the generation she knows she needs to target. “I think a tech attracts a -clientele that is similar to herself. Hopefully the next person who works with us will attract the customers we’ve been missing.”
There was a time in the not-so-distant past that Cawley was ready to throw in the towel. She entertained the thought of closing down the salon, setting up a desk in her house, and reducing her clientele to a few of her favorites. “The shift in the industry happened on my watch,” says Cawley. “It’s difficult for me because I’m very old school. Not just in terms of how I run my business, but also in my mind. I don’t even text!”
Thankfully two back-to-back events happened that changed her mind. First, a tech with the personality and ambition she had been looking for walked into the salon and asked for a job. Second, Cawley enrolled herself and one of her techs in a networking event with demonstrations from OPI and Young Nails. “Going to that event breathed life back into me,” she says. “I loved seeing all the new options on the market, and I realized there are products out there that are exactly what we need to appeal to a new type of client.”
One characteristic of “old school” is building a base of clients who are loyal to the tech, not the salon. Victoria Vo, owner of Ku’tur Nail Lounge and Salon in Plant City, Fla., suggests an alternative. “No matter who works here,” says Vo, “I train them to all offer the same customer service and the same nail service so that the client can go to anyone and be happy.” Vo says friendships still form between particular techs and clients, but the techs themselves help prevent any personal -attachment by promoting each other to the customers. Techs affirm each other with statements such as “She’s just as good as I am. You’ll be just as happy with her.” It seems to go against human nature to promote someone else instead of yourself, and Vo says it’s not always easy to do, but the techs and stylists at her salon have found that cross--promotion benefits everyone.