Bartenders have barbacks, helping to keep glasses clean and bars well-stocked, and hair stylists have assistants, helping to clean and prep the hair for styling, so what about nail techs? Can hiring cosmetology students or new graduates as assistants help your salon make more money?
Think about the last time you went into a busy bar. The bartender is usually so occupied taking drink orders and mixing up his fancy concoctions that he doesn’t have a second to breathe, let alone restock the bar or wash glasses. But have no fear, because he’s usually got backup in the form of a barback.
Many hairstylists use a similar approach with assistants — someone to help them get the client settled, offer the client a drink, wash the client’s hair, and sometimes even help with the color mixing or blow drying. So why hasn’t the nail industry embraced this practice wholeheartedly?
According to Roula Nassar, owner and president of Roula’s Nail Spa in Houston, the problem might be two-fold. For one, she says, aspiring nail students might not be interested in being in charge of cleanup. And there isn’t a logical place where the nail assistant could fit into the service.
She says that theoretically a hair assistant and nail assistant should be equally feasible, but the main difference is when a client is getting her hair done there are different functions that can logically be split up. For example, there is shampooing, coloring, and then the actual cutting. But for nails, there does not seem to be an easy way to break up the steps of the service. “Short of cleaning, disinfecting, and getting drinks, I don’t know how else to split it up,” says Nassar, “because I think it is unprofessional to breakup the actual manicure, pedicure, or enhancement services.”
Julie Hoey, assistant general manager of Currie Hair Skin and Nails in Glen Mills, Pa., says hair assistants significantly help the salon by allowing more appointments to be booked closer together and by allowing the stylists to simply focus on the cutting and styling. But though there are differences between a hairstyling process and a nail service, there does seem to be an opportunity for the existence of a nail tech assistant if under the right circumstances.
So why not have an assistant work in whatever capacity best fits your salon’s needs? Some salons have hired nail students to assist in cleaning and prepping stations for the nail technicians. The assistants can also greet clients, get them a drink, and lead them back to your station. They might also make sure the station — manicure or pedicure— is cleaned and stocked for whatever service the next client is receiving. And in doing so, the assistant will gain valuable knowledge of how your salon operates and real-world experience she isn’t receiving at school.
Specialization Can Improve Efficiency
While Nassar does not have any nail tech assistants, she does employ a staff of cleaners to help keep the manicure and pedicure stations clean and sanitized. Nassar believes in specialization; she feels if a salon does not already have a cleaning staff, a nail tech assistant could assume that role and significantly improve the salon’s efficiency.
For every five nail technicians who are working a given shift, one cleaning person is stationed on the floor to keep things tidy. Nassar reasons that if her nail technicians make an average of $70 an hour, then when they take five minutes to quickly sanitize and clean up after a manicure, it amounts to about $5.80 of lost revenue. So by having a cleaning person on-hand to handle these responsibilities, nail technicians can focus their efforts entirely on servicing clients and doing nails. Nassar says, “I’d rather pay somebody $8 an hour to assist in cleaning all of the spa chairs and setting them up, versus losing $5.80 for every five minutes a technician is dedicating her revenue-producing time to cleaning those stations.”
The problem is this cleaning aspect may not appeal to assistants who aspire to become technicians. “Many times I’ve wished that I could offer a hybrid-type position of both a nail tech apprentice plus cleaning person, but I feel that nail tech assistants would really not be interested unless they would be able to work on nails and gain hands-on experience,” says Nassar.
Nail Assistants in Action
While Nassar works with a housekeeping crew, there are other salons operating nail tech apprentice programs. One such program is in the Mario Tricoci salons. Gina Zimmer, the regional technical leader for the company’s nail department, says the salon chain has been using such a program for the past eight years.
“If we have a woman who is in nail school, or maybe just out of high school and going to start a nail program in the fall, we’ll hire her as a nail assistant and she’ll do the towels, learn sanitation procedures ,and also get to observe the day-to-day business of being a nail technician,” says Zimmer.
But these nail assistants are prohibited from actually working on clients’ nails until they receive their license and complete a three-week training course at the Mario Tricoci Salon. So assistants get their hands-on training on off-days, when they can practice on family or friends or other employees. Under the supervision of nail technicians, assistants practice fills, full-sets, and polishing techniques and get feedback on how to improve. Then once an assistant receives her license, she can start her three-week training course and be on her way to becoming a full-fledged nail technician.
Mario Tricoci salons also employ cleaning people, whose sole responsibility is to keep the salon clean and sanitized. So the nail assistants fill a role that is somewhere between a cleaning person and a nail technician. They are in charge of making sure the towels and stations are set up properly and that all of the products are ready for the technician. They fill up the lotions and scrubs, and get everything together so the technician has everything she will need. Once the client comes in, the assistants make sure the services run smoothly and the guests have an enjoyable experience.