Business Management

Are Discount Salons a Threat?

When NAILS polled its readers about their top salon challenges, competition from discount salons ranked second on the list, just behind attracting and retaining new clients. But for every tech feeling the sting of low-priced competitors popping up on nearly every street corner, there are many who have made peace with the problem; some have even used the competition to spur them to adopt higher levels of customer service and more stringent sanitation standards.

If you are looking to compete on this playing field you are probably going to lose. Most of the discount salons have access to cheaper labor and cheaper products. We’ve all heard stories about the use of illegal products, poor sanitation practices, lowwage workers, etc. The fact is, however, if someone is looking for the lowest price and her thinking is “get me in and get me out and I just hope you’re licensed and cleaning your tools and your pedicure spas according to state board standards,” then the discount salon is a welcome addition to the neighborhood strip mall. As a matter of fact, if not for the discount nail salon, this person probably would not even be getting her nails done. So are we in traditional salons really out anything? Is this the target market that you’re looking for? If not, then the outlook for your business is bright.

In contrast to the client who is looking for the advantages of the discount salon, our target client’s priorities should be the exact opposite. There are still people who are looking for a total salon experience; they want quality work and are willing to pay for it. Our target client’s priorities should be (in order of importance):

1. Cleanliness and sanitation

2. Quality and craftsmanship

3. An unhurried, enjoyable experience with someone who cares about me

4. Price

When we get a new client in our chair we should thank her for choosing us for her nail service needs, and ask her how she came to us and what she is looking for in a nail tech or salon. We should always educate our clients about the importance of strict sanitation procedures, have examples of our work to show, and demonstrate that we care about them and appreciate their patronage. When we develop a client list with this kind of consumer, we are destined for success and it doesn’t matter how many discount salons go up. We will succeed!

So, back to our original question, “Are discount salons making it too hard to compete and succeed?” The answer is yes and no. Yes, if you give up too easily and try to compete on their level, and no, if you don’t mind getting out of your comfort zone, don’t expect anyone to give you anything, and know that you have to be willing to work hard, work smart, and give everyone who sits down at your table extraordinary customer care and service.  – Rebecca Gardner has been the coowner of Park Avenue Salon and Day Spa in Paso Robles, Calif., for nine years. A licensed cosmetologist, Gardner has been doing nails exclusively for the past five years.



After almost 18 years in the industry, I finally opened up my own salon and am finding that my biggest challenge is educating the average consumer on professional nail care. So many new clients have never had their nails done anywhere but a discount salon. I prefer to call them “McNails,” a term I use with a certain level of respect for the market niche that they have carved out for themselves. While traditional nail salons are struggling to become spas or boutique nail salons, these salons have firmly staked out their ground and are doing very well at it.

The problem arises when a nails-only salon, like mine, attempts to take customer service and atmosphere to a higher level. When calling around for prices, a client may find one salon charges $15 for a “spa” manicure, while another salon charges $40. Discount salon customers have been duped by phrases like “lacquer” or “solar” nails, have never seen a true gel nail before, and do not know what a pink-and-white backfill is. They think a nail service is supposed to hurt and have never experienced anything close to a real spa-style pedicure. They think they are comparing apples to apples, when it’s really apples and oranges.

I do my best to educate customers, but it is challenging and not just because of the force of discount salons. It seems the traditional salons have been so busy competing against each other that the whole industry is suffering because of it. I have met and worked with a lot of talented nail techs I respect, but there are still a lot of techs who are not helping our cause. They don’t feel the need for continuing education and updated sanitation practices, nor do they want to invest any money in sprucing up their salons because their books are already full. I know of professional educators who have priced themselves to compete with the non-standard salons, 25-year veterans who haven’t raised their prices in nearly a decade, and salon owners who don’t even wash their hands between clients. How are we as an industry supposed to be empowered when our frontrunners don’t believe they deserve even a cost-of-living raise, let alone comprehensive benefits and a healthy work environment?

The truth is the traditional salons are losing the battle. If a customer is going to receive a mediocre service experience, she might as well save a few bucks and head down the block to a discount salon. Think about it, you wouldn’t pay $8.50 for a fast food hamburger, but you would pay that for a hamburger that was served to you in a comfortable restaurant with a fun atmosphere and all-you-can-eat fries!

I think we have to stop putting down the non-standard salons and start having a healthy respect for the challenge they pose to us. Yes, there are still many that are using MMA, hurting clients, and using sub-standard sanitation practices. But many of these salons are now being handed over to the next generation and they are aggressive, business-savvy, and nothing if not innovative. The bar is being raised and we need to adapt, and exceed, if we are going to survive.  – Deborah Blatchley is the owner of HFN: Hands, Feet & Nails in Fort Collins, Colo. She has been a licensed cosmetologist since 1990.  


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