As competition increases, the gap between Asian salons and the rest of the industry is actually getting smaller. To keep their English-speaking clientele, Asian nail technicians are making efforts to learn the language and expand their salon services, while non-Asian salons are discovering the value of quick service and client convenience.
,” says Dan Hoang, editor of Saigon Nails, a Vietnamese language magazine for nail professionals. “What company is going to admit they’re marketing MMA to the community and how are Vietnamese salons going to find out about it?”
Ho-Wan adds, “All they know is that the product sets quickly, is easy to work with, and is cheap.” When the price of your services is your competitive edge, the price of your products must be comparably low, and MMA-based products fit the bill. “Methyl methacrylate is cheap,” Nguyen says. “[Asian salons] probably don’t know it’s no good; they’re just looking for whatever is least expensive.”
An Asian salon owner who asked not to be named says she had asked her distributor about MMA. Her distributor told her that the FDA had talked about banning it, but added that everyone was selling it and using it because it was the best. “He told me there were no problems, and not to worry about it,” she admits.
The complaints about Asian salons usually are not being voiced by their clients. Instead it’s their competitors who have spoken up. State boards say consumers rarely report their problems to the licensing agencies. “If there was a blood spill in a doctor’s office, clients would line up in horror. So why is it not a big deal in the salon?” Sansom asks. “I was talking to someone the other day who had a client with all of her nails bleeding because of a drill, but no one called the board to inform us.”
“No one would have to call,” counters Mihn Naht Trieu, an instructor at the Asian American International Beauty College in Westminster, Calif., “if the board sent more inspectors out to salons and really enforced the rules, maybe revoking business licenses for bad practices. Then people will see that as a disadvantage to the industry and not open so many salons, which would bring prices back up.”
A logical request, but not practical for the state boards, most of which are already taxed to their limits. Denise Brown, deputy director for the California State Board of Cosmetology, says there are only 15 inspectors to watch over more than 40,000 salons in her state. One Asian salon owner there says in seven years her salon was not once visited by the state board. In Arizona, Sansom says the goal is to inspect the state’s 3,600 salons twice a year, but because of the number of investigations her salon is handling, the number of salons actually visited twice a year is falling. “In 1995, 97% if salons got two inspections. In 1997, we’re projecting that 35% will be inspected twice. This correlates to the increased number of investigations we’re having to do,” says Sansom.
According to Ho-Wan, the real solution to the industry’s ills lies in providing Asian nail technicians with access to the same information and educational sources, such as manufacturer’s classes and videos and trade magazines. “I hear from all of them that their dream is to own their own salon,” she says. “They want to get experience and be their own boss—not be the best technician or compete at shows or service a niche area like nail art. They want to be business owners.”
Hoang agrees: “They need the same materials Caucasian technicians have available to them.”
Price Is Not the Only Issue
With all of the drawbacks, you’d think Asian salons would sit idle, says Larry Gaynor, president/CEO of Nailco Salon Marketplace (Farmington Hills, Mich.), “but they’re packed.” Clients are drawn to the low prices, convenience and the ability to walk in without an appointment, and sometimes the quality of the service. The consumer feels she’s getting beautiful nails at a good price…on her own terms. Businesses that do not fulfill a consumer need do not survive; so despite the admitted shortcomings of many of these salons, they still fulfill a consumer need. And it is that concept—filling a need in the market—that all salons must address in this concern over Asian salons. What do these salons do right and should they be emulated? What do they do wrong that hurts the industry, and how can the industry as a whole help them to the right track?