Good nail techs are in short supply these days, making them a hot commodity among the thousands of under-staffed and over-extended salons in the country. While salon owners are out looking to recruit good techs, techs should also be out looking for good salons. Here we give you a guide to get you started on your search.
All things being equal, a good nail tech will always be in demand. However, now more than ever, nail techs are much sought-after employees. Salon owners are scrambling to hire and retain techs in order to meet their clients’ demands for nail services. Finding and keeping qualified nail techs continues to be one of the most pressing issues facing the beauty industry today.
Despite the high demand for techs, many are leaving the industry. According to Shari Finger, owner of Finger’s Nail Studios in Dundee, III., many nail techs leave the industry because they do not receive adequate support in the salon.
A lack of proper education, mentoring, benefits, or adequate pay can very well disillusion a qualified nail tech and drive her from the industry. Nobody loves a job all the time, but having a good work environment is key to keeping employees happy, motivated and – most important – working in the industry.
With nearly 50,000 nail salons operating in the country – the majority aching for good techs – good nail techs don’t need to settle for a less than optimum environment.
Establish a Benchmark
Finding a good salon is an elusive endeavor. It requires equal parts business sense, initiative, introspection, and preparation. The goal is to find a salon to marry, not just to date. As in finding a mate, one person’s dream salon may be another’s worst nightmare.
Regardless, “these are some quantitative components for a ‘good salon’,” says Kate Troc, founder of 20/20 Foresight, a salon consulting firm in Bolingbrook, III. In spite of your personal preferences or the type of salon you are looking for, certain objective guidelines always apply in defining a good salon.
“Nail technicians should seek salons that operate legally, are licensed properly, and in which all other employees are properly licensed as well,” says Troc.
According to the nail techs, salon owners, and consultants we spoke to, a reputable salon should also provide a safe sanitary work and service environment, provide adequate compensation, focus on education, set high work standards for employees, and enforce good salon management and customer service policies.
Some of these qualities are easy enough to ascertain in an interview or simply by visiting the salon, others may take a bit more digging to verify. Use these qualities as a benchmark that may prospective salon must meet.
Where to Start
Don’t start thumbing trough the Yellow Pages or hitting the sidewalk just yet – recognizing your ideal salon requires a trained eye.
Begin instead by taking inventory of yourself. “Nail techs need to decide what sort of services they want to specialize in, what kind of clientele they want to focus on, and what kind of income they need,” says Alethea Eatman, a Cleveland, Ohio-based educational consultant and founder of Nail Techniques University.
Kit McCormick, author of Navigating the Employment Maze, agrees. “Nail techs need to understand what they consider to be rewarding and what they are motivated by in order to find a salon that will be a good fit for them,” she says. “You spend too much time in the salon to work in a place where you’re not comfortable.”
Kristina Baune, a nail tech and owner of Ultimate Imagge Salon in Redwoods Falls, Minn., recommends nail technicians assess what kind of person they are and types of people they like to be around. Knowing what types of people you enjoy working with and catering to will help you to determine the kind of work environment you will be comfortable in. Nail tech and owner of Studio 10 in Wooster, Ohio, Salina Rush agrees: “The type of salon you work at dictates the kind of client you’ll attract.”
It is all a matter of preference, but keep in mind that the types of clients who are serviced in a salon determine the service offerings. Make sure that your target market matches your intended service offerings and can sustain your financial needs.
Another thing to consider when choosing a salon is the actual salon size that you are comfortable with. There are advantages and disadvantages to large and small salons and nail departments. Smaller nail staffs can create a more intimate atmosphere, while larger nail staffs might be able to provide more flexibility.
Talk to techs who have been in both environments. Learn from their experiences and make an educated decision based on your personality.
It may be tempting to look for a salon exclusively based on the compensation and benefits package, but while compensation factors greatly in choosing a good salon it should not be the only factor you consider.
McCormick strongly warns against this single-minded approach. “’If the money is the only reason you’re working in a salon, there is a long time between rewards,” she says. However, if you enjoy the salon environment, your clients, and your coworkers, you receive daily affirmation – not just on payday.
Look at the whole package – will they offer you paid time off, benefits, salon discounts? These all factor into your total compensation package.
Once you have decided what clientele, environment, and services to focus on, you are ready to take your salon search to the next level. Regardless of how you find or become interested in a salon, there are telltale signs that will determine whether you’ve found your match.
There are many sources of good information for your salon search. However, by far the most effective method for evaluating a salon is an actual visit. “Once you’ve figured out what salons interest you, go to them for a service,” says Baune. “The best way to really see what kind of working environment you will be in is to experience it firsthand.” On your first visit do not announce yourself as perspective employee, but rather remain anonymous and scope out the salon.
Notice your nail tech’s sanitation practices, get a feel for how the nail techs interact with each other, and peruse the menu, taking note of the prices and offerings. Judge the quality of work the salon generates and make sure products are high quality and clearly labeled. Chat with your nail tech. you’ll get a read on the environment through a simple chat. Check to see if the nail techs’ licenses are posted or if there are any awards or education certificates on display. All of these little facets tell the salon’s story.
Nail tech Tiffany Greco of Hair Addix in Carlsbad, Calif., recommends visiting the salon bathroom. “It is a microcosm of the rest of the salon. If it is not clean, the salon is not a place you want to be.”
Consultant Ken Cassidy of Kassidy’s Salon Management Consultants in Long Beach, Calif., recommends going unannounced into a salon at different times of the day and week to see how busy, organized, and clean it is.
Eatman agrees that “nail techs need to understand that they are interviewing the salon. You need to visit a salon multiple times before and after your interview. Go on Wednesday morning, Saturday afternoon, during typically slow times of the day to see how the salon is doing and to make sure it is the kind of place you want to work.”
Don’t take the salon owner’s word that the salon is booming, put in a little extra effort and see for yourself.
AnnaMaria Paty, owner of the Perfect “10” Nail Studio and Spa in Indian Harbour Beach, Fla., advocates looking for the salon that appears to be spending money on advertising and tends to be generating quality clientele. A good business and marketing strategy indicates that a salon is well managed and run in a professional manner – and may very well be a great place to work.
Larry Oskin, president of Marketing Solutions, a salon industry consulting firm based in Fairfax, Va., says location is a key factor to consider when judging a salon. He says ideally, a busy salon should be located where there are strong traffic patterns throughout the week, on any main street with high visibility and free parking, or in a major shopping mall.
As a new nail tech, even if some of your clientele follows, you should be very concerned with building a new clientele. A good location with plenty of client traffic is integral to helping you build your book and make the most out the salon.
8 Ways to Find Salons
So you know what kind of salon you want to work in but you don’t know where to find it. Whether you are new to the area or think you know every salon in a 50-mile radius, everyone can use some more information in their salon search. Here we offer you some tried and true sources of information.
The Yellow Pages: If you are unfamiliar with all of the potential salons in your area, the Yellow Pages are a good place to start scoping them out. Make a hit list of salons in areas with potential for high-traffic and quality clientele.
Internet websites and jobsites: Jobsites allow you to post your resume as well as find openings. Websites often feature background information on salons as well as their menus and pricing.
Industry associations: These guys have a gold mine of good information ranging from job postings, industry statistics laws, and helpful hints.
Newspaper and trade magazines: The want ads and classifieds in these publications are a good source of up-to-date information.
Cold calls: A good way to determine which salons are hiring in your area, cold calls allow you to contact many salons with minimal effort. Grab your yellow pages and start dialing.
Walk-ins: Walk-ins require a bit more effort than cold calls, but give you a better sense of what is actually going on in a salon. Make these worth your while, know what you’re looking for and get in and out.
Networking: Whether it be face-to-face or online, network with other professionals to get their feedback on salons in your area.
Word-of-mouth: People will talk, listen for new opportunities – or give them something to talk about and tell them that you are looking for a good salon.
Questions to Ask in an Interview
You’ve done your research, you’ve found a salon you like, and you’ve got an interview set up. What now? Remember that you are not the only one under the microscope – the salon right is right there with you. It is in your best interest to gather as much information on the salon order to avoid making a costly mistake. Here are the questions you should be asking during an interview with a potential salon owner.
1. What will my responsibilities be? Make sure you understand exactly what the job entails. Some salons require nail techs to act as a receptionist, help fellow techs, and take out the trash. Others limit a nail tech’s responsibilities strictly to nails. Have a clear idea of what is expected of you and what you can expect of others to avoid later misunderstandings.
2. What is the compensation and benefits package like? Some of our sources suggest asking this question directly, others recommend not broaching the subject until the interviewer brings it up, while still others recommend refraining from discussing compensation until an offer has actually been made. Feel out the situation for your individual case. Chances are your interviewer will clue you in at some point during your interview. Keep in mind; you do need to know if it is a booth renter or employee situation to fully weigh your options.
3. What are the short-term and long-term goals for the salon? This question lets your interviewer see that you are interested in the salon for the long haul – and that is exactly what she wants to hear. Make sure that her plans for the salon coincide with your plans for your career.
4. How many existing techs are currently in the salon and how long have they been here? When nail techs are happy, they don’t leave. If nail techs have been at the salon for several years and there is a low turnover rate, it gives you a good idea that they have been happy working there and that you might be too. If there are no other nail techs in the salon or there have not been any for a while, try to determine the reason. It may be that the department was poorly run.
5. Ask for distinct details about salon policy. Ask who is responsible for scheduling; how new and returning clients are handled, what, if any is the support system for new techs; how education is handled inside and outside of the salon; what type of growth opportunities and programs the salon offers. Get insight into whether the salon is invested in your future there or simply wants a warm body at a nail station.
Tips for New Techs
New nail techs straight out of school have both a blessing and a burden when looking for a good salon. The blessing is people want to help you. The burden is people want you to help them – but are lacking in experience. Here are some tips to help you navigate your way into a supportive salon and begin your career.
Don’t go it alone. What you need is plenty of support and understanding, so stay away from situations in which you would be the only nail tech in the salon. Ideally, you should find a salon that offers a good apprenticeship or mentoring program where you may hone your skills before they release you on your clients. You don’t know everything coming out of school and you need a salon that understands that.
Fake it till you make it. Your nail resume will be pretty puny when you first leave school but don’t let that keep you from showcasing your skills. List all of your education from the cosmetology field and beyond. List your previous employment and highlight positions you held that required people skills and responsibility. Salon owners are looking for more than just technical skill; they are looking for potential – so show them you’ve got it.
Do it for free. Practice a basic manicure and polish technique and offer to give your interviewer a manicure. Show some initiative and ability and you’ll be head-and-shoulders above the competition.
Go back to school. Schools have a wealth of information for new techs. They often know who is hiring and who has apprenticeship or mentoring programs. Take advantage of these programs while you are still in school, and keep in touch with your school once you’re out.
People who need people. Meet, get to know, and keep in touch with as many people in the industry as you can. Get involved in organizations and associations because when you know people, people know you – and will remember you when they are looking to fill an opening or recommending someone for a position.