Finding (and keeping) hard-working qualified nail technicians is one of the most pressing issues facing the beauty industry today. When the nail business is at an all-time high, we find ourselves asking what factors are contributing to this industry dilemma. It is time for us to stop asking, “Why?” and start asking, “What can we do to solve this problem?”
“We need to increase the public’s awareness of the profession of nail technology, not just the vocation,” says Trackman, who is also involved with Global Nail Exchange, an umbrella organization comprised of the presidents of nail associations.
“I have had a problem finding employees for three years now,” says Finger. “I used to have a file a applications for techs, and now I cannot even find anyone to interview. What it comes down to is that we have to change the image of the industry. We need to figure out a way to present ourselves differently.”
It is frustrating to many people who are already in the nail business who try to understand why more people aren’t interested in joining the industry. For some techs, money may not be the biggest motivator. Recruiters know that you need to show that doing nails affords you the opportunity to be in a fun and creative career. “I don’t think that the beauty business has promoted nails as being a fun career,” says Taricco. “I love this business; there is something free about it. It isn’t all about money.”
The Cosmetology Advancement Foundation (CAF) is making its way toward a heightened public awareness of the beauty industry in general. It recently produced a television commercial presenting the industry as fun and cutting edge that will be shown on youth-oriented channels, such a MTV, VH1, E!, and Lifetime. The spots, which have been airing since March, are aimed to hit at the end of the school year, at a time when career decisions are being made. The tagline at the end of the commercial is a generic call to action; however, it will also be made available to the industry so that local schools, organizations, or even salons can customize their own tagline to attract potential employees.
In addition to this, the CAF’s “Field of Dreams” video showcases different salon options – nails included – for people who might not have previously considered a career in cosmetology. “We take this video in to high school guidance counselors and PTA meetings,” says Norma Lee, a public relations consultant and outreach chair with the CAF. “High school counselors and parents need to be aware that a career in cosmetology is a viable option.
“We work with the people who have influence with students – those who may discourage students from going into cosmetology – and we show them all what they can accomplish in the different aspects of the industry,” says Lee. “We take successful professionals along with us to talk about their careers in the beauty industry.”
In addition to going into cosmetology and nails schools, salon owners can take it one step further and build relationships which local high schools. “Why not establish a relationship with a high school guidance counselor?” asks Caspole. Although there is an ample number of nail professionals with college degree, the nature of the business is that one is not required, and that is a potentially attractive aspect of the career to promote. Continues Caspole, “A lot of high school kids will not go on to college, but will instead go to vocational schools. Why not present our industry to the guidance counselors as a good option so that when a student comes to them for career advice, the counselor will think to suggest the beauty industry.”
It is also important to remember that young people are not your only target for potential future nail technicians. “The industry is already made up of a lot of people who came into nails as their second job,” say Finger. “We need to focus some energy on attracting more of these people into the industry.” And how do you do that? By focusing on a career in nails as fun, flexible, friendly, and creative. People who are bored or burned out on their first careers can turn to the beauty industry as a way to express themselves, while having the flexibility that may not have been available before.
Says Wolper, “We need to create a national awareness program that will bring more techs into the industry, but we also need to create a certain level of consumer awareness. There needs to be a role model. Someone who techs can aspire to be and who consumers will want to go to.” And he is right. Who, in nails, does both the industry look to as a star and the consumers look to as “the” place to go to get their nails done? In hair, there are José Eber and Frederic Fekkai, among many others. But is there a star in nails who is also well known at the consumer level and gets the kind of adulation from the beauty publications? There isn’t, although the nail industry has many potential role models and individuals whose stories could inspire others to join the ranks. “This could be good for bringing more nails techs into the industry, as well as to help elevate the perception of the industry in the public eye,” Wolper concludes.
The Small Salon Meets Corporate America
OK. Now let’s assume that we have addressed the issues above. More people are entering the industry due to an increased awareness on all levels and a better image of nail technicians as a group. In addition to this, schools and salons are partnering to raise the level of education and real-life experience so students will be better prepared to enter the industry. Even taking these other factors out of the education, there is still an issue with getting employees into your salon and keeping them there. And these have to do with you the individual salon – not the schools, not the associations, and not the public. There are a variety of reasons why nail technicians leave the industry, but let’s look at what you can do to keep the at your individual salon.
Money may not be everything, but it is a factor. Compensation and benefits are at the top of most people’s minds when evaluating career options – or career switching. Like any career, it takes a while to start earning “real money” doing nails, and it requires the same kind of patience that any career would take while your skills and client base build. “It takes a while to establish yourself and start really making money,” says Finger. “It is good money if the nail tech can just make it over that hump.”
Trackman agrees. “I think one big problem is that a lot of young people can’t afford to take the time, with little to no pay, to build a clientele. It takes a good year to build a substantial clientele.”
Some salons, especially chain salons, are busy enough to ensure that even new technicians will have plenty of clients to service. Greg Tosti, owner of Florida chain The Nail Depot, explains how they help newcomers develop: “We have a rotation policy. So even if the new techs don’t have a following, we hand them customers from the beginning. We operate along the same lines as a Super Cuts. When we have walk-ins, they sign in and wait for the next available technician. No one wants to go in to a new job and not have clients.”
He also suggest offering a guarantee salary so that slower techs can work on their skills and get faster, and still make a guaranteed amount of money at the beginning. Then when they are up to speed, you can switch them over to commission-based compensation. While this may not be the most cost-effective solution at first, it pays off in the long run.