Business Management

The Doctor is “IN” - Establishing a Salon-Doctor Relationship

Finding a good doctor is like finding a good nail technician – people want a personal referral from someone they trust. If you’re still looking for Dr. Right, here are some suggestions from physicians and nail techs who’ve made referral relationships work.

Warfield, who is actively involved with the American Academy of Dermatology, says that not only do many dermatologists discourage patients from artificial nails, they also are concerned with salon sanitation practices. “I think the dermatologist’s concern is whether the nail professional uses sterilized equipment on clients, and whether she can recognize the various things that can happen to the nails because polish covers a lot of things.”

However, nail technician Karol Singleton, who works at Lorie & Kim’s Hair Design in Pinellas Park, Fla., advises technicians not to immediately discount working with dermatologists because of their “anti-artificial” stand. “I have a dermatologist who said he’d be more than happy to share things with me anytime I need,” Singleton notes, adding that she took the easiest and most successful route of finding a dermatologist: She asked her own.

Already under his care, she waited until a regular appointment to discuss her profession and her need for a specialist who could answer her questions and provide informational brochures for her clients, and to whom she could refer clients when necessary.

If you don’t have your own dermatologist or podiatrist to call upon, look to clients as your next best source for recommendations. “As you ask clients who they see, one or two names will start surfacing regularly,” Dr. Mix observes. “Ask those clients about the doctor’s personality and if they know how he feels about professional nail care.”

If you don’t hear one or two names consistently, Warfield and others recommend letting your fingers do the walking through the yellow pages. Dr. Roth says, “You can’t just look in the phone book and see who has the biggest ad. Before you make any phone calls, do your homework. For example, find out if the doctor is board certified, then get references on the ones you narrow down.”

Other potential avenues include your slate and county medical associations, referrals from your family doctor, and even local health fairs. “I met a chiropodist, which in Canada is someone who deals with nail infections and diseases of the hones in the feet, at a health fair for the public in my area,” says Janayre Vaughn, owner of Natural Nail Clare by Janayre in Barrie, Ontario. “We had a long conversation at his booth, which he ended by saying, “You really care about your clients and I think we can work well sending patients to each other.’“

When all else fails, Dr. Mix recommends making them come to you by contacting the local chapter of the state podiatry association (though the advice applies to any specialty) and asking if you can make a presentation on professional nail care and its benefits at the next chapter meeting.


Just Pick Up the Phone

Once you have a few names, there are a number of different strategies you can use to make contact, the simplest and most direct being to call and introduce yourself. This is how Laura Walker, owner of Perfect 10 in Old Saybrook, Conn., established referral relationships with several specialists. “After getting the names, I called and not all of them were interested in talking to me,” she remembers. “But many were willing to see me for 15 minutes. I came with a sheet of questions and when they were open to referrals I went through my questions with them.” With two dermatologists, two podiatrists, and one plastic surgeon that she now can refer clients to, Walker deems her strategy a success.

Singleton took a similar tactic in finding a podiatrist. Emboldened by her dermatologist’s interest, a few weeks later she dropped in to a podiatrist’s office on her way to buy groceries. “I grabbed a card and called him, and he returned my call that day,” she remembers. “I told him what I wanted and he invited me in to his office.”

When Singleton asked how long she should plan for the meeting, the podiatrist told her 4-5 hours. “When I first went in he told me no one had ever called and asked questions like I had or wanted that kind of referral relationship,” she remembers. “He introduced me as an associate to his patients and asked if they minded if I sat in on their visit. He showed me what he was doing, what he was using and why, and what he was trying to attain for the client. He also showed me all the different instruments and how to use them. It’s not that I needed to know how, but he felt that the more I knew, the better able I would be to recognize my clients’ problems and be able to intelligently discuss their problems in referring them to him.”

When calling, Dr. Mix notes that your best chances of catching the doctor or getting a fast return call are at noon or the end of the day because that’s typically when the doctor has a break from patient visits. Another method might be to write a letter introducing yourself and familiarizing the physician with you, the industry, and the issues in professional nail care. For example, Singleton says her dermatologist was not familiar with the use of MMA in some nail products and the effect those products could have on nails. By providing the dermatologist with balanced, non-biased information, you position yourself as a valuable source of information and someone to be trusted.

“Can I Ask You a Few Questions?”

While you may feel lucky to find a doctor who’ll even talk to you, don’t let your enthusiasm overcome your good sense. “Investigate the person,” Warfield asserts. “I think the key thing is that women in the business world need to be clear about what they need. It’s not only a case of you being good enough for the doctor; is the doctor good enough for your clients? You want to make sure that if you’re going to make a referral to the person, he’s going to come through.”

One technician we talked to says that she referred several of her clients to a willing dermatologist, only to later discover he had told them that artificial nails were damaging to their nails and that most salons were unsanitary. Yet another technician told of a dermatologist in her town who routinely diagnoses all nail disorders as fungal infections without doing anything more than a cursory examination.

In your talks with physicians, questions to ask include their interest in and experience with nail disorders (along with examples of previous cases they’ve treated); their position on professional nail care (both manicures and artificial nails); what they look for in a quality salon; their interest in participating in a referral network; and how accessible they would be to answer questions.

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