Money Matters

The Distribution Debate: Does It Matter Where You Buy Supplies?

Does it matter where you buy nail care supplies? And what’s at stake when products designed for professional use are available to the general public?

Also at the very core of the full service philosophy is a dedication to education. Full-service distributors offer some of the best educational programs available to working nail technicians. Many manufacturers base their decision to take their products through full service distributors because many of these chemically intensive products must be used only by trained professionals.

Regardless of whether you buy from full-service distributors, direct from the manufacturer, or off the tradeshow floor, you should consider how a manufacturer backs up his products with education. If you feel you have reached a point in your career where you no longer need education, you probably need it more than ever.

Many large distributors augment their store operations with a mail order catalog, telephone sales personnel, and in-salon representatives. Some distributors even create separate nails-only divisions, sometimes renaming the division. These distributors believe that this strictly focused approach can only better serve the nail professional’s needs because of the specialized education required to sell nail products.

There are a few drawbacks to the full-service method of distribution, according to nail technicians. If a technician runs out of product she often has to run out and pick up something immediately. If her distributor doesn’t have a store operation, she will have to go to another beauty supply store. Also, even if her distributor does have a store, it may not be as conveniently located as one of any number of beauty supply franchises.

Also, because a full-service distributor carries only certain manufacturers’ products, he will often primarily promote one line. Some technicians don’t like the limits this places on their product choices. However, because of the attention and support the distributor is able to give the manufacturer, the manufacturer in turn can allow the distributor to provide extra incentives or programs to salons. Some examples would be in-salon education given by a manufacture’s educator or special prices on some items.

Buying Direct

Buying product direct from the manufacturer creates a very close relationship between salon and supplier. Advocates of buying direct argue that because of the direct communication between seller and buyer, the manufacturer is more responsive to nail technicians’ needs and can adapt to change more readily.

While many manufacturers who sell direct will require a copy of a license before they send out product, there is still a danger that some products will be used improperly or unsafely if technicians do not get the proper education that these products require.

With the manufacturer-direct method of distribution there is generally no concern that products will wind up in the hands of non-professionals. This concern really applies only to products such as liquid and powder systems, primers, and other application systems. With items such as polish, files, brushes, jewelry, etc., there is little danger to the salon’s retail efforts with these products because it would hardly be worth the savings for a consumer to order an item directly form the manufacturer.

As far as price goes, it is cheaper to buy direct on some items from some companies. You will have to shop around if there is a specific item that you order in high volume and if price is a big factor. However, when a manufacturer sells to a distributor, that price is usually lower than the technician could get the product for herself anyway. There is a built-in profit for the manufacturer and the distributor, which does not necessarily mean that the technician’s price is any higher.

Perhaps one of the main benefits of buying direct is that the manufacturer is likely to have adequate stock available to fill any kind of order. Technicians who repeatedly find a distributor out of stock will soon find another supplier.

Manufacturers selling direct often provide many of the same support services that full-service distributors do – namely, guarantees, return policies, price incentives, or occasional giveaways for regular customers.

Over-The-Counter Beauty Supply

Beauty supply stores come in a couple varieties. There is the full service distributor’s store operation, generally open to professionals only. Then there is the over-the-counter operation (sometimes called OTC or “retail store”) that serves the professional primarily but also is open to the public. If the store is for professionals only, buyers must show a valid manicuring license before making a purchase.

Some OTC stores price products differently for the professional and the public. For example, a store may put a “retail” price of $3 on a bottle of nail polish but charge the license-bearing nail technician just $2 for that same bottle. This system is called tier pricing.

While this system still makes professional products available directly to the consumer, the pricing structure is designed not to undercut the salon’s retail efforts by not offering the product at a cheaper price than the client would pay at the salon.

However, the retail price charged by the beauty supply may still be lower than the salon’s price, since the technician has to mark up the item 100% to cover her overhead and make a profit. Thus, the technician sells for $4 what the consumer can get at the beauty supply store for $3. In effect, the beauty supply store now competes for the very same customer as the technician.

Tier pricing can be potentially dangerous when it is used on such products as acrylic systems. In this circumstance, having a higher price may deter the non-professional from buying the product, but it does not ensure that these products are used by trained professionals.

The Health and Safety Issue

Besides the danger to a salon’s business by consumers using professional products and buying at home use items from non-salon businesses, there is real physical danger to an untrained person using these chemically intensive products.

A teenager, housewife, or amateur manicurist applying acrylic extensions with an instruction sheet could burn herself from over-priming or damage her natural nails by improperly applying the product. She might consequently blame the product’s manufacturer or artificial nails in general. Much of the bad rap that artificial nails have gotten over the years stems from this situation.

However, in some ways, the bad experiences of these individuals have actually helped the professional salon industry. People who gave themselves bad perms or acrylics had to rush to their salons for touch-ups or repairs; they then realized how good professional work looked and became converts.

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