Every Saturday morning when we were kids, my brother and I turned in for the latest antics of Wile E. Coyote as he tried, and failed, to catch the ever-elusive Road runner. As an adult, the moral of the cartoon has finally sunk in: The “easy way” rarely works. Short cuts are usually dead ends.
And just as the Coyote never did catch the Roadrunner for all his wily tricks, nail technicians soon discover that clever ploys and short cuts aren’t the answer. It takes both the patience to sit and wait in the salon as well as the diligence to pound the pavement during slow times to catch new clients.
The slow economy is making it even tougher for new technicians to build their appointment books. Most of the technicians we spoke to report that they haven’t lost too many regular clients due to the current economy, but they add that new clients are harder to bring in.
And some regular clients are cutting back on the extras – retail items, paraffin dips, and reflexology – and are going longer between fill appointments – sometimes up to three and four weeks apart.
To survive a tough economy, technicians advise keeping tight control on the salon’s overhead, giving value-added service, and offering regular clients incentives to bring in their friends and coworkers.
“If they bring me a new client they get $10 off their next fill,” says Diana Brians of Djons Salon (Dixon, Calif.). “I would rather pay my clients for the advertising.”
Jackie Rudolph of Nail Expressions (Washington, D.C.) says new technicians can build their books faster by convincing the salon owner to open on Mondays. “I was surprised by how many of clients wanted to come in on Mondays. And that’s a day you may not be competing with the veteran technicians for the walk-in and call-in clientele.”
NAILS asked 15 fully booked nail technicians across the country for their secrets to building a clientele. Their responses are full of time proven tips that will help you build your own clientele faster than you might have – no matter what the economy is like.
HOW DID YOU GET CLIENTS IN FOR THAT FIRST APPOINTMENT?
Stella Tanner, Obtuzo Salon (Salt Lake City, Utah): I’ve had a full book for about 10 years. When I look back, it took dedication and staying in the salon even when I wasn’t busy. I was always available for a quick manicure or to fix a nail. I’ve worked in both types of salons (full-service and nails only), and I found that working in a hair salon lets you feed each other’s books, which is a real advantage when you’re new.
Katherian Harris, C-Bo’s Salon (Odessa, Texas): Building my book came from being knowledgeable about the products and being very personal with clients. After a clients first visit, I sent her a thank you card for her patronage. We also send out birthday cards and anniversary cards. When we first opened, regular clients got a free fill after sending four new clients. After she’s been with us a year she gets a free fill or manicure.
Margie Hess, Lifestyles (Thousand Oaks, Calif.): I pretty much did whatever the client wanted. If she wanted to come at 10:00 at night or 6:00 in the morning, I was here. Once I did a full set at 4:30 in the morning.
Vicotoria Sozio, The Upper Cut (Washington Township, N.J.): The first time I did someone, I suggested she make a standing appointment. In most cases, it’s very convenient for her because she comes at the same time on the same day every few weeks. She’s less apt to forget.
Suzanne Gordon, Jon Megaris Salon (Syosset, N.Y.): My full book came from word-of-mouth referrals. Not very many technicians in my area do air-brushing, and I’m the only one in this salon who does it. I only polish about 10 customers a week. Offering airbrushing helped me build my book because it makes me unique.
Diana Brians, Djons’s Salon (Dixon Calif.): A lot of people who had artificial nails were having problems so they would ask if I could do something about it. I would soak off their old product for free and do a new full set at a discount. I guaranteed they wouldn’t have further problems. I spent my first three months soaking off old product, applying new product, and guaranteeing my work.
I also took people out of businesses like banks and schools and did a set for free as an advertisement. I would give them $10 off their next fill for each new person they brought in. This brought new customers who were serious about their nails.
Amy Forster, Stylette Salon (Port-land, Ore): I worked in a mall with 185 stores and we passed out cards to mall employees with a fill special on it. When they referred me business, they got a free fill. That was the number one book-builder for me.
When I run specials I send out fliers to clients I haven’t heard from in a while. When a customer disappears, I call and find out what happened in case she just forgot an appointment and is too embarrassed to come back. I send old customers Christmas cards and stay in touch. Eventually they do come back.
Michelle Buhr, Fingerpaints (St. Louis, Mo): I worked in a busy full service salon at first for the exposure. When you’re new, people come to the salon for its reputation, not for yours. Once I built a small client base, it was being a perfectionist that got me the referrals.
Vernita Gray, About Nails Etc. (Milwaukee, Wis.): I was very accommodating to my clients. If 7:00 a.m. was the only time they could come in, then that’s when I came in. If it meant staying late or passing up a lunch break, then I did it. If you satisfy a client, she’ll tell another person, and your clientele builds from there. I sent regular clients $5 gift certificates each time they referred a new client to me. In a matter of three months I was booked solid.
Debra Riley, Academy Nails (Fort Mills, S.C.): I sat still in one salon long enough for people to learn who I was. Pick one salon that you really like and do the best work you can and be the nicest you can so that people get to know you and like you. I started doing nails five years ago and it took me six months to build a full book.
Vickie Sutton, Your Nail Pros (Librun, Ga): I do skin care and waxing as well as nails. That gives me more variety to offer my clients. I also take the time to show them techniques to solve problems they’re having with their hair, makeup, and skin. That makes them feel they get more service.
The little details are important to me. Clients know I get rid of all the loose cuticle and won’t get polish on their skin. I choose the shape of their nails and explain why I did them that way. Clients like that I’m designing their nails just for them.
HOW DO YOU KEEP CLIENTS ONCE YOU’VE GOT THEM?
Tanner: I guarantee no lifting for three weeks and that’s been a big part of my clientele. I never have lifting with my technique so I can afford to guarantee against it.
The next thing is building a personal relationship across the table. Some of my closest friendships were made across the table. When you touch someone and hold her hands for that amount of time, it’s a real intimate exchange and it’s important to click emotionally with the person.
Jane Kohles, Elegant Nails Etc. (Norfolk, Neb.): This is a full-service hair and nail salon, but I don’t let technicians cross over. They do one or the other because I think it’s the repetition that builds their books and makes them good.
We do a lot of value-added services. We make sure clients are greeted when they come in and are offered a drink and a magazine. We walk them to their cars and start their cars for them. We offer all sorts of nail art and we help them on and off with their coats.
Hess: I don’t rush through a fill or a manicure. If it takes me longer than I think it should, I still do it. Also, I don’t get on the phone when I’m working because clients want to tell me their problems. This is their hour and they want all of my attention.
I go to shows to see the exhibitors and demonstrations and to attend classes. Clients always have questions and want to know the new colors, whether people are wearing nails longer, and what’s new in nail art.
Gordon: Always have clean tools and a clean station because clients are watching for that. If you don’t, they may go to a salon that does. Always be accurate with the nails, reinforce them, and double-check your work. And remember, the customer is always right. Even if she really is wrong, you don’t want her to leave.
Sozio: I attend quite a few tradeshows each year and I actively compete. I try to go to classes or at least make sure I talk to educators and other technicians because they give me tips on techniques and new products. It’s a real good reflection on myself if clients see that I’m interested in trying different things.
Brians: I keep up with current events and things happening around town. I’m involved in service clubs and I offer services to community groups for things like raffles to keep my name out in the public. Clients know I’m involved in helping the community and they love it.
Jo Livingston, Michael Anthony’s Salon and Day Sap (Chicago): If a client is flustered, give her an extra message or extra treat. For example, if she normally gets a water manicure, I might suggest an oil manicure or a paraffin wax treatment. I let her know that, because she is flustered, I am doing this for free because she’s important to me. While the wax is cooling, I give her some headphones with soothing music and have her sit in a relaxing chair. You don’t want to give away everything, but attention like this makes her feel great and she remembers that. When it’s unexpected it’s especially appreciated.
Gray: I developed my own techniques on how to do nails. It’s the extras that you add to your manicure – a massage or aromatherapy – that make it unique and special to your clients.
Riley: You have to be able to make the nails thin and natural, but it’s your personality that clients come back for. I don’t care how long you’ve been a nail tech, take classes. The more you learn, the more you can earn.
Learn to listen to clients instead of just talking to them. If they need to laugh, make them laugh. If they need to dump, let them dump.
Sutton: My clients expect me to constantly come up with new things. All my clients know I go to shows, that I participate, that I am an educator and an NNTG member. I try every new product on the market.
Make sure you know the client and can talk to her about her family and her hobbies. Let clients know that they can come in and spill their guts, but they don’t have to worry about it going anywhere else.
DO YOU HAVE ANY TIPS FOR TECHS WITH TIME ON THEIR HANDS?
Sutton: Everyone wants to work 9 to 5, but you have to be willing to work late, at least at first. I take my last appointment at 7:30 at night. If someone walks in with a broken nail, find time to fix it. If it’s a new client and she likes it, she’ll be back for her next fill.
Offer something different. When we did Christmas nail art we had people coming from other shops to get it. Another thing, call around to other area shops and find out what they’re charging. We do that every month or two to keep up with competition.
You also have to be willing to do advertising. Just within 20 minutes of us are seven shops that are doing what they can to get people in. The public has to see you every month in some type of advertising. We run ads in our local newspaper.
Sharon Parker, Nail Detail (Tampa, Fla.): Go through your Rolodex and get in touch with clients you haven’t seen in a while. Give them incentives to come back in. We advertise, “Bring a friend for a full set and get a free fill.” That’s an incentive that helps build your book faster.
Riley: Look for a busy salon, a hair salon that doesn’t do nails, or work as an assistant in a salon with a nail tech who has a good reputation. Take the time to find the right salon where you feel most comfortable and then don’t move around to different salons because people don’t like to move.
Livingston: Being on time is imperative, as is being extremely neat with your workstation. Make your self professionally presentable with nice clothes and hair. Also, know you products. Clients are interested in why this lotion is good or why that top coat is better than the other. I find that using products that can’t be purchased somewhere else is important because it ties clients to your salon.
Gray: Introduce yourself to hair clients, describe your services, and offer them a discount on their nails. If someone has a question, offer to show her instead of telling her. If you’re in a busy salon, offer free manicures or mini-manicures to teach hair clients about nails. If someone asks about sculptured nails, do a free nail. If you’re in a nails-only salon tell clients about the different nail services you offer. They may tell a friend.
Buhr: Get out, pound the pavement, and pass out cards. Call on dress shops, put fliers together, visit grocery clerks. Use your downtime to sharpen your skills by practicing and reading trade journals.
Forster: Hand out business cards with specials. It doesn’t matter if it’s door hangers in an apartment complex or hitting a local office complex with your business
WHEN YOUR BOOK OVERLFLOWS
Some technicians dream of having so many clients that they have to start a waiting list. But the technicians we spoke to say that, while it’s nice that some potential clients are willing to wait, they won’t wait too long.
“My waiting list is about two weeks long,” says Jo Livingston. “If I see that a client will have to wait more than two weeks to get in then I’ll come in early or stay late for her. Her nails are important to her and she will go somewhere else if she has to wait longer, whether she likes the work or not.”
Most technicians say the people on their waiting list are those who are waiting for a particular time to open, or who want to get on their standing appointment list. Sharon Parker says she does a new book every three months to keep everyone satisfied. “I transfer all of my standing appointments into the new quarter, and the slots I have left are the one that people on my waiting list can pick up. The prime spots are filled as they open by people on a list.”
Michelle Buhr only books standing appointments for eight hours a day, while she actually works anywhere from nine to 12 hours a day. “That way I can work an extra hour or two to fit in the new clients. If I wanted to, I could do standings for 10 hours a day, but then I wouldn’t have room for the new people.” Buhr schedules new clients at the end of the day or works them into a spot created by a cancellation.
Amy Forster has perhaps the most ideal situation because she has a full, but not overflowing, book. It’s all a result of teamwork, she says. “There are three of us who all work together. We share each other’s clients and refer customers back and forth. Between the three of us we have 400 clients we do on a regular basis.” The three have worked together for almost three years and wouldn’t consider splitting up to go out on their own.