Male nail technicians share their enlightening experiences working, in the female-dominated world of nails
When the Beatless sang. “I wanna hold your hand,” they sent thousands of women into screaming hysteria. When Steve Parker, co-owner of The Nail Detail in Tampa, Fla., says it, he actually gets the woman’s hand. As a member of the very small population of male nail technicians, Parker enjoys his specials role, but to him it’s all in a day’s work.
Affectionately called The Butcher by coworkers because he’s 5 feet 10 inches tall and weighs 225 pounds. Parker shares management duties with his salon partner, who also happens to be his wife, Sharon.
Male technicians represent a meager 1% of the nail technician population in the United States. What inspires them to work in a field that is heavily populated with women? For Parker, and the majority of male technicians we spoke to, getting into the nail business just sort of happened. Parker was a salesman and wanted to change careers. He got interested in doing nails by observing his wife’s work. “Basically, I sleep with the owner,” he jokes.
Similar to Parker’s situation. Larry Bergére, co-owner of A Perfect Ten Nail Salon in Wappingers Falls, N.Y., got into the business because of his wife, Nancy. Bergére was working in the retail carpet business and Nancy was doing nails when they decided to open up their own high-quality salon.
“We started out with six technicians including my wife and me, and have expanded to 13 technicians,” says Bergére. Since the business has grown so much, he no longer does nails, buts acts as receptionist, manager, and self-described “cocktail waitress.”
For Jim Poole, based in riverside. Calif., a chance encounter with a cosmetology instructor diverted his career path from selling insurance to doing nails. “The instructor told me that getting a nail technician’s license required the fewest hours, and I heard that the money was good.” Eventually, though, Poole did become a licensed cosmetologist.
A friend who needed her nails done for a modeling show aroused an interest in the nail business for Kelly Galyan of Bruos Salon in Boynton Beach. Fla.
“My model friend had a nail kit at home that I experimented with and became hooked,” he says, Galyan had dropped out of college and was waiting tables at the time That was close to 10 years ago, so it’s sale to say he’s found his career niche.
Originally in cosmetology school to be a hairstylist, Tim Farquhar, a nail technician at The Nail House in Dayton, Ohio, got hooked on nails three months before he graduated. He had bought his first nail kit at a hair show and started doing nails on the students. Though he did both hair and nails when he got out of school, he started doing nails exclusively five years ago.
Like Farquhar, Jeffrey McLellan, a nail technician at Teddy D’s in Rolling Hills Estates, Calif, also wanted to be a hairstylist, but he was anxious to finish school and needed to earn an income. He became a nail technician because it only required three months of school.
“I’ve worn many hats over the years and I’ve been a professional dance and a musician,” he says. “I have always been interested in the beauty business, and what was especially appealing to me is that you can make your own hours and it’s very avant-garde. You don’t have to wear a three-piece suit.”
After finishing school, a friend referred McLellan to a salon owner, who hired him immediately. “At that time, 13 years ago, being a male technician was quite a novelty,” he says.
Nails were the family business and the logical career step for Trang Nguyen, a nail technician at Hollywood Nail Salon in Long-wood, Fla. After four years of teaching at his aunt’s cosmetology school. Nguyen went to work in a salon.
The Ups and Downs
Though life as a male technician may have its drawbacks, such as getting strange looks and hesitant clients, the benefits more than make up for it.
“The tips seem to be a little better,” says Pole. “And it seems that once a female client gets to know you and feels comfortable, she is more likely to take your word over a female technician’s. It’s like we’re authority figures.”
Parker feels that a male technician can get to know his clients of little better than a female tech can. Clients tend to open up more and are more willing to ask for advice about matters of the heart, he says.
Galyan likes the fact that a lot of his clients tell him that he reminds them of their son or grandson, which makes them feel comfortable and relaxed around him.
McLellan’s pedicure business is thriving because, he says, “There aren’t too many women out there who don’t love a man sitting at their feet.” McLellan is known for his strong hand and foot massages. Clients who come in just for the occasional polish change usually request one of his popular massages.
But strength can be a drawback, especially for Parker. “I have to be extra careful with clients because of my strength,” he says. “Sometimes I’ll hold a client’s hand too tight or file too hard.”
When Parker first started doing nails, he faced many reluctant walk-in clients. To put a new client at ease, Parker would call his wife over and ask, “Now what do I do?” The client would laugh and relax.
When Bergére was doing nails, being in the minority was a drawback. He felt that there was less open-mindedness in the small town where his salon is located. “We don’t even cater to male clients because out female clientele would feel uncomfortable,” he says.
At Hollywood Nail Salon, clients are a little hesitant when they first walk into the salon because there are five male technicians and only one female tech. “They get used to it after a few minutes,” says Nguyen, “because the salon’s atmosphere is very comfortable and non-threatening.”
For Poole, developing a client base was his biggest challenge. At his first salon, he came up with an ingenious idea to solicit business. He posted fliers around town that said “Nails by Jim and Jackie.” Practically everyone who called asked for Jackie. Well, since Poole only added a woman’s name to draw in callers because he knew a lot of clients would be unreceptive to a male technician, he had a lot of explaining to do. Fortunately for his business, the callers were understanding and gave him a chance.
For Farquhar, though he gets a lot of surprised reactions and strange looks from first-time clients, only twice has a client not let him do her nails because of his gender. His only beef with his chosen career is clients who sit at his table and start bashing men. He’s also tired of people at nail shows always assuming that he is a salon owner or just accompanying his wife or girlfriend. “They never even consider that I may be a technician,” he says with a sigh.
For Galyan, the downside of the job is that a few ignorant clients assume that all male technicians are gay, which sometimes leads them to the mistaken idea that they are at risk of contracting AIDS. When a client confront Galyan and expresses this concern, he doesn’t get defensive, he simply demonstrates the steps he takes to ensure proper protection for his clients as well as himself. “If I have an abrasion or cut, I wear rubber gloves or fingertips,” he says. On the upside, Galyan’s wife works as a hairdresser at the salon. “We work as a team and refer clients to each other,” he says.
Imagine begin the only woman in a men’s locker room. That’s how these male nail technicians say they feel being in a female-dominated salon. Imagine being the only male in a nail salon, which can sometimes have a “Girls Club” atmosphere – women talking about the discomforts of PMS, insensitive men, and the best brand of panty hose … and clients nursing their babies?
Such was the embarrassing situation for Galyan. “I was working on a client for the first time and in the middle of her service, without warning, she started to breastfeed her baby,” he says.
Coffee, tea, or me? Farquhar will never forget his uneasiness when, during a nail service, a client showed him pictures of her without a shirt on, all the while rubbing her foot against his. “I kept pulling my foot away, and I finally told her, Gosh, I have the worst itch on my ankle. She got the hint,” he says.
Parker’s most embarrassing moment involved one of his regular clients, a youthful and active 70-year-old. “One day she asked me if I had seen the movie Basic Instinct, and I told her I did. She said she loved that movie and went right home after seeing it and took her underpants off (an idea she got from the movie). She told me she hasn’t worn any since and wasn’t wearing any then. Luckily, I had just finished her nails and jokingly told her it was time for her to leave,” he says.
McLellan’s most awkward predicament involved a pedicure. He was doing a manicure on a German client who spoke very little English. When she found out his next appointment had canceled, she wanted a pedicure, but her nails were wet and she was dressed in full work attire – skirt, heels, and hose. “She carefully hiked up her skirt and had me cut her pantyhose at mid-thigh,” he recalls.
Male technicians are not quite the novelty that they were 10 years ago. Though their numbers are few, they are slowly infiltrating the nail business. Just as women are working their way into previously male-dominated fields, men are working their way into service-oriented careers and are finding fame and fortune in expressing their creative side.