From a career as a part-time manufacturer's educator to a full-time industry consultant, the nail industry presents myriad opportunities.
Bored? Burned out? Just need a change? There's no need to leave the nail industry in search of new opportunities: It's full of former nail technicians who've left the salon to work for manufacturers and distributors or themselves in a variety of challenging positions. Others have found they can enjoy the best of both worlds by supplementing the challenges and opportunities in the salon with such part-time positions as association board member, state board member, and manufacturer's educator, to name a few opportunities.
Admittedly, a few of the jobs in our chart (page 70) offer nowhere near a living wage (some don't pay a cent!), but the nail technicians we asked say the payoff in terms of personal satisfaction and networking opportunities more than compensates their efforts.
"Don't always think about how you're going to get paid for something," cautions Marlene Bridge, a nail technician turned salon owner turned manufacturer's educator turned distributor. "Through my work with the NCA I've made many friends all over the country and had lots of networking opportunities," says Bridge, also former director of Nail Technicians America and still a manufacturer's educator. "I find out what people are doing and how they've corrected problems in the salon and with other nail technicians. I think of it as an investment in my education."
However, there's nothing wrong with less altruistic motives: Some positions in the nail industry are very financially rewarding and offer new challenges. "As a regional manager I work with a group of distributors to help them sell their products through to their customers," says Doug Smith, Mid-Atlantic regional manager for Creative Nail Design. "I manage a team of educators and help them with their career goals as well focus on their role as an educator. I also go to shows, rolling up my sleeves and setting up booths, selling product, and answering nail technicians' questions.
"You shift from working in the salon and being creative and artistic to the corporate world, where the focus is more on business practices and numbers," he says. "You switch from being responsible for your clientele to being responsible for an entire region. You have an opportunity to help other businesses grow their business."
Here, some former nail technicians tell about their new nail careers and how they got there.
Terri Lundberg, owner, Nail Technician Mentoring Institute
Drawing on her 16 years as a nail technician, Terri Lundberg opened her training center in January 1998. "During the time I worked as a nail technician I worked for distributors at shows and did some private tutoring. Later I ran the education department for a nails-only supply house, which was very enjoyable, so I opened my own supply house."
It wasn't long before Lundberg decided she preferred the manufacturing side of the industry and accepted a position as national education director for a major manufacturer. After seven years, however, she became frustrated by the lack of basic, quality education in the industry. "There's excellent education out there, but it's all product-related. You can go to a product class just so many times," she says.
"In opening the Nail Technician Mentoring Institute I'm teaching what I feel is important for nail technicians to learn, but I'm also someone they can always call with questions and problems and even to share their successes."
"Doing this can be profitable, but the expenses are high at the beginning. Also, your credibility is at stake, so if you decide to go into private mentoring I would recommend you attend other programs and be sure you have the content that makes it worth someone's investment," she continues. "I don't teach specific product knowledge; nail techs have to have attended a product class on the products they're bringing.
"If you're an educator at heart, part of the satisfaction you get is from seeing people improve the quality of their work. I get more satisfaction from watching someone I've trained compete than I would from doing it myself."
Dianne D' Agnolo, director of research, Too Much Fun
As director of research, Dianne D'Agnolo spends her days designing airbrushing masks. "That can mean creating the designs in the computer, cutting them on the machines, and then experimenting with them. Just because the computer can create them and the laser can cut them doesn't mean they work on the nails," she explains. "I also choose colors and then create new colors with our existing ones. With 76 colors in our line we don't need new ones, so we're going to offer nail technicians recipes to make their own new colors with our existing ones."
D'Agnolo also works with other nail technicians who test the company's products, and she trains the company's educators, although she says that she's handing that off to someone else because product development and testing fill her clays. And her nights are still filled with nail clients: When she's not traveling for Too Much Fun, she works 15-20 hours a week in the salon.
"I love what I'm doing," she exclaims. "Being able to create, to have an idea and see it come to life, is really exciting."
The story of how she got there is a long one, involving work in the salon, for a distributor, and for a manufacturer's rep. Her jobs always involved airbrushing, and her belief in both the product line and the company are unwavering.
Michelle Williams, director of education, Pro Finish
For the past few years, Michelle Williams' career has been on the fast track. After working in the salon for four years, she became an educator for Pro Finish in February 1997. By July 1997, she had been promoted to western regional manager; in May 1998, she was promoted to director of education.
"I knew when I got involved in nails that I would not remain a nail technician forever, so from the beginning I learned as much as I could by going to all the manufacturers' educational classes and exposing myself to all methods of training," she remembers. "I went to trade shows and I paid careful attention to educators at the booths. I watched what they did and noted what 1 did like and didn't like.
"Before working for a company, I suggest you find out as much about it as you can to make sure your philosophies arc in alignment. For nail technicians who've never worked outside the salon, you need to learn about distributors and what their life is like because as an educator you deal with a whole new group of customers.
Kris Hizer, district manager, OPI Products
After nine years working as a nail technician, during eight of which she also worked part-time as an OPI educator, Hizer was promoted to district manager in January 1998 when OPI created an inside sales force.
"I was ready to move on from the salon," she says. "I have a college degree and background in restaurant management; got into nails because I like people and I liked the flexibility it offered. Then I went into educating because I had the desire to teach others, and I wanted some variety from being behind the table six days a week."
About the same time Hizer started feeling the need for even more time away from the salon, she heard that OPI was developing the district manager position. She applied, and got the job. "My office is in my home. OPI set me up with a computer, a fax machine, and a business line, and 1 travel about 50% of the time to visit my accounts," Hizer says. "If you're not into traveling, this job could be tough, and when you're not traveling you're pretty isolated."
Interested in a job like hers? Since her opportunity arose from educating for the company, Hizer recommends that route to others. "Regardless of what you're doing you need to stay on top of the industry through classes and trade shows," she advises. "If you're looking for an opportunity, talk to the companies whose products you use. I went to work for OPI because I knew I could sell something I love so much."
Janice Lonardo, national education director and NE regional manager, Star Nail Products
Janice Lonardo was working as a nail technician in Rhode Island when she first got the call from Star Nail Products' national sales manager, who was looking for a part-time account executive in her area. He had gotten her name from the National Nail Technicians Group, for which she was a state delegate.
"They wanted someone to handle a few distributor accounts and teach classes, do sales meetings, and teach new products," she remembers. "It was two days a week, and I was very excited." From there she added new accounts as the company grew, and soon was offered the position of education coordinator, and then promoted to NE regional manager. "I am responsible for educating all the staff, monitoring store inventories, conducting sales meetings, teaching classes, and doing new product introductions," she explains.
Having proven her capabilities as NE regional manager, Leonardo recently took on an additional title. As national education director, she writes the educator training manuals, trains all the company's new educators, and re-certifies existing educators each year. "I also coordinate all of our classes nationally through the distributors and then schedule our educators for the classes," she explains. "And, we've just developed a new education program for which I helped write the manual and curriculum.
"I also test new products for the company and am involved in working with the chemists," Lonardo notes.
Donna Nielson, technical advisor, Creative Nail Design
After 20 years in the salon, Donna Nielsen says it was time to switch sides of the table. She hadn't been looking long before she saw an ad in the newspaper for a technical advisor to answer troubleshooting calls. "They wanted someone with 5-10 years in the nail industry and a bachelor's degree," Nielson remembers. With twice the experience and a master's degree under her belt (she's working on her PhD), she felt qualified. After three interviews over a six-week period, Creative agreed and offered her the job.
"I talk to people from all over the world. I also help the marketing team with testing new products and I provide technical advice," she says. While she loves both the job and the company, Nielson cautions that the job is challenging. "You deal with negativity all day long because people are upset about something. That can bring you down; I answer over 100 calls a day," she notes. Not all is negative, though. "People also call with questions about salon management and other issues."
Michael Williams owner, Salon & Spa Solutions
From nail technician to salon co-owner to company educator to owner of a nail supply house — it's been a busy six years for Michael Williams, and there's no end in sight as he still works in the salon when he's not educating for one of several manufacturers or running his distributorship.
"I got started educating after I went to nail school because it's hard to get supplies here in Florida. So I wouldn't have to order from all over opened my own professional-only beauty supply, which allows me to buy directly from manufacturers," he says. "Now I have more than 200 salons that buy from me on a regular basis by mail order."
Since 1995 he's grown from a one-line distributorship to more than 80 lines. He markets the business over the Internet and at tradeshows, and he has licensed nail technicians and estheticians who help him run the supply business when he's working in the salon or off educating.
"I'm using 80% of the profits from the distributorship to build up the lines I carry," he says. "I could survive on the income, but I couldn't expand what I have because all these companies have minimum orders. You need at least a few thousand dollars to get a product you can resell, and as time goes by you pick up of her lines that sell well."