Ten seasoned salon professionals offer their best advice for making it in the nail industry today.
There is no shortage of sources of free advice. Everyone from your mother-in-law to magazine editors has an opinion about how you should conduct your professional career. We asked to nail technicians who have been around a while about the best and worst advice they have ever received and for their advice to nail technicians just starting out. Their answers suggest that you should listen to everyone then follow your heart.
Marlene Bane, salon owner, i Natural Cosmetics Baltimore, Md.: My advice to nail technicians starting out is keep the enthusiasm they have in the beginning. Once you’re successful, treat your customers as well as you did in the beginning; give as much to the customer as you did in the beginning. Some people don’t do that and they begin to lose business. Keep that fresh feeling. Put in the time, be there, be accommodating, and success will follow. You need to get over that initial hump. Attitude is everything. You’ve got to go out and promote yourself. Skill alone isn’t enough. The best advice I ever received was from my husband, who said, “You can do it.” Ironically, the worst advice I ever got was also from my husband, who said, “That won’t work.” You have to follow your own heart and your own inner voice. But most important, you have to be willing to put in 100 hours a day!
Maureen Volpe, salon owner, Volpe Nails, Sarasota, Fla.: I’ve been in the nail business 13 years. When students come here fresh out of school, we continue to train them for four weeks. My advice to a newcomer is that if you don’t learn everything you need to in nail school, cozy up to someone who is advanced and can teach you the tricks of the trade. Pay attention to the person who is the busiest and the best; concentrate on what she’s doing and learn technique from the her. Go to a big salon. Find a salon owner who is willing to market you.
The best advice I received was in 1980 when someone told me that doing sculptured nails was the only way to go and I believed her. The worst advice I got was to spend money advertising in the newspaper. It never worked for me. The best marketing technique is to go out and give free services to a handful of people who are in the public eye. You’ll make a name for yourself. In the beginning of your nail career, you have a lot of time. Use it to learn.
Sally Kolinsky, salon owner, Nails, Naturally Millburn, NJ.: I’ve learned that some people get a lot out of school. Others are like a spoon in soup. They’re right in the middle of the school environment but they never really taste it because they don’t make the effort. Success in the nail industry comes down to being people-oriented. You have to like people and you have to like yourself. Aim for the stars. Be positive. It’s infectious. Apart from doing a good manicure, that’s the bottom line. Be kind and nice and caring.
Dee Levin, salon owner, Salon Norman Dee, Philadelphia, Pa.: I’ve been in the nail industry more than 30 years. I’d tell a new person coming into the business to get a good education and have a positive attitude. You should find it a pleasure to give clients service, not a necessity. Associate yourself with a salon you want to grow in, and find a mentor. Don’t waste your time in a salon you’re not proud of. Don’t work in a salon that is less than you would want to end up in. You won’t build a clientele in a salon like that.
The best advice I ever got is that when you start to think you know enough, you’re going backwards. There is no end to success. It’s an upward ladder. You never know enough. The worst advice anyone ever gave me was discouraging words. You can’t listen to it. Someone told me to settle for what I had; for example, not to expand my salon. The status quo does not bring success.
Erika Giannotti, salon owner, Erika’s Naughty Nails, Phoenix, Ariz.: My advice is that if you want the best possible work, go to a salon that does nails only, where nail services are not secondary. A nail salon excels in nails only. And go to a large salon. A salon wouldn’t be so large if it weren’t doing something right.
When someone walks into my salon and is looking for a position, I go a lot on what she looks like. If she is sloppy, wearing flip-flops and cutoffs, I throw her application in the trash the minute she leaves.
I conduct a very informed interview. I tell an applicant to bring a model and do a full set of nails. When she thinks she’s finished, I call the manager over to check the work. Then the applicant polishes the nails and the manager looks again. I look for very high-quality work, but I’ll take an individual who wants to learn.
The best advice I ever got is that if you work hard and don’t care about the hours you put in, you’ll be a success. The worst advice I ever got has to do with owning your own business: “You’re in your own business now so you don’t have to work hard.” I work harder now than when I sat behind the chair full-time.
Debbie Greco, manager of the makeup and manicuring department, Concept Elite, Brooklyn N.Y.: The most important thing to me is the quality of the work, particularly how well a straight manicure is done. Applicants should be able to do all types of nail repairs and should know how to do all types of extensions and nail tips perfectly. Learn the latest techniques. Clients are going to come in and say, “My friend just had such and such done and I want that.” Attend tradeshows. Keep learning.
The next important thing is personality. The client needs to feel that the manicurist really wants to do her nails, that she has pride in her work, and that she enjoys it.
Cleanliness and sanitation techniques are of extreme importance.
Personal appearance is most important when greeting a new client. You don’t need to be dressed fabulously. My manicurists who are dressed fabulously are not necessarily booked more than those who aren’t.
Go to a large salon and ask them if they will allow you to do manicures for free. Make an arrangement with a stylist for one month to do her customers’ nails for free. This is one way you can make a name for yourself.
The best advice I ever got was to watch the quality of the work. Nail clients come back if the quality is there. The worst advice I ever got was to offer discounts and to advertise in the newspaper.
Gina Marsilii, salon owner Perfect Ten Nail Salon & Tanning, Wilmington, Del.:
I’ve been in the business six and a half years. Newcomers need patience and a positive attitude about becoming a nail technician. You don’t get a lot of education in your 300 hours of school. You need to continue your education and learn more about the industry by going to seminars and tradeshows. Never Start doubting yourself. Never stop and say to a client, “Is this OK?” Always be willing to learn new techniques.
The best advice I ever got was to put the client first. Clients should feel on top of the world when they walk out the door. The worst advice I ever got was that if I ever had my own business I’d be so busy I wouldn’t have time to open the mail. It’s not true.
Rita Ambourn, salon owner, Rita Ambourn Hair Designers, St. Paul, Minn.: I’ve been in the nail industry for 31 years. I have 100 employees. I employ 13 manicurists 18 hours a day, seven days a week. My advice for anyone planning to go into this industry is to check out the schools and select one that teachers several techniques and product lines. After selecting a school, go out into the salons and find the one that is the most progressive. Ask permission to stay for several hours and observe the nail department. Ask questions. Visit a minimum of six salons and pick several for interviews.
Be prompt to the interview. Be sure your makeup and hair is tasteful. Bring two models-one who displays work you have already done and the other to be done at the salon. Be friendly, smile, and be excited!
Once you’ve been hired by the salon, go above and beyond the call of duty. Work as many weekends and evenings as possible. Be available to clients when they need you. Continue your education-attend seminars, enter competitions. Do twice as much as anyone else does. This is the way to be successful.
The best advice I ever received was “When the going gets tough, the tough get going,” The worst I ever received was “Stay mainstream. Follow the leader.”
Sharon Bisoni, salon owner, Elegant Hands, Inc., Rochester, Mich.: I’ve been a nail technician for 30 years. A newcomer needs strong self-motivation and a certain amount of salesmanship to sell herself to clients. Too many technicians depend on the salon to build their clientele for them. It’s somewhat like farming a territory-you need to solicit your own business. But being a good team worker is very important, too. Also, you need to improve your own skills continually. Don’t be satisfied until the nails are perfect. Know how to do a basic manicure well. Give a manicure with every service. If a client finds she can no longer wear artificial nails, for whatever reason, you can still keep that client in your salon.
The best advice I ever got was to be independent within a salon and not get too socially involved with fellow associates. The worst advice I ever got was from a fellow worker showing me how to take shortcuts when doing a manicure. This was before artificial nails existed. She told me to cover up cuticles with creams and oils so that they would look pretty while the client was there, which would save me time doing cuticles. Unfortunately, when the client went home and washed her hands, she would wash off the cream and find the unmanicured cuticles.
Laurie Tedesco, salon owner, Les Manis Jolies, Greenwich, Conn.: My advice is that you should sit and watch established manicurists. The manufacturers of products would conduct seminars and I went to all of them. I don’t believe there is a textbook way of doing a manicure. I developed my own way. The very first woman I ever did a manicure on is still my client. I was very nervous and she was aware of it and she said, “Don’t worry. You’ll do OK,”
I’ve always given 100% to everybody and made everyone feel special. One New Year’s Eve I was getting ready to close and a client who had been getting her nails done at another salon came in saying she had to have a manicure and her regular salon had closed for the holiday. I didn’t even charge her because I had already closed out the book for the day. She followed me when I moved to another salon and has been with me ever since.