Making yourself available for walk-in clients is just one more way to stay competitive. To find out just how walk-in friendly our own neighborhood salons were, NAILS dropped in on a few without an appointment.
If you are one of those lucky nail technicians or salon owners who is booked solid with standing appointments, congratulations. For the rest of you, whether you just graduated from cosmetology school and have no clients, or you have that one slow Wednesday afternoon every week, walk-in clients are an important part of your day. The biggest problem, of course, is that you never know when a walk-in client will show up.
We decided to visit some salons in our area in Southern California and ask for a walk-in appointment to see just how welcome an unscheduled client was made to feel, and how often her request was granted. I was the "secret shopper" and the assignment couldn't have come at a better time. My sculptured acrylics hadn't been filled in three weeks, so I had a lot of lifting and several bad breaks.
My overall findings were that nearly every salon, whether it said "Walk-Ins Welcome" or not, was extremely courteous and prompt. Some of the technicians or owners encouraged me to come back if they were unable to fit me in that very minute. 1 was never asked to wait any longer than five minutes. And none of the salons that had a sign saying "Walk-Ins Welcome" sent me away. On the down side, I think that in several of the salons I could have been accommodated if the technician had taken the time to look at my nails and calculate how much time the service would take instead of assuming I needed a full set or a backfill. It also appeared that in most of the salons I visited, walk-in clients are simply given to whatever nail technician isn't busy at the time. While this method seemed to work fine, other salons might benefit from having a newer technician be the designated walk-in service provider. That way, she could build up her clientele and more walk-in clients might leave satisfied.
Walk-In #1. I walked into Nails Etc., a nice nails-only salon in Torrance. The owner, who was doing someone's nails at that moment, immediately asked how she could help me. I requested a nail repair service for three nails. She looked through the appointment book, then turned and asked one of the five technicians working if she could fit me in. One of them, Yvette, had had a pedicure appointment that had canceled, but the shop forgot to tell her. "I didn't want to drive all the way home again, so I just decided to wait until my next appointment," she explained to me, as she set to work repairing my nails (she talked me into repairing a fourth one that was ready to lift). My repair service lasted about 35 minutes. I was charged $8. Although her next client was wailing, my technician did not make me feel rushed and even gave all of my nails a final top coat.
Walk-In #2. I decided to press on and get a fill on the remaining six nails. The next salon, Hot Hair Nail & Body Works in Torrance, was empty except for the hairstylist/owner and her client. When asked about nail services, she apologized and said her only nail technician was on vacation. However, she came to the counter and gave me her card and asked if 1 could wait until Friday (three days away). She also asked for my name and telephone number.
Walk-In #3. Today I had no luck getting a walk-in appointment at all. The first salon I visited, Fitzpatrick's Hair Station in Torrance, had had a display ad in the Yellow Pages that said "Full Nail Service — Walk-Ins Welcome." When 1 got there, the hairstylist told me they used to have nail services, but didn't offer them anymore.
Walk-In #4. The next two places were both in an upscale business mini-complex in Manhattan Beach. The sign on Lisa's Secret salon said "Back at 1:30 p.m." and even though it was just 1:15 I walked in. The only technician there asked me from the back of the room if she could help me. When I asked for a fill on six nails, she said no, she had a client coming in any minute, but did 1 want to make an appointment? She didn't look at my nails or ask me if I could wait or do some shopping for a half-hour. I told her I'd take her card; she pointed to a cardholder on the counter in front of me. I took one, and left.
Walk-In #5. Stephenie, the owner of Stephenie's Hair & Nails, was busy working on a client and regretfully told me no, she couldn't fit me in. Her shop had just one or two nail technicians and I didn't see anyone else around. She offered me a card from her station. I got the feeling that the salon had very few, if any, walk-in clients.
Walk-In #6. Nails Fashion in Lomita was a large salon with about eight workstations (although only three technicians were working when I walked in on a Thursday afternoon). A nail technician immediately asked if she could help me. When I asked for a fill, she called in Vietnamese to a nail technician behind a screen. Whatever the answer was it meant that the other nail technician wasn't available so she moved to another station and beckoned me to join her. 1 asked her if she got many walk-in clients and she said yes. A few minutes later, a woman walked in and asked for someone to remove her acrylic nails. The nail technician from behind the screen emerged (she had been eating lunch) and began working on her. My service took about 30 minutes and I was charged $8. At the end I was asked to "please come again for a fill."
Walk-In #7. My nails looked good, but they were polished an ugly green (a home job). I set out to get a polish change. My first stop was Creative Cuts International, a full-service salon in a busy strip mall in Torrance. The receptionist asked me what I needed, and she looked at the book. Only one technician was working, she said, and her next client was coming in any minute. Could I come back in two hours? As I drove around looking for another salon, it occurred to me that a polish change takes about 10 minutes. If the receptionist had asked the technician, she probably could have fit me in with little trouble.
Walk-In #8.1 found another salon nearby called Starlight Nails with "Walk-Ins Welcome" painted on the window. There were about eight workstations with only two technicians working. One of them asked what wanted and told me to go pick out a polish color and follow her. I did, and the $3 polish change was done in 15 minutes (including drying time).
Walk-In #9. My last day as a secret shopper was for another polish change, and I was able to get into the first salon I chose. Once again the salon (in San Pedro) had a "Walk-Ins Welcome" sign on the window and the salon was as good as its word. I chose a nail color and then waited on a couch in the lobby less than five minutes until one of the technicians finished with a client. Then she came and escorted me to her workstation. Again, the $4 service took 15 minutes including a five-minute dry under a UV light.
7 Ways to Make Walk-Ins Come Back
Treat each walk-in as if she is a future regular client, and chances are she will become one. Here are some simple ways to make it happen:
1. Acknowledge a walk-in quickly Even if you are busy with a client, look up as she enters the salon and say "Hello, welcome to The Nail Palace, I'll be with you in just a moment."
2. Look at the person's hands and ask her what type of service she'd like. If you can't fit her in that minute, give her an estimate of how long the wait will be "Gina is finishing up with her client; she can take you in 15 minutes. Can I get you a cup of coffee while you wait?"
3. While the client is at your workstation, treat her with great care and friendliness. Tell her what products you are using and why and give her suggestions for good at-home maintenance, if there is time, give her a deluxe arm massage or an aromatherapy soak
4. If you're pressed for time, offer to do a partial service. Perhaps you can repair and prep the nails, then set her up at a table to reapply polish. Many times walk-ins are so grateful to get their nails done, they're willing to add the extra touches themselves.
5. One of the salons I visited had only one technician out of four who did acrylic nails, Keep yourself trained on as many kinds of services as possible so you can accommodate all types of walk-in clients.
6. Consider working "on call" or arranging for some of your nail technicians to work on call. Keep a list of technicians' names, the hours they are on call, and how long it takes them to reach the salon. (Beepers work best in this setup.) When a walk-in client comes in, she may be willing to wait the 20 minutes or so that it takes the on-call nail technician to arrive.
7. Send a follow-up thank-you card to walk-in clients. They will be impressed by the attention, and if they misplaced or threw away your business card, they now have a new one.