From Innovator to Inventor

Wisconsin-based nail tech Amy Becker built her gel line, Masterworks by Amy Becker, on a competitive spirit, hard work, and a commitment to succeed. 

Starting my own product line was something I said I’d never do. The problem was, I needed to keep growing.

I’ve been doing nails for 23 years. When I first started, I specialized in tip-and-wrap overlays. Then I moved on to acrylics. I started competing and a whole new world opened up. It was a great experience for me because I was able to see the best nail talent in the world and while at the shows, I also got to see what else was going on in the nail industry.

Competing has always inspired me to do more. It gave me the desire to look at my work from a new angle. While competing, we are always looking for better and faster ways to design nails. About 13 years ago, I was at the top of the field competing with acrylic. I had been doing acrylic pink-and-whites for 10 years. At the shows I loved to look for new products.

Practicing My Craft For years I would try the newest gels on the market, but none of them looked better or lasted longer than my acrylics. Then one afternoon I was at a demo class and tried yet another gel product. After extensively testing it and having tried it on one of my problem clients, I found that it was stronger than any acrylic I had tried. It didn’t yellow, it was odorless, and it had a shine that was difficult to get by buffing. (This was long before gel sealants were used over acrylic.) The problem I had with it was that I couldn’t find anyone who could show me how to make it look like my acrylic pink-and-whites.

I really believed there was a way though and made it my goal to figure it out. Through trial and error, I figured out a few techniques that worked very well. In the beginning, my services took an extra 15 minutes. It wasn’t long before I got my gel application time down to the same as my acrylic services. That’s when I switched my entire clientele over to gels.

They were extremely reluctant at first. They loved their nails and didn’t want to change. But I truly believed the gels would work better so I stuck to my guns, and today not one of them would ever switch back.

The next step was to put my gel nails in the competition arena against an acrylic field. Although I placed third my first time, in three years I refined my gel techniques enough to win first.

Sharing My Vision I had a vision, and I could see the direction the nail industry was about to take. But it wouldn’t change until the right techniques and products were available. I shared my techniques at private classes, in the competition arena, and with anyone who was interested. The techniques caught on so well that a couple of manufacturers started to adopt some of them.

At the time I was sponsored by a few gel companies and I wanted to work long term with them, but one thing or another happened and it just didn’t come to fruition.

Then one day, I saw that a company had trademarked a technique that I had spent seven years to perfect. I’ve always been a person who needs to keep moving to the next level. And I realized then that if I didn’t go to the next level, I would watch other companies profit from my work without pay.

So there I was in uncharted territory. For years I had been using at least three different product lines to make one nail. This became another deciding factor for me to start my own line. I didn’t want my own product line for the sake of having my own business. I saw the need for a gel line with all the right components. I had been devoting all my time at work and in the competition arena toward gel, so my own brand was the next logical step.

I started by contacting some of the nail chemical manufacturers.  They sent me samples, and I let them know what changes I needed.

I knew I would need packaging and other implements to complete the line. The web was a terrific resource for packaging. I also had a customer who manufactured skin care products, so I worked with her to develop those components. I found a company within an hour from me that was able to manufacture our forms. I kept as much manufacturing in Wisconsin as I could. The rest of our products are made in the United States intentionally.

Branding Myself

My next hurdle was marketing. The nearly 20 years I had been competing was to personally bring my skills to another level, but there was another benefit. I was able to reach a lot of people and found that I had also built a name for myself. I thought this would be to my advantage. The one thing I didn’t realize was that I needed to connect my business name to my name. I have been a salon owner for 18 years, and the salon name is Masterworks. I had forgotten that although Masterworks had a great reputation in my area, people outside of Wisconsin didn’t know it. When I first launched the product line, it was called Masterworks Innovations in Nails.

I can’t tell you how many classes I taught where someone would say to me, “I didn’t know this was your product,” which is not what I wanted to hear. So in October of 2010 we changed the name to Masterworks by Amy Becker. I really don’t like using my name in the third person, but it was a necessary move. I also jumped back in the competition circuit to keep our name out there.

It has been a lot of sacrifice and hard work. I travel several times a month, which takes me away from my husband and two children. I’ve had to learn about shipping, trade shows, developing education, web design, advertising, photography, developing new products and tools, branding a name, making labels, working with distributors, and so on. The key, however, is having the right people by my side to move everything forward. I’m good at what I’m good at and need the right people to do what they’re good at.

There’s one thing I still do that makes my company different from other nail manufacturers — I still have clients two days a week. This not only allows me to see firsthand how the product is working, but I also see clearly how new techniques and products will work for other licensed nail stylists. After I’ve extensively tested out a new technique or product, I have a close network of nail stylists at different levels of experience who do the same and give me valuable feedback. This is a gel product that is made by nail stylists, for nail stylists, and that’s the way I’ll always keep it. We still have a long way to go, but I know what’s coming.   

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