With the sudden rise of brush-on gel-polish bringing many new customers into salons, it seems nail techs are seeing fewer tried-and-true acrylic customers. With new products on the market, traditional acrylic users now have more options to choose from, but there is still a seat at the manicure table for them.
In 2004, acrylic services made up 37.9% of total services offered, and now in 2012, they have dropped down to 17.9%. But acrylics are still an in-demand service among many clients, and a sizeable portion of techs continue to base their livlihoods around the service. The rapid and recent rise in the quality of gels, which back in 2004 were still being classified as "other services," have made a sizeable grab for market share and now make up 25.9% of all services. But these new gel clients might not in fact be taking customers away from acrylic, and may represent a new growth in overall salon patronage.
In 2007, right before the start of our most recent recession, 14% of nail techs reported discontinuing a service. The most discontinued service was acrylics. And as the recession deepened in 2009, acrylics lost the #1 spot to high-end manis and pedis.
Today, as the economy slowly regains a footing, acrylics comprise 17.9% of all services in salons. But where is this number headed? We talked to nail techs and manufacturers to see what they think about the future of one of our industry’s founding products.
Alternative #1: Gel-Polish
Gel-polish has made quite a splash in the nail industry. Within the past two years the products, spearheaded by CND’s Shellac and Hand & Nail Harmony’s Gelish, have embarked on fruitful marketing campaigns that brought a windfall of national attention to nail salons. News media across the country and beauty publications alike espoused on the state-of-the-art gel technology and how it creates a near-miraculous manicure product.
And as the clients pour in to try out what they’ve heard so much about (and indeed they have been with the latest data indicating gel-polish as the largest growing service in the nail industry, up by 61% this year), many nail techs have begun to see a dip in their acrylic business.
“In the two years that I’ve been using gel-polish, I’ve seen many of my former acrylic clients switch over,” says Janice Caird Reams, owner of Nails, Please! By Janice Reams in Houston.
“I didn’t push it on my clients,” she adds, “but I think in the future there may be a gradual slide to services that have less commitment, like gel-polish and natural manicures. In this economy it allows them to stretch out the appointment times if needed.”
Marc Foley, an acrylic specialist out of Wausau, Wis., has also seen his business affected by the arrival of gel-polish. “When they first came out I had acrylic customers leave because they wanted to try them after hearing everyone raving about how wonderful they were,” he says.
Foley quickly made up for it by educating himself on the new products and then offering them as well. But he’s pessimistic about the future of acrylics. “I still feel that my acrylic clients will shrink some,” he says. “UV gel is becoming the new standard for the industry.”
The predicament of acrylics has not gone unnoticed by manufacturers. “Acrylic sales have been trending down over the past five years,” says OPI’s executive VP and artistic director Suzi Weiss-Fischmann. “OPI has continued to make acrylics available,” she says. “But we’ve consolidated sizing by keeping only the most popular sizes.”
However, Weiss-Fischmann feels acrylics will always have a place in salons, because of their unique performance and long-held tradition. “There will always be consumers who love the wear and feel, so therefore the service will always be offered, but acrylics must find a new position in the salons.”
CND’s marketing manager for enhancements, Marilyn Bockstahler, echoes this sentiment in regard to acrylics and gels, saying, “CND has maintained its focus on both acrylic and gel products and services because we know not every woman was born with perfect nails that can be satisfied with a color coat. Most women need a little help to get the length and shape they desire and that’s what enhancements do. They provide the strength and durability nails need to grow out and cover up imperfections like ridges, splits, peeling, etc.”
Alternative #2: Hard Gel
If there is a product that directly poses a threat to liquid-and-powder through performance, it is the hard gels that have sprung up within the past 10 years, along with traditional soak-off gels that require longer soak-off times than the recent gel-polish.
You can achieve the same sculpted look with gels that used to only be possible with acrylic. That includes glossy pink-and-whites along with glitter fades and 3-D nail art. These products are often marketed as “healthier alternatives” to acrylics and have claimed a sizeable share of the market. But a key difference is in their application methods and the comfort level techs have handling the product.
“I like the challenge and application of acrylics better then gel,” says Cindy Bosque Watson of Portland, Ore. “With gel there’s too much ‘dancing’ of the product, and I’m a little impatient with that.”
Acrylics are often more cost effective for nail techs because they are available in larger sizes compared to traditional gels.
Lisa Anderson of Avanti Salon in Sparks, Nev., also prefers the play of acrylic over gels, “Gels and gel-polish are getting a lot of press lately, but honestly I don’t think they are any better than acrylics,” she says. “I have not seen a decrease in acrylic services. I still get calls to the salon all the time for acrylics.”
Next page: The acrylic faithful