European Nail Vacation

After several years of urging from Swiss-born, California-based nail tech Elsbeth Schuetz, Editor Hannah Lee hopped on a plane and headed first to Zurich, Switzerland, and then to Dusseldorf, Germany, to attend two European beauty shows.

Next Stop: Germany

After the show in Zurich and a few days visiting salons and nail companies in the western part of Switzerland near Elsbeth’s hometown of Thun, we hopped on a train and headed to Germany. Beauty International Dusseldorf is a much larger show than Beauty Forum Swiss. Even though I’d heard how large it was, I still don’t think I was prepared for the sheer size of the show floor. Held March 9-11, more than 50,000 attendees converged on Messe Dusseldorf to take in the show.

Taking up five different halls, the show specializes in four main areas: cosmetics, nails, feet, and wellness. Yes, nails and feet are two separate categories in Dusseldorf. The nail care section alone stretched across two pavilions and the booths were massive. There was continuous education with classes throughout the entire show on a main nail stage, and competitions were held for both the German National and the International Nail Championships in acrylics and gels.

There was a mix of nail companies that I recognized and ones that I didn’t. Many American-based companies have distributors in Europe and were represented at the show by these distributors. Brands including CND, Essie, Jessica, SpaRitual, Orly, Entity, and Dashing Diva had prominent placement through their German distributors. Some American companies, like Kupa and Odyssey Nail Systems, were there with familiar faces from the States. And then there were the multitudes of large (and smaller-scale) nail companies based in Germany and other European countries. Some of the biggest booths were from German-based manufacturers like Alessandro, LCN, Abalico, Nail Selection, and Catherine Nail Collection, to name a few. In addition to having products for sale and nail artist demonstrations, booths had VIP lounge areas, food and beverage stations, reception desks, and interactive stations for trying out products.

Like their neighbors to the south, German nail techs aren’t licensed, but they are eager for more education. Manufacturers and distributors offer training (in the form of classes, single-day seminars, and more intensive multi-day training programs), and most require nail techs to take one form of training from them before they can purchase products. Some companies even make techs show their certification before entering the larger booths.

As expected, gels are the mainstream enhancement product in Germany, having largely originated there. And I saw plenty of companies demonstrating their new gel-polish lines (much like in the U.S.). Prices at German salons are more in line with U.S. mid-level nail salons: $26 (EUR) for a manicure, $40 (EUR) for a gel-polish service, and $60 (EUR) for a full set of gel nails. Walter Weskamp, owner of Society Beauty & Nails, the exclusive German distributor for Entity, told me, “Gel-polish is definitely a growing market here in Germany. But nail techs are still afraid they will lose money because it’s a cheaper service than acrylics and gels.”

A lot of big manufacturers actually have salons where the franchise owners and techs are all trained and educated by the particular company. Alessandro has a number of franchised Alessandro Nail Lounges throughout Germany, and Catherine Nail Collection has almost 50 Elite Studio locations. These corporate franchise salons are a big difference from the  U.S. salon industry. The salons are branded, using the company’s line exclusively, and many of the owners are also educators and trainers for the company.  

Another big difference in the salon arena is the separate career track of podologists and pedicure professionals. Many nail techs don’t do pedicures in their salons. They don’t even learn to do them in classes. They leave that to podology or pedicure professionals, and many of these are more clinical-feeling in nature. (To understand just how big and separate the two fields are: There were 170 nail companies at the Dusseldorf show and 115 separate foot care companies. I even saw a magazine called Der Fuss that was just for feet.) The emphasis is on medical or health-related issues more than foot beauty.

In addition to gel-polish and new technologies in foot care, another emerging trend for nail techs and salon professionals is lash extensions and permanent makeup. And while nail art and extreme looks are popular at the trade show among industry insiders, more subtle French and straight UV color are usually the choice of German clients.

Click here to view Nail Snapshots from Germany.

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