Ever dream of leaving the four walls of your salon behind to forge your own path? Mobile businesses and home-based salons offer alternative career opportunities — and challenges.
HAVE POLISH, WILL TRAVEL
Participating in invitation-only and high-profile events is certainly an exciting perk of being a mobile technician. Other on-location opportunities can touch a different set of emotions. “I’ve walked into a client’s home to give a mani/pedi, and I’ve had women start crying because they are so touched a friend scheduled such a thoughtful gift,” says Cinnamon Bowser, owner of Nail Taxi, a mobile nail business which began in the greater Washington, D.C. area and has grown into multiple cities in the U.S., plus Canada and the Bahamas.
Lori Tomancik’s home-based salon has outgrown its space, taking up the whole of the downstairs living area.
Whether it’s sharing quiet moments alone with house-bound clients or celebrating a girls’ night out with an in-home spa party, the opportunities of being a mobile tech can tempt techs to throw off the constraints of the four walls and hit the open road. But don’t be fooled. A mobile tech faces challenges her salon sisters never consider. “For one thing, you don’t know what you’re going to hit when you get out on the road,” says Bowser. “I live and work in the D.C. area, and you never know what to expect when you get on the beltway. It might be a traffic jam, or it could be road construction. Either way, traffic can be a huge issue in metro areas.”
Along with roadblocks en route, mobile techs need to deal with uncertainties once they arrive at their destination. “You never really know what you’re walking into,” explains Bowser. “It could be too hot or cold. You may be walking into the home of a hoarder or you may be walking into a place with multiple animals.” Often, the environment isn’t the only surprise that greets a mobile tech. “Clients sometimes change their mind about what they want from you when you get there,” says Misha Parham, owner of Sassy’s Nail Salon and Spa in Washington, D.C. “They’ll want a service that hasn’t been paid for, and we may not have the equipment to do that service.” A successful mobile tech needs to be a fast-thinking, even-tempered problem-solver.
They also need to be relatively fit. “Because we don’t know what we’re walking into, we take our own tables, chairs and lamps, along with all the service supplies,” says Bowser. Nail Taxi has created a system where the tech is able to transport all her supplies from the car to the front door in one trip, but it requires strapping gear onto and across the body, plus wheeling a supply cart behind her. “Getting to the front door isn’t so bad,” says Bowser. “Unloading and setting everything up to create a nice atmosphere is what takes time.”
Because of the amount of work required, both in terms of time and labor, mobile techs’ appointments are limited. Nail Taxi books two hours for individual appointments and two to four hours for parties. Techs need to schedule travel time, plus set up and break down time, on top of the on-location hours. Bowser says while there are times a tech is scheduled for two parties in the same day, most often they are limited to one event. Of course, multiple manis or pedis are given during those appointments; nonetheless, the nature of the business limits the number of hours available to work. “It’s not just the hours that limit you, either,” says Bowser. “It can be exhausting to work as a mobile tech. You are creating the atmosphere, so you have to stay focused on the customers, the conversation and the flow of the appointments.” It’s not like in a salon where clients can focus on their phone, another customer, or even a magazine.
Leopard-print bags are a signature mark of Sassy’s mobile nail techs. The bags provide an organized way to carry supplies, and the pattern hints of the party that’s about to begin.
Despite the drawbacks mobile techs face, the job can be incredibly rewarding. Not only do you have the opportunity to celebrate landmarks in people’s lives during events such as bridal or baby showers, you also have a chance to provide a reprieve for women who are in a difficult season of life. “We’ve been able to help women who have high-risk pregnancies, who are home recovering from surgery, or who are house-bound because of an illness,” says Bowser. Nail techs know clients get more than beautiful nails from a manicure and pedicure. The touch of a caring hand, and the kindness, attentiveness, and personal connection are all part of the experience that makes a nail appointment so important. Being able to offer that in a person’s home, either alone or among friends, is a rewarding part of the job that would be difficult, if not impossible, to duplicate in the salon. “Being a mobile tech is a very satisfying job,” says Bowser.