In Germany, gel nails dominate. The UV-cured products are popular in a dizzying array of options. Women wear peel-off gels, color-changing mood gels, gels that don’t need top coat, and gel-polishes in every color imaginable.
The success of gel nails in the central-western European country can be attributed in large part to their early introduction. In the 1980s when U.S. consumers were getting acquainted with modern liquid-and-powder acrylic nail enhancements, German consumers were first introduced to UV-cured gel nails. The nail industry trajectories only diverged from there.
Perhaps no professional nail brand feels the market difference more keenly than Alessandro International, a preeminent Germany-based nail brand whose product Striplac, a UV-cured peel-off gel-polish, is worn by millions of consumers all over the world. But despite its success in many countries, Alessandro recently pulled out of the U.S. market. “The U.S. nail market was traditionally a huge acrylic market applying air-drying soak-off systems, whereas we in Germany and Europe predominately focus on sculpting gels, which are basically solvent-resistant UV/LED gels (hard gels),” says Udo Springer, CEO of Alessandro International, though he does note that gels are now gaining ground in the United States.
He says the size difference of the markets, differences in nail tech buying patterns (U.S. techs buy from professional beauty supply stores, in Springer’s observation, versus European techs who buy directly from the manufacturer and from dedicated websites), and differences in the availability of professional nail services (nail services are available at many U.S. full-service salons, in contrast to fingernail-related services being almost the exclusive purview of nails-only salons in Germany) also contributed to Alessandro’s decision to withdraw from the United States.
Though smaller than the U.S. market, the German nail industry is well-positioned for growth. According to a 2016-2017 telephone survey of 3,000 consumers by trade show organizer Messe Düsseldorf and market research firm KantarEMNID, 51% of Germans use professional cosmetic services and 25% use these services at least once a month. The most popular services are pedicure/podiatry (11%), body treatments/massage (9%), facial skin care treatments (7%), manicure/hand care (6%), and nail design (3%). “This study shows that professional service cosmetics are the trend, are used by consumers, and are well positioned for the future,” says Helmut Winkler, director of tradeshow Beauty Düsseldorf. Winkler adds, “Medical beauty is gaining in importance. The growing consumer interest in modern anti-aging procedures also benefits professional cosmetics.”
It’s important to note that professionals who work on nails in Germany fall into several specialized categories. There are “nail designers,” the closest counterpart to nail techs in the United States. They specialize in beautification of the hands and nails but do not necessarily service clients’ feet; that is, they do manicures but most do not perform pedicures. Then there are pedicurists, who specialize in beautification of the feet and toenails. These cosmetic foot workers are further differentiated from podiatrists. Podiatrists are health professionals who focus on therapeutic healing of the foot, according to the German Association for Podology. Because hand and foot care are largely separated, there are salons (and even entire magazines and industry events) that cater specifically to hand care versus foot care.
Germany’s professional beauty industry generates annual revenue of about €2.5 billion (US$2.8 billion), according to the Messe Düsseldorf-KantarEMNID survey. That includes approximately 51,000 cosmetic institutes/nail salons; 12,000 pedicure practices; 3,000 podiatrists; 1,200 hotels with significant spa and wellness facilities; as well as 2,500 cosmetic booths in perfumeries.
Nail designers are most typically women aged 30 to 45 who appreciate the creativity, flexibility, and easy entry into the field, says Dirk Täuber, senior editor of German trade magazine Beauty Forum Nailpro. “They either started their careers as beauticians or hairstylists [cosmetologists] and specialized in nails — or they became nail designers right away because of the artistry, the job flexibility (many have children; many have also quit quite different jobs and became nail designers after having children), and, in comparison, the quite low investment necessary to start their own business and become self-employed.”
Though cosmetologists must attend state-approved licensed schools in which nail care (hand and feet) is part of the curriculum, professionals who wish to do nails only are not regulated by the German government. “That means anybody can become a nail designer without the official need to get a special license or certification,” Täuber says. “In effect, all you have to do is register a trade, pay your taxes, and obey some general regulations applicable to small businesses in the beauty trade (e.g., hygiene). Simple foot care/pedicures is regarded as a free trade, just like manicuring the hands, so anybody can offer it. However, medical foot care or podiatry is a recognized and regulated profession which you can only learn in certain state-approved schools.”
So, for training, aspiring nail techs typically turn to nail manufacturers or to established nail techs. Several manufacturers offer training and certifications for all career phases.
Alessandro’s Springer says, “Our comprehensive package includes professional studio design, training courses, and advertising material, which are key factors to the nail studios’ success. We are very proud to have 14 academies spread throughout the European market. An international team of trainers provides comprehensive education on manicure, pedicure, and nail sculpting. The extensive training courses range from delivering the basics of nail design to a champion’s workshop for top professionals.”
Germany-based brand Catherine Nail Collection also offers early career training and other career services. “It all started in a small single room. Now we have a college with options to stay overnight and an extensive training program,” says Catherine Frimmel, managing partner and daughter of founder Ingeborg Frimmel. And on Germany-based brand LCN’s website, it lists five “LCN BeautySchool” locations in which training is offered to help launch careers as well as teach practicing nail techs new services.
Known for its fashion industry, the western German city of Düsseldorf is also known for an enormous annual tradeshow called Beauty Düsseldorf. Beauty Düsseldorf is typically co-located with Top Hair International Trend & Fashion Days, as well as a makeup artist design show, and together these three shows convene 2,000 beauty exhibitors in seven halls, including separate hand- and foot-focused halls. “In the past five years, we increased the number of total visitors from 50,000 to 55,000 — the number of international participants has increased as well,” says Michael Degen, executive director of Messe Düsseldorf GmbH. The show also includes national and international nail competitions.
In the 2017 hand and nail hall, “everything revolved around ‘perfect nails’ with the following themes: efficiency in your everyday salon routine, natural nails (characteristics and adhesion problems, Japanese manicures, secrets of Shellac, the right product for every nail, a practice check), and correct price calculations,” Degen says. Meanwhile, in the feet hall, he says attendees could learn about “the manufacturing of prosthetic nails, treatment of mycosis, foot revitalization by acupressure, various bracing technology options, holistic nail fungus treatment, and innovative products. This year’s Hygiene Special Show focusing on instrument preparation provides information on the complex issues associated with sanitation.”
Smaller shows take place too, such as Beauty Forum Munich, which is hosted by the parent company of magazine Beauty Forum Nailpro.
Alessandro debuted a new product at the 2017 shows: FX-One, a gel that combines color and top coat into one application. At Catherine Nail Collection, popular products continue to be its UV gel-polishes, elastic power gels, and Nail Keratin Complex ampules for brittle nails. On the foot side, Germany-based brand Gehwol (also available in the United States) focuses on therapeutic treatments that pamper, treat, and protect feet.
SERVICE AND SALON PROFILE
The average price of a manicure in Germany is €33 (US$34), and the average price of a pedicure is €27 (US$30), according to the Messe Düsseldorf-KantarEMNID survey. But the average belies three distinct tiers: exclusive high-end nail salons, middle-priced nail salons, and discount nail salons. Täuber explains, “There is fierce competition in the market; therefore, you can get low-level manicures/pedicures starting at discount prices of €15 [US$17]. Also, nail enhancements are often sold as cheaply as €20 to €25 [US$22-$28]. On the other hand, upper- or high-level services can be found in a price range from €50 to €100 [US$56-$111], sometimes even more.” Though most nail salons focus solely on hand care, the high-end salons tend to offer a wider range of services.
Here again nail manufacturers have influence in the salon scene. Some manufacturers will lend their names and brand power to nail salons that exclusively use their products and meet other criteria.
“To became a Catherine Nail Collection studio, nail designers must identify themselves with Catherine Nail Collection’s company philosophy, preferably work with the Catherine product line, attend continuing education, adhere to stringent hygiene principles, and conduct themselves professionally — then we offer them the opportunity to advertise themselves and their studios with the Catherine name,” Frimmel says of the about 545 Catherine professional studios that are open today. In addition, each year the manufacturer awards its best studios with “elite” status. There are currently 38 Catherine elite nail studios.
Alessandro has a similar program. Springer emphasizes that Alessandro does not own or run the Alessandro-branded nail studios throughout Germany, but rather certifies nail salons that “fulfill our comprehensive standards in terms of quality, look and feel, and reputation,” he says.
So beyond a propensity for gel and gel-polish, what else do German women prefer in their nail styles?
“The German women follow a more understated and natural expression of beauty” than their U.S. counterparts, says Alessandro’s Springer. As such, red fingernails are a mainstay. “We offer more than 25 red shades, which are continuously updated following the overall fashion and beauty trends,” he says. “The red shades are followed in popularity by the nudes, for a more subtle and natural look.”
Frimmel agrees. “Red, red, and again red” is the most popular color in Germany, she says. “Whether it’s Catherine Red — the official red color for our brand — the dark Rougenoir, or our Summer Red, red is very popular among our professional customers and clients in the studio.”
At Nagelatelier Exquisit in resort town Bad Kissingen, young clients are a little more adventurous with their color choice. “The most popular nail service at the moment with young people is a thermal color gel coat,” says owner Peggy Jakob-Kissner. These heat-induced color-changing gels, also known as “mood gels,” shift color based on the ambient temperature. Younger clients also frequently opt for nail art on one to two nails and some opt for eye-catching shapes such as coffin nails. Older clients typically prefer the classic oval shape with a solid-colored gel and sometimes nail art on a single finger. Jakob-Kissner, who has run Nagelatelier Exquisit since 2011, calculates pricing based on how much time the nails take to complete.
For U.S.-based techs with a sizable travel budget, attending Beauty Düsseldorf can be quite an experience — simply because U.S. beauty shows do not compare in size to the enormity of this annual event. But for the majority of techs for whom such a trip is unlikely, studying the gel work of German-based nail techs through social media and other online forums can provide inspiration and advice for techniques for working with this versatile medium.