The momentum that propels the Republic of India’s nail industry forward is at once exhilarating and overdue. After decades of being overlooked under the umbrella of beauty, nail care is coming into its own in the populous South Asian country. In just the past few years, India has seen real growth in nails-only salons, nail competition launches, international nail brands entering its borders, and the expansion of the professional nail industry beyond the urban centers into smaller cities. Market research firms such as Technavio and Research Nester have identified India as an emerging nail care market in their recent global industry predictions. Though nail care is far from standing toe-to-toe with its sister industries of hairstyling and skin care, its rise has clearly begun.
“While 20 years back in the same salon, there was a hair section, a makeup section, and a nail section, today that is changing,” says Sangita Chauhan, MD, co-founder and president of trade organization All India Hair & Beauty Association (AIHBA) and CEO of Exclusive Salon & Academy. “Various cities have several nail-only salons coming up. The masses have become sensitive to grooming their nails much more than before. But still, if we compare nails with the makeup industry, it has a long way to go in India.”
Considering all services together (including hair, skin, makeup, and nails), India’s salon industry was valued at $3.5 billion in 2015 and is growing at 20% annually, according to global business consulting firm Amritt, Inc. On its website, Amritt states, “The industry is growing due to the population’s demand for high-quality salon services, increasing disposable income among the middle class, and media exposure to international brands. This results in more attention to personal maintenance. For example, many Indian women spend large sums on salon packages to attend or participate in weddings.” It also notes that international companies are increasingly taking notice of the country’s favorable demographics; it cites expansions by French company L’Oreal and the acquisition of U.K.-based grooming company Truefitt and Hill by Mumbai-based Lloyds Luxuries Ltd.
In its “Indian Beauty Salon and Spa Industry: Trends & Opportunities (2012-2017)” report, Research and Markets observes, “Beauty and spa service providers have started expanding to Tier II and Tier III cities as these markets provide similar potential as their metro counterparts.”
Despite growth, the Indian government has not stepped in to add licensing for nail techs (it does not mandate licensing for hair professionals either). However, several private organizations offer recognized certifications to aspiring nail professionals who want to increase their credibility with consumers.
AIHBA for its part collaborates with multinational organization OMC, which offers standards for beauty professionals in its more than 50 member countries — albeit with a primary focus on hair. “By being a member of OMC, AIHBA exposes its top industry professionals to OMC standards. By adopting this methodology not only are many professionals’ skills enhanced, but they in turn educate new trainees, creating a fusion of Indian techniques and international trends,” Chauhan says.
Mumbai-based school Nail Lounge Academy, where Kavita Kader is head nail technician trainer, also partners with international organizations for quality standards. “People generally tend to trust educated techs and certified salons over the ones that are not,” Kader says. Courses at Nail Lounge Academy are approved by Vocational Training Charitable Trust (VTCT), a U.K.-based vocational organization. Nail Lounge Academy graduates also get a certification from U.S.-based nail product manufacturer Nubar. “Nail Lounge Academy had to go through an extensive evaluation process to ensure that our courses are valid at a global level,” Kader says. “The advantage of having VTCT-certified courses is that the students qualifications are internationally recognized and they can explore job opportunities beyond India too.”
Most of Nail Lounge Academy’s students are new to beauty, but some have related experience and want to refocus their career on nails. Others pursue nails as a means of a side income. The school’s most popular course is the 20 Day Certified Nail Technician Course. Aspiring nail techs can gain experience in the affiliated Nail Lounge Salons, where services are performed primarily on a clientele of working women and housewives.
There aren’t enough well-trained nail techs to work in all of the salons in India, so some salon owners have resorted to opening their own educational facilities. “The only difficult thing is to find the right technician for this kind of job,” says Gunjan Bhatia Bhugra, founder, owner, and nail artist at Nails By Gunjan in Lucknow. “We, at Nails By Gunjan, also provide technical courses for interested candidates to learn and even work with us or elsewhere,” she says. “Courses vary from basic nail art to advanced level technical courses.”
Working and aspiring nail techs can expand their industry knowledge through a variety of industry publications. C&E Media publishes StyleSpeak, a trade magazine for the salon and spa industry that launched in 2002; Spa Mantra, a spinoff for the spa and wellness industry that launched in 2011; and GlamStar, a Hindi-language magazine for aspiring beauty professionals that launched in 2014. The competing.
publication Beauty & Salon Magazine, launched in 2000, is a hybrid trade and consumer magazine about the beauty industry in India. And retail intelligence organization Indiaretailing.com publishes a trade magazine for beauty professionals called Salon International.
For in-person continuing education, nail techs have growing options. Veteran beauty tradeshow organizer Professional Beauty entered India in 2012 to host events in major cities. “Each year, our shows attract hundreds of nail professionals across India who visit the expo to test products, keep updated with market trends, and sharpen their client offerings,” says Priyanka Bhanushali, editorial manager of Professional Beauty India. “Our major goal for this year is to further provide the industry with a platform to come together and network and accelerate the growth in this sector, even more so in small cities and towns where beauty and wellness professionals have little or no access to a common platform like Professional Beauty.” Professional Beauty will add two new India shows this year, in the smaller cities of Guwahati and Indore.
Recognizing the growth of nails in particular, its recent Mumbai show recorded the highest number of nail attendees to date because of the launch of national-level nail competition Nail Premier League (NPL). “In India itself, it is safe to say that the nail industry has evolved by leaps and bounds,” Bhanushali says. “At Nail Premier League, the participating nail technicians set a good example of how India is improving and building on its nail talent.”
On the show floor, the biggest nail trend is removal products. “Nail polish removal is a growing concern for salon professionals and their customers, due to increased use of long wear and gel-polishes. New removal options range from peel-off base coats to steamers, making the nail polish removal category the most innovative currently in the entire nail care market,” Bhanushali says.
Nubar had one of the largest nail booths at the 2016 shows — a testament to India’s allure for international brands. Other recent nail exhibitors included Cuccio, BlueSky, R Nail Lounge, Headstart, Streamline, Nail Pro, Nail Cats, Nail Artist Germany, and Colorista. “Realizing the immense economic advantage championed by a young Indian population that is aware, well-traveled, and more connected to the world outside than ever before, international brands are now entering India at breakneck speed,” Bhanushali says.
Smaller shows, conferences, and manufacturer classes take place as well. One noteworthy event entrant is C&E Media’s StyleSpeak Nailathon championship, a competition that started in 2014 and which includes the categories Salon Fast & Perfect, Fantasy En Vogue, and Bridal Chic.
SERVICE AND SALON PROFILE
Professional beauty and grooming services still cater primarily to India’s richest residents; however, as disposable income rises among the country’s middle class, the client base is expanding. Perhaps surprisingly, men are also slowly coming around to salon services. “Two decades back, the male population of India was only interested in getting their hair cut in a salon. However, with globalization and cultural changes, males have started going regularly to salons for grooming,” AIHBA’s Chauhan says.
Hair-focused salons and full-service salons have historically been the most prevalent in India, but individual and chain nails-only salons have gained ground in the past three to five years. Bhugra has witnessed the scene change before her eyes; she opened Nails By Gunjan in the heart of the northern city of Lucknow in 2011, when nails-only salons were virtually unheard of. “There are other salons that have started to do nails lately; however, we offer plenty of services that other salons here are unable to deliver,” Bhugra says. She uses quality, eye-catching nail art, and a large service menu to attract and retain clients. “We provide every nail service, from mini manicures, pedicures, and nail art to overlays and extensions,” Bhugra says, noting that the most popular service is nail extensions with nail art. Extensions with nail art typically range in price from INR3,500 to 4,000 (US$53 to US$61), depending on the design.
Nail extensions are also the most popular service at Claw, a chain of nails-only salons with three locations in Delhi and one in Meerut. Claw, managed by CEO Reena Batra, uses OPI nail products exclusively. Batra describes the clientele as “a mix of working and non-working women, but all our clients have their own sense of style and distinct modern fashion.” Extensions start at INR999 (US$15).
Nail styles vary somewhat depending on the region, says Professional Beauty India’s Bhanushali. “In northern India, contemporary designs and bright colors are in demand. Swarovski crystal nails and 3-D nail art are favorites for brides-to-be, especially in Delhi and Kolkata. Minimalistic designs like the classic French manicure, negative space nail art, and muted colors are popular for clients in metropolitan cities. Also in metropolitan cities, men are breaking gender stereotypes and it is not uncommon for a man to sport a well-groomed manicure.”
When it comes to color, “red is making a comeback, but in more deep, burgundy tones,” Bhanushali says. “Soft colors, nude, and organic hues were on display for a majority of nail brands at recent Professional Beauty India shows.” For special events, women prefer metallic and chrome nails, note salon owners Bhugra and Batra. Bhugra says, “They are totally attention grabbers. Women like to reserve them for their special occasions or parties.”
Bhugra adds, “Long nails is what we serve our clients with, and they definitely like to keep them long. As for the nail shapes, almond or oval nails are getting popular again after so many years of square or box-shaped nails. There’s a lot of demand for coffin or ballerina-shaped nails as they look a little different from square nails.”
Nail art, especially for weddings, is an in-demand service. “We do a lot of interesting and creative designs including 2-D and 3-D patterns using Swarovski crystals, rhinestones, acrylic powder, 3-D gels, and other enhancements like water decals, stickers, and glitters,” Bhugra says.
India is a diverse country with people of myriad languages, cultures, and ethnicities residing next to each other. The proliferation of professional nail care from cities big to small, north to south and east to west, is indicative of the mass appeal of nails as an important part of a cosmopolitan lifestyle. Chauhan says, “Our culture is rich with various ethnicities, artistries, and mythologies. In every 100 km you travel (in any direction), the language and food changes in India. Hence, our professionals bring design ideas from all across the country’s rich heritage.”
For savvy entrepreneurs who join the rise of India’s nail market, there is time to carve out a unique niche. Bhanushali says, “India is still a young and budding market for the nail industry, which gives brands and leading educators a massive opportunity to shape future trends.”