Buoyed by the success of those who entered the nail industry before them, job-seekers in the Southeast Asian country of Vietnam are increasingly choosing nail tech as their career. And why not? After all, the reasons their parents’ generation entered the field — a professional career that offers financial stability, a low barrier to entry, and a skillset that is transferable to countries even where the tech is not fluent in the native language — are still valid today.
But there is a significant difference for Vietnamese nail techs of today versus generations prior: Economic growth has created a flourishing beauty salon industry within Vietnam’s own borders, so leaving the country is not a prerequisite for success. Though many new nail techs do hope to emigrate to other countries (such as the United States or United Kingdom), a large number also work at salons in Vietnam, either temporarily while waiting for approval to relocate or indefinitely while building their lives.
Chloe Anh Tran, managing editor of VietSALON magazine (a sister publication to NAILS), explains the evolution of the nail scene in Vietnam. For a while, she says, “there were more nail tech graduates than nail salons in Vietnam. So then people started opening more salons in Vietnam … and now the nail market in Vietnam is booming as much as the Vietnamese-American nail salon market in the United States.” Tran herself worked at Vietnam’s Qi Spa in Vinpearl Resort prior to moving to the United States, where she currently holds California nail and esthetician licenses.
And the populous country (ranked #14 in population by worldometers.info) certainly has the client base for successful beauty salons. According to a survey conducted in April 2015 by Vietnam-based market research firm Q&Me, 73% of the country’s adult female population go to hair salons, 41% go to local spas, and 32% go to nail salons. Those with higher annual incomes are more likely to go to nail salons: 64% of people who make more than 15 million VND (US$673) go versus 28% of those who make less than 15 million VND. The survey respondents cited price as their most important consideration when selecting a salon (72% said price was most important), which ranked higher than staff attitude (63%) and friend’s recommendation (52%), which came in second and third, respectively. The Q&Me survey estimated that average spending on beauty services is 931,000 VND (US$42), which includes hair, skin, eyebrows, nails, and other professional beauty services.
Education for nail techs in Vietnam is inconsistent. “You don’t have to have licenses from cities/provinces or from a school. The spa or nail salon will train you in-house in their own style. So you can get educated at school, by a friend, or really anywhere,” Tran says. “If you are good at nail art and cutting cuticles [a popular service in Vietnam], the salon owner will offer you a job.”
There are, however, some nail academies that do offer certificates of completion and an established curriculum. One such large and well-known academy is Kelly Pang Nail. Kelly Pang is an especially good choice for Vietnamese nail techs who want to ply the trade internationally. Its English-language marketing prioritizes exactly what aspiring Vietnamese nail techs are looking for: “Kelly Pang Nail specializes only in nail care and nail art,” states the website, adding that the Kelly Pang Certificate is recognized not only in Vietnam, but in salons abroad.
For every Kelly Pang-style academy, there are many more mom-and-pop-style neighborhood nail trainers. “If you’re good, you can just open a nail class in your home, then people will come and study,” Tran says. “You don’t have to get a business license or be approved by the city.”
Phuong Le runs an eponymous small nail school (Nail Phoung Le) in Hanoi. Le says the school’s most popular class is cuticle-cutting. In the United States, nail techs typically push back the cuticles without cutting to promote product adhesion without compromising the client’s health and safety. But multiple experts on the Vietnamese nail industry say that in Vietnam cuticle cutting is expected from a salon, and indeed is a primary reason clients turn to a professional instead of performing the nail care at home.
Le says her school’s nail art and nail care classes are also popular. Nail Phuong Le also teaches gel and acrylic classes, but these are targeted toward nail techs who plan to leave the country. (Among clients in Vietnam, traditional nail polish is much more popular than gel or acrylic.)
Le prices her courses both a la carte and as a complete package. The complete package costs 13.5 million VND (US$605) and typically takes one to two-and-a-half months to complete, depending on the student’s aptitude.
A la carte nail classes are also a common offering of Vietnamese nail academies that target expatriates who visit Vietnam for combination family vacation/educational tourism trips. “Vietnamese-American nail techs will go to Vietnam for one or two weeks to visit family and learn new nail designs,” Tran says. “You can learn 200 designs in a week for a more affordable price than you’d pay to learn fewer designs in the United States.”
Vietnamese nail techs can also attend beauty tradeshows to learn techniques. The country’s largest beauty trade exhibition is Cosmobeauté Vietnam. Held every April in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Cosmobeauté Vietnam will be celebrating its 10th anniversary in 2017. In 2016, the three-day show boasted 12,686 attendees and a record 220 exhibitors.
Vu Bryan Nguyen, an international Hand & Nail Harmony educator, works the show every year in the Hand & Nail Harmony/Gelish booth. Nguyen, who is also owner of Pro-Nails & Beauty School in Orlando, Fla., and runs two nail supply distributorships in New York City, describes the show as just as busy but much quieter than beauty shows in the United States. He attributes the difference to culture. “Each individual who stops at the booth watches and studies really hard and takes notes,” Nguyen says. “It’s taken very, very seriously. Also, when they watch me demo, even though they don’t ask questions, they are trying hard to figure out why I do something a certain way. Because they have a great deal of respect for their teachers, they do not want to ask random questions.” Nguyen says many attendees have the mindset that if they ask a question, it is disrespecting the teachers’ work — a very different mindset from the American idiom of “there are no dumb questions,” he notes.
UBM Asia, Asia’s largest trade exhibition organizer, entered the Vietnam market this year with the launch of Vietbeauty 2016, a tradeshow that took place in August at the Saigon Exhibition and Convention Centre in Ho Chi Minh City. Roughly 150 brands participated and 5,057 attended.
“According to the ‘Markets of the Future: ASEAN in 2020’ study conducted by Euromonitor International, Vietnam is the second-fastest growing beauty and personal care market in Asia,” says Susan Nguyen, UBM Asia project manager. “Moreover, there has never been a better time to enter the Vietnamese market and develop your business in the beauty industry thanks to the ASEAN Economic Community, created in 2015, which unites the entire region economically with standardized regulations and considerably lower, in fact almost zero, tariffs. Given the opportunities created by the country’s current economic growth, this is why UBM Asia decided to enter the Vietnam market with the Vietbeauty exhibition.”
The biggest attraction for nail professionals at the show was a mobile nail printer, Nguyen says, adding that Vietbeauty represented the printer’s launch into this market. The first show was considered a success by UBM Asia, which will host it again in August 2017.
Many other small beauty tradeshows take place in Vietnam throughout the year as well.
The large shows feature branded products that U.S.-based nail techs are familiar with, including OPI, Odyssey Nail Systems, Cuccio, Hand & Nail Harmony (Gelish), and CND. Cuccio, notably, has good distribution via Kelly Pang Nail schools, its educators, and its students. But it is primarily high-end salons and spas in Vietnam that use branded products. At the average salon in Vietnam, unbranded products are the norm.
Service and Salon Profile
Salons filling many different niches coexist in Vietnam. As Vietnamese-American nail techs share success stories of myriad nail salon concepts from overseas, entrepreneurs adapt these concepts to Vietnam. Meanwhile, traditional street vendor-style nail techs continue to fill the natural nail care needs for elderly and rural clients.
Street vendor nail techs offer basic services such as nail art, either to passers-by or by going door-to-door. “Older women will go with the street nail tech,” Tran says. “I remember back in 2000 I used to get my nails done for 10,000 VND (US $0.50) + 5,000 VND tip (US$0.25) at a small shop in an alley near my house.” The nails were painted a solid color. To upgrade to two floral nail art designs cost more — about 40,000 VND (US$2).
Then there are home-based salons, which may be as simple as a chair in the first floor of someone’s house. Traditionally, beauty salons in Vietnam have been full-service, offering nails and hair services together. But lately, nails-only salons have begun opening; they frequently market their nail art and cater to young women. High-end nail salons that cater to affluent Vietnamese and to tourists resemble boutique salons that exist in the United States. However, spa pedicure chairs with built-in foot basins are not popular in Vietnam — at least not yet. “The typical nail salon in Vietnam is small with a couple of tables and chairs,” Tran says. “You rarely see a spa pedicure chair in Vietnam. Techs use a bowl to carry water.”
Affluent consumers in Vietnam are increasingly demanding high-quality products, especially organic and natural ones, according to Euromonitor’s “Beauty and Personal Care in Vietnam” report published in April 2016. “Understanding this new trend, some famous international brands have started to launch deep treatments and natural products to respond to the huge need from high- and upper-middle-income consumers,” the report states. “In 2015, some companies recorded great performances and a good pace of retail value growth, such as Skin Food Vietnam Co Ltd., Yves Rocher France International, and The Face Shop and Vichy by Vichy Vietnam.
One salon that targets health-conscious Vietnamese and expatriate clients who are focused on well-being and sanitation is Merci Nails & Cafe in Saigon. “We provide only waterless nail treatments to avoid bacteria and dry skin,” says co-founder Ilda Briosca. “Zoya and Kure Bazaar non-toxic varnish color as well as our signature nail art promise our clients gorgeous and healthy nails.” The nail salon’s most popular service is “The Brazilian,” which uses disposable waterless kits and incorporates a keratin and collagen mask, complete cuticle care, moisturizing massage, pumicing for feet, and clear base coat. It costs US$20, which Briosca notes is well over the going rate of US$4 for a basic manicure. In general, the most popular nail services categories in Vietnam are cuticle cutting (including ingrown nail removal) and nail art.
Whether choosing a solid color or a nail art design, most clients opt for traditional nail polish. However, gels and acrylics are gaining a toehold in Vietnam. Gelish is “still a pricey item to invest in,” says Hand & Nail Harmony’s Nguyen. “But they are starting to realize you can do so much more with gels.
“I see more gel painting every day over there. They use different consistencies to create different things. I’m slowly seeing it work its way over here because some companies are making their own versions already. They are not as pigmented, but it’ll get there.” Vietnamese techs at tradeshows also show interest in liquid-and-powder products.
“The enthusiasm for nail art in Vietnam is huge. Techs can create a set in four to five hours with great nail designs and charge US$25,” says Tran, adding that in the United States she doesn’t typically see the detailed designs that are so popular in Vietnam. At Merci, Briosca says the most requested nail art styles are a reverse French manicure and what she calls “glass nails,” which are metallic colors with a mirror finish. Vietnamese techs are willing to pay high prices to import nail art products when a new style is trending.
At tradeshows, Nguyen notices many nail techs purchasing Arctic Freeze (a white that doesn’t yellow), Ambience (fairy dust-like sheer pink), and Ooca Coocha Bing Bang Bam Alakazzy Alakazam (shimmery stained glass turquoise that contains shade-shifting pigments).
Classic nail shapes, such as ovals and squares, are mainstays in Vietnam. Celebrities, such as models and singers, sometimes opt for bolder shapes such as stilettos.
From a technical standpoint, U.S. nail techs may glean pointers on how to increase speed from Vietnamese nail techs. “Nail salons in the United States look for nail techs who worked in Vietnam because techs from Vietnam know how to perform work quickly and have good nail art skills,” Tran says.
Nguyen says Vietnamese nail techs are an inspiration because of their humility and modesty, even when some could easily develop large egos due to their talent and success. “I say to dig deep and find your passion for nails,” Nguyen says. “Here in the United States, we have this ideal of ‘fame’ (which applies to any industry, not just nails) and we want to chase after fame or do things to make ourselves famous. But I have been fortunate to meet many techs in Vietnam who are extremely talented artists and all we talk about is nails. They are very genuine. They know they’ve made a big difference in the nail world, but they don’t let ‘fame’ get to them.”
Market size: 931,000 VND (US$42) average per-woman spending on beauty
services (includes hair, skin, eyebrows, nails, and other professional beauty services)
Licensing: No government licensing; some schools issue certificates upon graduation
Trending nail styles: Detailed nail art done in traditional nail polish
Salon types: Historically full-service; recently, nails-only salons are opening
Popular products: Unbranded products are the norm, but branded products are gaining ground, including those by OPI, Odyssey Nail Systems, Cuccio, Hand & Nail Harmony (Gelish), and CND
What they do well: Speed and attention to detail
Room for improvement: Increased knowledge about health and safety issues, such as risks of cuticle cutting
Editor’s note: This is the sixth installment of our bi-monthly InternatioNAILS series. To read all the articles in this series, go to www.nailsmag.com/internationalseries.