By virtually all accounts, Australians have it good. The island nation, whose nicknames include The Lucky Country and the Land Down Under, is one of the wealthiest in the world and ranks highly internationally in factors such as quality of life, health, education, and economic freedom. Its nail industry resembles those of other developed countries inasmuch as it boasts myriad salons from discount to boutique to high-end, but its market also has noteworthy differences from that of the United States.
According to IBISWorld, nail and personal waxing salons in Australia have achieved steady growth over most of the past five years. Industry revenue has been supported by rising demand for new products and services, as well as growth in the female population (the primary clientele). IBISWorld’s recent Personal Waxing and Nail Salons Market Research Report expects industry revenue to increase by an annualized 1.3% over the five years through 2015-16, to reach $541.2 million.
Professional women are Australian nail salons’ primary market. Though consumer spending at salons is sensitive to discretionary income, Australia’s rank as the country with the second highest average wealth per person (Switzerland is No. 1, according to New World Wealth, and the United States is No. 3) implies that a strong consumer base exists. Chelsea Bagan, founder, director, and head nail artist of Melbourne-based salon Trophy Wife says, “Our typical client is aged 21-40, female, a full-time worker or self-employed — often in a creative field. She is in touch with fashion and ahead of trends.” And just as it is in the United States, other demographics dabble with getting professional manicures and pedicures as well. Monika Carvalho and Scott Hawkins, owners of The Nail Lab in Sydney, say, “Our client base is so diverse, we treat young and old, conservative and alternative, women and men, corporate and creative. We have clients who visit us weekly as part of their grooming regime, and clients who visit us quarterly as their special occasion treat.”
The country’s largest beauty tradeshow rebranded itself in 2015. Formerly the Sydney International Spa and Beauty Expo, the newly named Beauty Expo Australia brings together more than 150 brands across the spa, beauty, medi, and wellness fields at the Sydney Exhibition Centre. The show is about 20% the size of the U.S.’s Premiere Orlando beauty show (which has close to 800 exhibiting companies). In a press release announcing Beauty Expo Australia, Julia Erben, event director, says, “Beauty Expo is Australia’s largest spa and beauty event, and this year’s edition is no exception. With a sensational line-up of products, services, education, and industry talent, it is an event that will benefit salon owners, artists, and therapists alike.” At the 2015 show, there were 30 exhibitors in the nail care category. The show also hosts the Nailympia Australia competition. Beauty Expo Australia is sponsored by Reed Exhibitions, which also organizes the smaller shows Salon Melbourne and Hair Expo Australia.
Unlike in the United States, in Australia there is no government licensing of nail techs. Beauty schools, such as the Melbourne Institute of Nails and Beauty and The Hair & Beauty Academy in Sydney, do offer courses for aspiring nail professionals. According to a nail tech quoted in 2015 by dailylife.com.au, “Most legitimate salon employees hold a Certificate III or IV in Beauty Therapy [or equivalent] from an accredited school, and it’s up to the employer to check the beauty therapist’s credentials,” and the article notes that this effectively makes salon owners the gatekeepers to entry.
Many nail professionals, especially those who specialize in nail art, are self-taught. Celia Cecchi, director at I Scream Nails in Melbourne and Sydney says, “Most of our staff started the same way I did...with an obsession for nail art. We do provide training for our staff of course, but they need to be at a certain level before we can hire them. This means they have to be practicing nail art themselves.” Also, unlike in the United States, there doesn’t appear to be a dearth of desirable nail techs/nail artists for salons to hire. Bagan says, “I have been lucky enough to work with the same team for quite a while now. We like to keep our team relatively small to ensure the quality continues at a high level. Most of them have approached me with their work or I have come across their work on social media such as Instagram.” At The Nail Lab, which has a team of eight nail techs, new recruits generally approach the salon for employment.
Australian nail techs tend to choose the profession for their love of nails and/or nail art. Kevin Thach Tran and his wife Christine Lam have owned nail salons for over 15 years in Australia, New Zealand, and the United States, including The Library Nail Salon in Perth. “We decided to be professional manicurists because we love doing nails; we love to make people feel happy with their beautiful nails,” Tran says. “We try to build up our loyalty clients to make sure they have a good place to get their nails done without worrying.”
Some Australian salons are started by entrepreneurs with scant professional beauty experience but with business savvy and a love for nails. For example, The Nail Lab was founded in 2012 by an unlikely duo who had a desire to change the nail bar industry in Australia. Though neither Carvalho nor Hawkins could paint a nail, they used their business acumen, experience in marketing and social media, love of color and design, and their longing to create a full consumer experience at an accessible price point to create a salon that’s successful to this day.
International nail brands that are popular in Australia include OPI, CND, Essie, Orly, Gelish, IBD, BioSculpture, and Young Nails. Australia has homegrown brands as well. They include MoYou Nails, which specializes in nail art sets and nail stamping kits, and Emendee, which sells nail salon dust and vapor extraction systems. Australian nail professionals care about being ethical consumers. Several salons owners we interviewed volunteered that they use and carry vegan, cruelty-free, and 5-free products. Melbourne, Australia-based Kester Black is an example of a skin and nail care brand that caters to this conscious consumer.
Service and Salon Profile
Similar to the United States, Australia contains both full-service and nails-only salons. There are 3,045 nail and waxing salons in the country, according to IBISWorld. Sanitation is a differentiator for savvy nail salon owners. The Nail Lab’s owners say the salon’s “premium level of hygiene” is a main reason that clients choose their salon over others.
Additionally, The Nail Lab describes itself as “a chic’d up, hygienic version of the quintessential nail salon; The Nail Lab is located in Sydney’s vibrant, creative hub of Darlinghurst. Think Calcutta marble, stainless steel, and pristine pedicure bowls with pops of our signature orange.”
On the opposite coast, The Library Nail Salon is located in Perth’s central business district. “We are right in the London Court shopping arcade, which was built in 1937 and is the biggest tourist attraction in Perth,” Tran says. “We are a modern nail boutique that has the best hygiene, excellent customer service, and top quality for our clients.”
Trophy Wife founder Bagan describes her Melbourne salon as a “really relaxed, casual salon, filled with sunlight, color, luscious greenery, and our resident pooch, an Italian Greyhound called Nola.” Trophy Wife is what would be known in the U.S. as a booth rental space. Bagan refers to it as a collective of beauty professionals with resident artists and various freelancers. “We offer all kinds of manicure services, with our main focus being nail art, which we offer in both traditional nail polish and gel-polish. We also have a hairdresser, lash and brow artist, and a few of us are also makeup artists,” she says. Bagan also works as a celebrity nail tech. “I have been doing a lot of shoots over the past year with an incredible creative director called Dhav Naidu. We have been working on lots of campaign images for brands and doing lots of submissions for magazines such as Elle and Vogue,” she says.
I Scream Nails also focuses on nail art. “Unlike traditional salons, we offer nail art services on the hands only,” Cecchi says. The Collingwood, Melbourne location opened in September 2013. In October 2014, I Scream Nails branched out and launched a Sydney salon in Newtown. “Clients at both our salons are equally adventurous,” Cecchi notes.
“The nail art scene definitely existed way before I Scream Nails (we can’t take full credit for that one!), but I guess it wasn’t as accessible,” Cecchi says. “I think you’ll find that a lot of our clients were probably challenging their local nail techs for nail art designs or maybe even trying their hand at it themselves — I know I was doing both!”
Nail service prices in Australia encompass similar price points and ranges to those in the United States, with manicures starting at about US$15 and pedicures starting at about US$25. Manicures are the most popular nail service, and manicures and pedicures are often bundled together as a package, reports IBISWorld. That’s the case at The Nail Lab, where the most popular treatment is the signature manicure/pedicure package, which is AU$70 (US$54).
The most popular services at Library Nail Salon are SNS Nails (a dipping system) and spa pedicures with CND Shellac. Prices range from AU$25 (US$19) to AU$65 (US$50).
There is a burgeoning interest in nail art, and both Trophy Wife and I Scream Nails name nail art services as their most popular offering. At Trophy Wife the most popular service is a gel-polish manicure with geometric prints or touches of metallic foils at a starting price point of AU$45. (US$35). At I Scream Nails, the “Mix And Match 5” rules. For AU$60 (US$46), clients choose five different designs that are mirrored on their opposite hand.
The nail professionals we interviewed noted that, as The Nail Lab’s owners phrase it: “Nail art is certainly a popular trend at the moment.” The specific nail art trends seem to vary by clientele and by region but negative space nail art — where the nail plate peeps through the design, similar to cutouts in apparel — is a top requested look, according to several salon owners.
At editorial photo shoots, Trophy Wife’s Bagan notes a change in trend. “I’ve noticed over the last year or so that people are going for more simplistic, minimalist nail art as opposed to last year when people were going for super crazy bright nail art with illustrations,” she says. “Of course there is still a huge market for this and there are still occasions even regular clients will go all out for, but I have definitely noticed that more clients are incorporating simple touches of nail art into their regular manicure routine.” At her salon, she says popular designs include marble, geometric prints, and metallic foil.
Solid manicure colors stay fairly traditional, with nudes and pastels dominating. Nail shapes run the gamut, reflecting individual client and nail tech preference, including squoval, round, and coffin. For acrylic nails, both long and short, the oval is the shape of 2016, according to The Nail Lab.
The lack of government regulation of nails in Australia places an extra burden on the salon owner to properly vet her potential hires. The use of social media, such as Instagram, to assess a nail artist’s talent and the checking of a student’s diploma (and beauty school coursework and credentials) are especially important in Australia, and could be helpful to U.S. salon owners as well. Also, offering on-the-job training is an important part of ensuring a new nail tech provides quality service. Since most U.S. states’ licensing exams only test for sanitation comprehension and basic technical competence, offering on-the-job training to all new hires is a wise decision here as well.
Slow and steady growth are forecast for the Australian nail salon industry. In a country with a laid-back fun-loving culture, slow and steady is the perfect pace.
Market size: $541.2 million
Schooling: Nail courses available at beauty schools but many nail professionals are self-taught; no government licensing
Trending nail styles: Nail art including negative space designs, nude and pastel colors
Salon types: Both full-service and nails-only salons
Popular products: International brands including OPI, CND, Essie, Orly, Gelish, IBD, BioSculpture, Young Nails; national brands including MoYou Nails, Emendee, Kester Black
What they do well: Variety of nail salons available for every style and budget; savvy salon owners differentiate themselves on hygiene
Room for improvement: Revival of an active association to lobby for and be the voice of the country’s nail techs (a previous association appears to be defunct and did not respond to requests for an interview)