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.
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.
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.
WELCOME TO MY HOME
Michele Carroll understands a client’s desire for the personal connection. “I am blessed with loyal, consistent, and reliable clients who prefer personalized services.” Instead of traveling to clients’ homes, Carroll welcomes them into hers. As the owner of Michele’s Nail Nook, her home-based salon in Fort Collins, Colo., Carroll has found leaving the traditional salon for her home-based oasis provides her an ideal working environment. “The commute is amazing; sometimes I giggle as I stroll down the hall to work each morning,” says Carroll.
Home-based techs list a common set of advantages: a quiet atmosphere, an intimate setting, one-on-one attention, no staffing drama, time to start a load of laundry, start dinner, or greet the kids after school. Though loaded with perks a tech would forfeit if she worked outside the home, working from home comes with a unique set of drawbacks. “For one thing, working from home means I give up the increased clientele that would come from a salon’s advertisement or walk-in traffic,” says Carroll.
Lori Tomancik, owner of Lori’s Skin Spa in Vestal, N.Y., has built her home-based salon beyond the point of needing to advertise. Her challenge comes from outgrowing the space she’s allotted for the salon. “I offer manicures, pedicures, waxing, and facials,” says Tomancik. “Sometimes I look around, and I feel like I want my home back.”
The home-based tech bears the responsibility of wearing every hat. Maintenance issues, such as shoveling the driveway in the morning (and keeping it clear all day), are a concern that would not likely cross the mind of a salon employee. However, the biggest complaint heard among home-based techs is the issue of getting clients to understand that changing appointments at the last minute, or missing appointments altogether, doesn’t give the tech a chance to “relax for an hour.” A cancelled or missed appointment is as disruptive to a home-based tech as it is to a tech working in a traditional salon. “Sometimes it’s an issue to get clients to view their appointment in my home as they would an appointment in a salon,” says Tomancik. “Clients will cancel quicker, because they figure I’m already home so it won’t matter.”
Another situation often surrounds the first and last appointment of the day. Kim Hope works from her home-based salon, The Nail Shoppe, in Binghamton, N.Y. While she loves working from home, Hope has had to educate clients about appointment times. “Clients knock on the door at 9:40 a.m. for a 10 a.m. appointment,” says Hope. “Sometimes my hair isn’t even dry and the doorbell is ringing.” Clients linger at lunch time and at the end of the day, too. “Clients will tell me to just go do what I need to do, that they’ll let themselves out,” says Hope. “But I feel uncomfortable leaving them, even though I do have somewhere to go or something to do, because they’re guests in my home.” Hope says she feels it’s unprofessional to leave the salon area of the house while the client is still there. “Every once in a while, I just won’t be able to wait as long as the client wants to wait, and I’ll leave to do something upstairs,” says Hope. “When I hear the client yell goodbye to me as she is leaving, I cringe. I think it’s so unprofessional that I’m not down there with her.”
Tomancik shares Hope’s concern. “Sometimes the kids come down into the salon,” says Tomancik. “My clients never mind it; in fact, they usually love it. But to me, that’s client time, not kid time, and I see it as an issue of professionalism.”
Carroll notes two other issues that affect home-based techs: “I have to include my home address when I promote via the web or print, which sometimes gives me a sense of vulnerability.” Additionally, selling retail items from home doesn’t have the earning potential it would in a larger salon. “After three weeks, essentially my entire clientele has seen the inventory,” says Carroll. “It’s difficult to keep things fresh and moving.”
To home-based techs, the benefits outweigh the drawbacks. The relationships that build in the casual and intimate setting, the ability to get house work done during 10-minute breaks, the freedom to schedule around personal events, and the ease of the commute are all selling points that make it a good choice for techs who enjoy a quiet work environment and who prefer to have total autonomy in the workplace. Techs who enjoy the energy of the salon, an ever-changing clientele, and the interaction and support of coworkers would not see a home-based salon as the best choice.
Of course, some of the points we’ve listed as drawbacks of having mobile and home-based businesses may appear to some techs to be the benefits of the job, and vice-versa. The perfect fit for one tech could be viewed as unimaginable to others. Whichever work environment suits you best, be sure to understand the potential drawbacks. Then develop a plan to overcome the challenges so you can make the most of the opportunity.
You can find out if mobile and home salons are permitted in your state by visiting NAILS’ State Board Directory at www.nailsmag.com/stateboards.
For reprint and licensing requests for this article, Click here.