Illustration by Liz Adams

Illustration by Liz Adams

Let’s be honest, the hustle and bustle of the holidays can feel more like an all-out assault of unrealistic expectations rather than a season filled with tidings of comfort and joy. In our quietest moments we may even experience a feeling of dread as we flip the calendar one month closer to the chaos. Thankfully, the added pressure is offset by a spirit of appreciation and generosity — seen daily in the form of thoughtful notes, small gifts, and kind words from clients.

Every year, we do our best to prepare for the holidays, taking small steps to avoid the onslaught of demands. Inevitably, it all falls to pieces, and we’re left in an exhausted heap, nursing a cold and hoping we can squeeze our clients in and still have time left over to get ourselves cleaned up and dressed in time for family dinner.

This year, try a new approach: Embrace the stress. It’s all part of a season that brings with it the best of both worlds — the swirl of activity and the comfort of simplicity. Acknowledging the unavoidable tension changes your expectations, the first of seven steps you can take to reduce this year’s holiday stress.


Change your expectations. Stress is often viewed as a by-product of unmet expectations. `Think about it: You expect your client to arrive on time, but when she walks in 10-15 minutes late, you get stressed because it throws off the rest of your day. You expect your supplier to have product on hand, so you become stressed when you’re told supplies you need are on back order.

One way we can reduce stress is to change our expectations. Not in everything, of course, but let’s start with one big, unrealistic expectation: The holiday season will pass without getting hectic. That’s not going to happen. Between your schedule and the myriad of clients’ schedules that intersect with your own, you can bet a situation will develop that disrupts your whole day. You’ll be inconvenienced, forced to work longer hours, make an emergency supply run, spend more money than you had intended, etc. Make the inconvenience your expectation. That way, when it happens — and it will — you can respond with satisfaction at how clever you are for anticipating it rather than being stressed by a situation that takes you by surprise.


Create bumpers. A bumper is applied to take a hit and absorb the shock in order to avoid excessive damage. We need bumpers in our lives. You may have a different name for it, such as a “margin” or “space,” but ultimately, it’s the same idea — it’s time you’ve left free in your life so you have wiggle room for the unexpected. At every season in our life we should give ourselves a bumper to protect us from the crunch of the urgent, but especially at the holiday season.

“I make sure I block off time in my schedule far in advance,” says Laura Merzetti, a nail tech at Scratch My Back Nail Studio in Ajax, Ontario, Canada. “I know I’ll always need to run out to get something at the last minute, so I allow for that in my schedule.” Merzetti says this allows her to put her full attention on the needs of the clients without feeling stressed about where she’ll find the extra time. “It’s already built in,” says Merzetti. “Once I schedule it, I don’t change it!”


As a way of appreciating their top clients, The Spa at Traditions sends out holiday cards that include a gift toward any service.

As a way of appreciating their top clients, The Spa at Traditions sends out holiday cards that include a gift toward any service.

[PAGEBREAK]Appreciate your team. Whether you work in a nails-only salon or a full-service spa, you’re not the only person dealing with the added stress of the holidays. Your whole team is feeling it, so work together to help each other. Look for ways you can help in the salon, such as with restocking or straightening up, but also with errands, such as food or supply runs.

Beyond helping each other out during working hours, schedule a time apart from the work day to connect. The intent isn’t simply to have a good time (though, hopefully you will), but also to create an opportunity to communicate about salon business in a more relaxed setting. “At the end of November, we get together to decorate the salon,” says Kim Baker, owner of Bijou Salon in Skaneateles, N.Y. “At that time I’ll talk about giving thank-you cards to clients and about the gifts we’re giving out this year. Plus, we’ll talk about ways we can make the holiday season a little easier.” In addition, Baker organizes a party for her staff, either at a spa or some other relaxing venue, offering another opportunity to build rapport among team members.


Lead your clients. Avoid last-minute emergencies by reminding clients to book far in advance. They may need to change the appointment, but at least you’ll have leverage to swap the spot with another booked client. “We had so many clients last year who wanted services the week before Christmas and New Year’s, but we were booked solid,” says Vivian Nguyen, owner of Patsy’s Nail Bar in Washington, D.C. “This year, we’re reminding our regular clients to book far in advance.”

Clients who don’t “live by the book” may be surprised at how far in advance they need to schedule their holiday appointment. October may seem early to clients, but techs understand the necessity of getting regular clients booked around holiday events. It’s very difficult to say no to a client who comes in for a standing appointment every three weeks during the year. That’s exactly the type of phone call that will raise your stress level if you don’t remind your faithful clients to look over the calendar in October and schedule extra appointments, such as polish changes or nail art, around her holiday events.


Appreciate your clients. Though it may seem counterproductive to add a “to-do” item on a list of stress relievers, the truth is, thinking of and appreciating others often fills us with energy and satisfaction — two big stress relievers. When we take the time to appreciate clients, we’re reminded of the good in our lives and the emotion of gratitude has a soothing effect to counteract the negative feelings of stress. Whether through a note to particular clients, or a small gift for every client, being intentional about your appreciation has positive results.

“We sent a thank-you note to top clients with a gift toward a service,” says Brittany Mau, assistant manager at The Spa at Traditions in Johnson City, N.Y. “We let clients know we understand this is a stressful season for them and we invite them to come in for a service to relax.”

Another way Mau’s team shows appreciation to their clients is by scheduling more staff during hours they know will be busy. “We know clients are busy, and we don’t want them to have to wait on us,” says Mau. “Where we might normally have four girls at the reception area during a mid-week shift, we’ll schedule six members to accommodate not only the clients who are here for holiday appointments but also the walk-in clientele we see for gift card purchases.”


Fill the hopper. January and February are traditionally very slow months in the salon. Salon owners and techs can avoid the stress of extra holiday bills (both at the salon and on their personal credit card) by taking steps during the busy season to fill the hopper to prepare for the slow months. “This year, we may slip a coupon into the gift we give our clients,” says Baker. “They’ll be able to use the coupon during the months of January through March, which are typically slower months.”

A spin on that idea is to increase the value of gift cards by a certain percentage (say 5%-10%) if they are redeemed during the slow months. This would encourage people to redeem gift cards during months the salon is already slow rather than having clients hold on to them until the busy months, such as during bridal season.


Remember yourself. You’re going to be working a lot of extra hours during the holidays, so be sure to schedule your appointments and days off ahead of time. Take the time not only to get your hair and nails done for your own events, but also to schedule a mini “stay-cation” following the holidays to help you decompress after working all those extended, hectic hours. Nguyen asked her staff to put in their holiday day-off requests in September so she could plan accordingly and still meet the needs of the clients. This avoids the stress of having to reschedule appointments that were booked on a day you know you can’t work.

Of course it’s a balance between scheduling your own nail appointments and keeping the slots free for the clients. Baker says she encourages her staff to get their appointments done during slower times to keep the most coveted appointment times open for clients. “Clients will need to get in, and I don’t want them to be forced to go elsewhere,” says Baker.

The operative word is “balance.” Though it may seem like the best decision is always to offer the appointment to a client, it adds stress to you personally when you realize you didn’t make time for yourself. You don’t want to be forced to attend a party without beautiful nails! Balance is to give time to yourself and your clients. If you need to, stay after hours or come in on a day the salon is closed. Share a bottle of wine with another tech as you exchange services. The camaraderie and festive mood you create is a bonus way for you to relieve stress.



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