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European Nail Vacation

by Hannah Lee | July 3, 2012

After several years of urging from Swiss-born, California-based nail tech Elsbeth Schuetz, I hopped on a plane and headed first to Zurich, Switzerland, and then to Dusseldorf, Germany, to attend two European beauty shows. With several stops along the way, I learned more about the developing nail industry in Switzerland and was in awe at the sheer size of the show in Dusseldorf.

First Stop: Switzerland

NAILS frequent cover tech and celebrity manicurist Elsbeth Schuetz might call California home, but she hails from Switzerland and travels to her motherland several times a year to work trade shows and teach classes. She’s been asking me to come with her for several years and everything finally aligned perfectly this year.

Our first stop was Beauty Forum Swiss, which took place March 3-4 at Messe Hallen Zurich. It’s a smaller-scale show than many of the beauty shows in the United States, but the professionalism and booth set-up rivals some of our largest shows. Nails and skin care were definitely the focus of this show (there were a few smaller hair care lines in a separate hall). The two-day show included a full class schedule, nail competitions, and plenty of interesting nail art.

Gels are still the top enhancement category in a lot of European countries, and while gel-polish was everywhere (much like in the United States), it seemed there was a lack of knowledge and understanding about how to use and market the service to clients. In the U.S., gel-polish hasn’t really taken the place of either gels or acrylics. Instead it’s often being requested by natural nail clients who would normally end their services with traditional polish.

In Switzerland, manicure and pedicure services aren’t as popular in salons. I heard from several nail techs in Zurich that gels are still their most popular service and they rarely do natural nail services. Manicures are thought of as home-care services, and enhancements are more of a professional salon service.

Prices are high in Switzerland (not just for nail services, but for everything) and manicures can run anywhere from $30-$50 (CHF). “Manicures just aren’t always worth it for nail techs in Switzerland,” said Marlise Kölliker, nail tech and owner of Swiss nail distributor Nail International by Marlise K. “Manicures are something you can do yourself at home. Nail techs can get $180 (CHF) for a set of pink-and-white gels. They can get $95 (CHF) for a gel fill. And they’re only getting about $40 (CHF) for a manicure.”

Likewise, pedicures are just starting to become popular as a regular salon service. Foot specialists actually do more of a clinical-type service, while regular nail salons rarely offer pedicures. I got a pedicure at Nails & Cosmetics in Grenchen, Switzerland, but owner Zekiya Demirkaya told me pedicures are usually just a spring and summer service. (I was there in March and there was still snow on the ground in some places.) But she said she is seeing pedicures become more of a year-round service with the growing popularity of gel-polish for the feet.

Like most European countries, Switzerland doesn’t offer licensing for nail techs. But that doesn’t stop them from seeking out continuing education (to help improve their skills) and quality products (to make their clients happy). Many nail manufacturers will only sell products to you if you’ve taken classes and received certifications with them.

Kölliker, who has been in the business for 30 years, has been instrumental in educating nail techs all over Switzerland. In addition to being one of the founders of the National Association of Nails, she also developed a “Q” rating for nail techs to post showing clients they have taken a certain amount of courses and have reached a higher level. The association has also been working toward a national nail exam, and Kölliker was hopeful that it will be implemented in the next year.

Click here to view Nail Snapshots from Switzerland.

Next page: Germany

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Next Stop: Germany

After the show in Zurich and a few days visiting salons and nail companies in the western part of Switzerland near Elsbeth’s hometown of Thun, we hopped on a train and headed to Germany. Beauty International Dusseldorf is a much larger show than Beauty Forum Swiss. Even though I’d heard how large it was, I still don’t think I was prepared for the sheer size of the show floor. Held March 9-11, more than 50,000 attendees converged on Messe Dusseldorf to take in the show.

Taking up five different halls, the show specializes in four main areas: cosmetics, nails, feet, and wellness. Yes, nails and feet are two separate categories in Dusseldorf. The nail care section alone stretched across two pavilions and the booths were massive. There was continuous education with classes throughout the entire show on a main nail stage, and competitions were held for both the German National and the International Nail Championships in acrylics and gels.

There was a mix of nail companies that I recognized and ones that I didn’t. Many American-based companies have distributors in Europe and were represented at the show by these distributors. Brands including CND, Essie, Jessica, SpaRitual, Orly, Entity, and Dashing Diva had prominent placement through their German distributors. Some American companies, like Kupa and Odyssey Nail Systems, were there with familiar faces from the States. And then there were the multitudes of large (and smaller-scale) nail companies based in Germany and other European countries. Some of the biggest booths were from German-based manufacturers like Alessandro, LCN, Abalico, Nail Selection, and Catherine Nail Collection, to name a few. In addition to having products for sale and nail artist demonstrations, booths had VIP lounge areas, food and beverage stations, reception desks, and interactive stations for trying out products.

Like their neighbors to the south, German nail techs aren’t licensed, but they are eager for more education. Manufacturers and distributors offer training (in the form of classes, single-day seminars, and more intensive multi-day training programs), and most require nail techs to take one form of training from them before they can purchase products. Some companies even make techs show their certification before entering the larger booths.

As expected, gels are the mainstream enhancement product in Germany, having largely originated there. And I saw plenty of companies demonstrating their new gel-polish lines (much like in the U.S.). Prices at German salons are more in line with U.S. mid-level nail salons: $26 (EUR) for a manicure, $40 (EUR) for a gel-polish service, and $60 (EUR) for a full set of gel nails. Walter Weskamp, owner of Society Beauty & Nails, the exclusive German distributor for Entity, told me, “Gel-polish is definitely a growing market here in Germany. But nail techs are still afraid they will lose money because it’s a cheaper service than acrylics and gels.”

A lot of big manufacturers actually have salons where the franchise owners and techs are all trained and educated by the particular company. Alessandro has a number of franchised Alessandro Nail Lounges throughout Germany, and Catherine Nail Collection has almost 50 Elite Studio locations. These corporate franchise salons are a big difference from the  U.S. salon industry. The salons are branded, using the company’s line exclusively, and many of the owners are also educators and trainers for the company.  

Another big difference in the salon arena is the separate career track of podologists and pedicure professionals. Many nail techs don’t do pedicures in their salons. They don’t even learn to do them in classes. They leave that to podology or pedicure professionals, and many of these are more clinical-feeling in nature. (To understand just how big and separate the two fields are: There were 170 nail companies at the Dusseldorf show and 115 separate foot care companies. I even saw a magazine called Der Fuss that was just for feet.) The emphasis is on medical or health-related issues more than foot beauty.

In addition to gel-polish and new technologies in foot care, another emerging trend for nail techs and salon professionals is lash extensions and permanent makeup. And while nail art and extreme looks are popular at the trade show among industry insiders, more subtle French and straight UV color are usually the choice of German clients.

Click here to view Nail Snapshots from Germany.

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