Earlier this spring I skipped out on my usual March jaunt to Chicago for America’s Beauty Show (don’t worry, NAILS was still well-represented in my absence thanks to Cyndy, Sree, and Michelle). Instead I headed a bit farther east, first to Zurich for Beauty Forum Swiss, and then to Düsseldorf, Germany, for Beauty International Düsseldorf. The Swiss show was much smaller than the German show but both were enlightening in their similarities — and differences — from each other and from U.S.-based shows. As it turns out, nails are nails, no matter what country you’re in.
I say this, not as something revelatory, but simply to reinforce what we probably all know is true. Even though I don’t speak a word of German (or Swiss German), I felt right at home at the beauty shows, in the salons I visited, and with the nail people I met. We can all come together — whatever language we speak — to realize there are some universal truths about doing nails.

1. A quality nail service in one country is a quality nail service in another country. I visited a salon in Grenchen, Switzerland, and received an amazing gel pedicure. The nail techs used primarily OPI products, including the new GelColor, and it was a great experience. (Not to mention, the Swatch watch factory was right outside the window…how’s that for teen nostalgia?) While there isn’t a proliferation of discount salons on every corner like in the U.S., there is still competition to offer the best services possible. And brand-name products are important to techs so they can do just that.

2. Nail techs want to be taken seriously and treated as professionals. It’s a fact that most countries outside of the United States do not have a licensing system in place for nail techs. But no matter where I travel, instituting licensing or educational standards is the focus of many international nail professionals. Nail distributor Marlise Kölliker, who I spent time with in Switzerland, started the Swiss National Association of Nails and the goal of their group is make a national nail exam a reality.

3. Industry people are drawn to cool, out-there nail styles, but they aren’t necessarily the clients’ choice. Well-known nail artists from all over the world were doing demos on the show floor, and there were large groups gathered around to see the elaborate nail designs. But many nail techs told me they only wear those long, jazzy nails for the shows, and many more told me those styles aren’t oft-requested by their clients. A simple nail art style or short- to medium-length solid color is still the preference for many salon clients.

4. Gels are really popular. Sure, gels have always been more popular in Europe than the United States, but the new generation of gels is proving to reinforce gels as the enhancement product of choice for many European nail techs. Gel-polish is also booming in popularity, but likely lacking in key education, from what I witnessed at the two shows.

5. Everyone loves a little sparkle. No matter how professional the trade show, or how big the nail booths (and these were some double-decker booths with VIP areas that would rival any hair care booth in the U.S.), show attendees still flock to the “accessories” booths that are filled with sparkly jewelry, knock-off bags, scarves, and other fun boutique type items. (The show in Germany actually had an entire hall dedicated to these booths.)

Sure, there are many differences too (pedicures are just starting to be more common as a salon service in many European countries, and Swiss nail techs charge a whole heck of a lot more than their American counterparts) but I’ll cover those more in next month’s issue when I do a full report on both shows. For now, let’s all sing “Kumbaya” and realize that distance is only a number and we’re all a lot closer than we think.

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