In 2004, acrylic services made up 37.9% of total services offered, and now in 2012, they have dropped down to 17.9%. But acrylics are still an in-demand service among many clients, and a sizeable portion of techs continue to base their livlihoods around the service. The rapid and recent rise in the quality of gels, which back in 2004 were still being classified as "other services," have made a sizeable grab for market share and now make up 25.9% of all services. But these new gel clients might not in fact be taking customers away from acrylic, and may represent a new growth in overall salon patronage.

In 2004, acrylic services made up 37.9% of total services offered, and now in 2012, they have dropped down to 17.9%. But acrylics are still an in-demand service among many clients, and a sizeable portion of techs continue to base their livlihoods around the service. The rapid and recent rise in the quality of gels, which back in 2004 were still being classified as "other services," have made a sizeable grab for market share and now make up 25.9% of all services. But these new gel clients might not in fact be taking customers away from acrylic, and may represent a new growth in overall salon patronage.

In 2007, right before the start of our most recent recession, 14% of nail techs reported discontinuing a service. The most discontinued service was acrylics. And as the recession deepened in 2009, acrylics lost the #1 spot to high-end manis and pedis.

Today, as the economy slowly regains a footing, acrylics comprise 17.9% of all services in salons. But where is this number headed? We talked to nail techs and manufacturers to see what they think about the future of one of our industry’s founding products.

Alternative #1: Gel-Polish

Gel-polish has made quite a splash in the nail industry. Within the past two years the products, spearheaded by CND’s Shellac and Hand & Nail Harmony’s Gelish, have embarked on fruitful marketing campaigns that brought a windfall of national attention to nail salons. News media across the country and beauty publications alike espoused on the state-of-the-art gel technology and how it creates a near-miraculous manicure product.

And as the clients pour in to try out what they’ve heard so much about (and indeed they have been with the latest data indicating gel-polish as the largest growing service in the nail industry, up by 61% this year), many nail techs have begun to see a dip in their acrylic business.

“In the two years that I’ve been using gel-polish, I’ve seen many of my former acrylic clients switch over,” says Janice Caird Reams, owner of Nails, Please! By Janice Reams in Houston.

“I didn’t push it on my clients,” she adds, “but I think in the future there may be a gradual slide to services that have less commitment, like gel-polish and natural manicures. In this economy it allows them to stretch out the appointment times if needed.”

Marc Foley, an acrylic specialist out of Wausau, Wis., has also seen his business affected by the arrival of gel-polish. “When they first came out I had acrylic customers leave because they wanted to try them after hearing everyone raving about how wonderful they were,” he says.

Foley quickly made up for it by educating himself on the new products and then offering them as well. But he’s pessimistic about the future of acrylics. “I still feel that my acrylic clients will shrink some,” he says. “UV gel is becoming the new standard for the industry.”

The predicament of acrylics has not gone unnoticed by manufacturers. “Acrylic sales have been trending down over the past five years,” says OPI’s executive VP and artistic director Suzi Weiss-Fischmann. “OPI has continued to make acrylics available,” she says. “But we’ve consolidated sizing by keeping only the most popular sizes.”

However, Weiss-Fischmann feels acrylics will always have a place in salons, because of their unique performance and long-held tradition. “There will always be consumers who love the wear and feel, so therefore the service will always be offered, but acrylics must find a new position in the salons.”

CND’s marketing manager for enhancements, Marilyn Bockstahler, echoes this sentiment in regard to acrylics and gels, saying, “CND has maintained its focus on both acrylic and gel products and services because we know not every woman was born with perfect nails that can be satisfied with a color coat. Most women need a little help to get the length and shape they desire and that’s what enhancements do. They provide the strength and durability nails need to grow out and cover up imperfections like ridges, splits, peeling, etc.”

Alternative #2: Hard Gel

If there is a product that directly poses a threat to liquid-and-powder through performance, it is the hard gels that have sprung up within the past 10 years, along with traditional soak-off gels that require longer soak-off times than the recent gel-polish.

You can achieve the same sculpted look with gels that used to only be possible with acrylic. That includes glossy pink-and-whites along with glitter fades and 3-D nail art. These products are often marketed as “healthier alternatives” to acrylics and have claimed a sizeable share of the market. But a key difference is in their application methods and the comfort level techs have handling the product.

“I like the challenge and application of acrylics better then gel,” says Cindy Bosque Watson of Portland, Ore. “With gel there’s too much ‘dancing’ of the product, and I’m a little impatient with that.”

Acrylics are often more cost effective for nail techs because they are available in larger sizes compared to traditional gels.

Lisa Anderson of Avanti Salon in Sparks, Nev., also prefers the play of acrylic over gels, “Gels and gel-polish are getting a lot of press lately, but honestly I don’t think they are any better than acrylics,” she says. “I have not seen a decrease in acrylic services. I still get calls to the salon all the time for acrylics.”

Next page: The acrylic faithful

[PAGEBREAK]The Acrylic Faithful

Even with the exposure of gel-polish, it is important to note that a true acrylic customer who prefers the look, feel, and durability of acrylics will not find a parallel product in gel-polish or traditional gels. It is likely that the majority of the new gel-polish wearers were never acrylic customers to begin with.

For the client who prefers an extended nail bed with well-shaped free edges and a deep smile, and who needs a lot of strength because she is tough on her nails, acrylics will likely remain her preference. And with acrylics entrenched in the skill set of so many practicing nail technicians, it should continue to be a popular service in salons for some time.

“There will never be anything that takes the place of acrylic,” says Reams. “It is unmatched when it comes to strength. A flat, wide, thin, short nail can be sculpted into a slender, longer, curved nail that has nine other beautiful ones to match. I don’t think acrylic nails will be a thing of the past anytime soon.”

Many nail techs have embraced gel-polish to help increase their business. Accomplished acrylic artist Stacy Senecal, of Geneva, N.Y., has incorporated applying gel-polish on top of a sculpted acrylic. “Many nail techs are focusing on natural nail gel-polish services and underestimate the acrylic client’s potential desire for this add-on service,” she says. “Once they learn about how their color will wear longer and they can get out the door smudge-free, they won’t go back to regular polish again. The extra charge is well worth it to them.”

Keeping Acrylics Alive

The biggest foreseeable challenge that acrylic-loving nail techs will face in the future will be a decline in demand of acrylics from younger generations. Many acrylic-wearing clients have been wearing them for years — and they don’t plan to stop.

“I have a more conservative, professional clientele,” says Reams. “About 80% wear pink-and-whites exclusively. They come faithfully for their two-week standing appointments, and hopefully this will take me into retirement.”

To keep up with everything else out there, one of the biggest innovations in acrylic has been the popularity of flashier, more colorful acrylic powders with glitter. It shows that acrylics need not be restricted to the classic pink-and-white. CEO of NSI, Rick Slack, says that he has a seen an increase in the amount of colored acrylics he is selling because nail techs are incorporating more and more acrylic nail art into their salon services.

“We have seen an extremely large increase in the amount of colored acrylics being used for nail art in relation to pink-and-white colors,” says Slack. “NSI believes there is a strong future for acrylics and that they will continue to hold a secure share of the market.”

Re-Marketing Acrylics

The true fate of acrylics ultimately lies in the hands of the nail tech and her ability to market the service to a new crop of customers who will turn into loyal clients. Through education and craftsmanship, nail techs can keep a healthy stream of acrylic clients walking through the doors. And with a touch of flair, a new generation of acrylic-lovers can be cultivated.

“Acrylic is still king here in the Central Valley (of California),” says Maggie Franklin, owner of Art of Nailz in Visalia, Calif. Franklin has held fast to her acrylic clientele, which make up about 50% of her services, even while gels have brought in even more customers.

Franklin notes that acrylics account for almost 75% of her total income, because glitter and rockstar add-ons are popular with her clients and she can charge more for them.

Rhonda Kibuk, owner of the Purple Pinkie in Ford City, Pa., is reporting a three-fold increase in her acrylic business since she’s started to actively promote it online.

“We photograph about every set we do and upload them daily to our Facebook page,” says Kibuk. “Clients love seeing their nails, and when we tag the clients it shows up on their Facebook news and all their friends can see, therefore opening the door to new clients.”

Julie Pecanty Perry, of JuJu Does Nails in Brookhaven, Miss., says she gets new acrylic customers through her clever “first-set-free” method. “I befriend some of the more popular girls at the high schools and colleges in my area and offer to do their first set for free in exchange for their advertisement via word of mouth. When they come back for a refill I don’t charge them for artwork. The artwork is what catches people’s eye. It’s like having a walking billboard with a built in ‘cool’ factor.” Perry offers referral discounts to clients to keep new acrylic clients coming in.

Education also plays a key role in the security of acrylics. It will be the educated tech who will be able to take her acrylic skills into the next generation. Young Nails CFO Habib Salo knows just how important education can be. Young Nails is one of the most ardent supporters of acrylics in the salon, enthusiastically educating its users on the importance of learning intricate nail art techniques to create a wide range of colorful and decorative designs.

“Continuing to innovate and create new techniques in education is the key to the success and growth of acrylic,” says Salo. “Our classes for acrylics continue to get a lot of heavy attendance.”

Acrylic will likely retain a strong presence in nail salons because of its deep history in the industry. It was the first nail enhancement product that enabled professionals to elongate and beautify a natural nail. And as technology progresses across the industry, so do acrylics with newer colors, glitters, and techniques.

Today’s nail techs have so many more product options than techs did 20 years ago. But with acrylics being a major portion of current nail school curriculums, with the strong amount of built-in acrylic wearing loyalists and skilled acrylic nail techs around, and with the continued support of manufacturers, acrylics will continue to live on.

Next page: Acrylic tech profiles

[PAGEBREAK]

ACRYLIC TECH PROFILES

Rock the Youth: Here They Are Now, Entertain Them

Keren Clark (right) of Nails by Keren in The Villages, Fla., has a lot of seasonal acrylic clients that keep her liquid-and-powder in high demand, but it’s her young rockstar acrylic wearers who really keep the product moving.

Client Jessica Taylor says, “I enjoy getting acrylics and designs put on my nails because, to me, it is more fun than having regular nail polish. With all the new designs that are coming out and summer coming soon, it is becoming more popular with my friends.” 

Client Jessica Taylor says, “I enjoy getting acrylics and designs put on my nails because, to me, it is more fun than having regular nail polish. With all the new designs that are coming out and summer coming soon, it is becoming more popular with my friends.” 

Client Josie Devine adds that she loves acrylic designs because, "they are a great accessory and a perfect way to express our creative side."

Client Josie Devine adds that she loves acrylic designs because, "they are a great accessory and a perfect way to express our creative side."

Duck Nails -- Woo Hoo

In Visalia, Calif., the flared “duck foot” style of nail is spreading in popularity, “whether we like it or not,” jokes Maggie Franklin, owner of Art of Nailz. Whatever the reason, and whatever the opinion on the look, if the style is popular then Franklin keeps the nails flared.

Mica Coffman, 24, is a regular client of Franklin’s, and says she prefers the wider nails because they “look fake.”

Mica Coffman, 24, is a regular client of Franklin’s, and says she prefers the wider nails because they “look fake.”

 Brandi Kanady, in her late 20s, says, “I think people have more stupid reasons not to like them than I need for liking them.”

 Brandi Kanady, in her late 20s, says, “I think people have more stupid reasons not to like them than I need for liking them.”

Acrylic is Not Dead, Long Live Acrylic

 “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it,” says acrylic client Richelle Anderson (left) of Avanti Salon in Spanish Springs, Nev.

Though she may be biased because her nail tech (and mother) Lisa Anderson (right) is such a skilled acrylic user, Richelle still prefers the feel of acrylics over gels.

Though she may be biased because her nail tech (and mother) Lisa Anderson (right) is such a skilled acrylic user, Richelle still prefers the feel of acrylics over gels.

“Gels are new, but acrylics have a long track record in the nail business and manufacturers have taken steps to improve the quality and safety of acrylics,” says Richelle.

“Gels are new, but acrylics have a long track record in the nail business and manufacturers have taken steps to improve the quality and safety of acrylics,” says Richelle.

Acrylics for Everyone

Regina Hoffman Contreras (left), owner of Premier Nails in Fremont, Ohio, has been offering acrylic services for over nine years.

She says that her clientele varies on nail preferences, with some older clients preferring glitter and color, and some younger girls opting for traditional pink-and-whites.

She says that her clientele varies on nail preferences, with some older clients preferring glitter and color, and some younger girls opting for traditional pink-and-whites.

Client Leah Good (right), explains why she loves her acrylic nails, “I love that I can have strong, beautiful nails that allow me to truly express myself at all times without the worry of color chipping or rubbing off.  It’s also important for me to maintain a clean, even, uniform look, which is time-consuming and difficult to do with natural nails.  Even with being the mother of three active young boys, and working full-time, I’m still able to present a perfectly well-manicured look no matter what I’m doing.”

Client Leah Good (right), explains why she loves her acrylic nails, “I love that I can have strong, beautiful nails that allow me to truly express myself at all times without the worry of color chipping or rubbing off.  It’s also important for me to maintain a clean, even, uniform look, which is time-consuming and difficult to do with natural nails.  Even with being the mother of three active young boys, and working full-time, I’m still able to present a perfectly well-manicured look no matter what I’m doing.”

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