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Making the Grade

by Erin Snyder Dixon | October 1, 2010

Some states require salons to post inspection ratings (like this restaurant rating) in a prominent place.

State inspectors have the ability to strike fear into salon owners, but listen closely and you will find opportunity ... even in a less-than-perfect rating. How states handle inspections (or a lack of them) is as varied as the colors clients choose.

In some states, such as North Carolina, inspections are regular and results must be prominently posted. A numerical grade gives the consumer an idea of how the business fares compared to established standards. Scanning the database reveals that a perfect score is no easy task. In other states, such as Virginia or California, inspections occur less regularly or are based on a complaint. Most state boards view their role as inspectors more as educational or compliance-related. While the inspectors NAILS spoke to were adamant about not being named, they also stressed that they do not intend to scare salon professionals and work closely to help salons become compliant. One inspector shared that she is convinced most violations are simply the result of being uninformed about the regulations.

Got a great rating? You can breathe easy until the next inspection. Not so fast! Holly Schippers, owner of FingerNailFixer in Bussey, Iowa, recommends striking while the iron is hot. Some creative wording worked into your next ad could do the trick. “We practice superior salon sanitation, but don’t just take the state inspector’s word for it, book your own inspection as a mani/pedi today.”

Share what’s involved in getting that shiny rating. Volunteer to write an article for the local paper chronicling the inspection process. Post articles on your salon’s website with sanitation information. Clients researching services will find the articles and get a feel for your commitment to professionalism. The articles can target potential clients and help guide their buying decisions.

Wish clients had more information to help them navigate salon safety? No ratings to post? Why not develop your own checklist? Post it in a conspicuous place and make sure that it is updated frequently. The practice not only gets staff members in the habit of completing each task but also conveys that procedure to salon patrons. Client feedback cards offer additional avenues to educate clients and do a self-rating. Schippers suggests asking clients if the table was disinfected in front of them, services were pain-free, new files were used, etc. The results of patron feedback cards can be shared in printed materials.

“I wish the consumer knew what to look for and would insist on it when choosing a safe nail salon,” chimes Maggie Franklin, owner of The Art of Nailz in Visalia, Calif. “I do think putting the necessary info in front of the consumer would raise awareness. Can we put it in People magazine? What about on the cover of The Inquirer?”

OK, the truth is clients will probably never know if it was cloudy disinfectant or a trash can with no lid that subtracted points from a rating. Some will pass by the rating and silently wonder. Some will ask. Why not own up to the not-so-perfect rating and turn it into something positive?

“Overcoming a bad rating could be tricky,” says Schippers. She suggests some language for salons working to overcome the tarnished numbers. “The state helped us find our bad habits — come see how things have changed and let us know how you would rate our new and improved salon sanitation.” She also advises that larger salons could promote a staff member to the position of sanitation manager.

A less-than-perfect rating is more than a snapshot in time, it’s an image issue. Depending on when the next inspection is, the information could be floating around a while. Damage control is essential. Finding a way to let clients know that the salon has come up with a better way of doing things is key to growth. Admitting that there is always room to improve shows initiative. Staff members should all be on the same page when fielding questions about a recent rating change.

When the inspector has eyed the last file and ensured the disinfectant was properly mixed, we hope that your salon is left with an A+ perfect rating. Go ahead, share it with the world. Schippers’ invitation would read, “Five-Star service and sanitation. Come help us celebrate a clean inspection!”

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