Nail techs are, by natural selection, generally an artistic bunch. The profession’s day-to-day choices — from polish color recommendations to nail art designs to the art of creating the most perfectly natural-looking nail enhancement — show a certain creative sensibility that can be a boon to business. So, it makes sense that harnessing that creative power in other ways could also help your salon distinguish itself. One creative outlet you may not have considered? The art of creating unique, themed nail services.

“I wanted our clients to experience all we have to offer. It seemed like when they came in they were afraid to try new services even though the cost was minimal,” says Greta Lesh, owner of The Nail Station in Huntington, Ind. “Now they can take advantage of our themed pedicures and try new services at the same time. Many of our clients are repeat clients for the monthly special because they want to experience something new every month!”

Even if changing your nail services every month isn’t feasible, simply making appropriate menu additions for seasonal changes or holidays can add excitement and revive the clientele in your salon. The inspiration for themed services can start anywhere. Here are just a few examples:

> Drinks: Margarita Manicure
> Favorite Foods: Chocolate Pedicure
> Special Products: Callus Therapy Pedicure
> Places: Hawaiian Tropics Pedi
> Flowers: Rose Manicure
> Targeted Groups: Runners’ Pedicure
> Salon Types: Rush Hour Manicure (for mobile salons)
> Salon Themes: Earthen Pedicure (for salons with a “four elements” theme)
> Seasonal Needs: Paraffin Perfect Manicure (for winter dryness)
> Movies: Cosmopolitan Manicure (for “Sex & the City II”)

With your salon team’s brainpower, this list can go on for pages. Keep reading for advice from brainstorming experts and salon owners as they share their methods from service inspiration to completion, then call a brainstorming meeting of your own and let the ideas begin to flow.

Effective Brainstorming Meetings

Experts agree that the most important part of your service brainstorming meeting is to capture all ideas without any criticism. “Stop any attempt to criticize, and make sure that whoever is writing up the ideas doesn’t edit as they go. Almost all ideas need development to begin with — don’t shoot them down too soon,” says Brain Clegg, co-author of the book Instant Creativity: Simple Techniques to Ignite Innovation & Problem Solving and website Creativity Unleashed Limited. “When you have a bunch of ideas, do a first pass on gut feeling — which ideas are most appealing? Don’t worry about practicality at this stage. It’s much easier to take an exciting but impractical idea and make it practical than to take a dull but practical idea and make it appealing.”

Clegg recommends getting away from the workplace to create a more comfortable atmosphere and to avoid scheduling the brainstorming session in the early afternoon, when the brain tends to be particularly slow.

Before the meeting, make sure to tell the salon staff what the goal of the meeting is and what the criteria will be for a successful creative solution, recommends R. Keith Sawyer, author of Group Genius: The Creative Power of Collaboration. “Ask everyone to come up with at least 10 (or even 20) ideas on a sheet of paper that they’ll be ready to share with the group.”

To record the session, you can write on a flip chart or projector screen to keep the ideas at the forefront of the group, Clegg says. Sawyer adds that if you’re writing the ideas down during the meeting it’s best to hire someone as a secretary who’s not expected to contribute. He actually prefers videotaping the meeting, then transcribing the ideas into a computer later, so as not to slow the flow down.

Another brainstorming expert, Hazel Wagner, Ph.D., who authored Power Brainstorming: Great Ideas at Lightning Speed and website, offers a recommendation tailored to salon owners who find it impossible to get all of their nail techs together at the same time. “It is possible to have a tag team meeting. A tag team meeting means that a few power brainstorm and then pass their results to the next team when the first team must return to work,” she says.

For salon owners who have no other employees, experts offer a myriad of techniques for brainstorming alone. Wagner says, “Timers are the best tools for individuals. Set the timer for five minutes and challenge yourself to write down 30 ideas. Without the time to censor, to say to yourself ‘this won’t work’ or ‘this is too much like this other idea’, you will get a great list. Then cluster them into categories and draw a mind map based on the clusters. Anything that occurs to you to add as you are drawing the mind map, go right ahead and add it.”

Clegg recommends simply taking a 15-minute walk. “Don’t force them, but let ideas run through your mind as you walk. Note down anything that occurs to you,” he says.

And, just because you don’t work with other nail techs doesn’t mean you can’t include others in your brainstorming sessions. Invite clients, hairstylists, and even entrepreneurs and others from outside the beauty industry to get a more complete range of ideas.

Finally, remember that brainstorming is an ongoing process. Go back to the idea list later and use it as a jumping off point for more ideas, ask nail techs (and even clients) to write down any service ideas they have and pass them along to you at any time, and ask for feedback after the meeting about any ideas inspired by the brainstorming session.

Service Creation in the Salon

Salon owners have found success in developing services both initially inspired by the service idea itself (say, “olive manicure”) or by first researching unique products (say, finding an olive hand lotion). If you have a product line that you already prefer to use, then consider contacting the company (or attend a class, if the company hosts them) to find out the different ways the product can be incorporated into signature services or what new lines will be available to let you switch up your menu. Some manufacturers even provide signature service kits, in which similarly scented products are grouped together to lend themselves to a themed service. Plus, with the abundance of private labelers, you can create your own products and scents if you can’t find an existing one to fit your service idea (though keep in mind that you’ll have to add on the time and price of research and development).

“Usually the service idea comes first, then it’s research time to see if we can actually put it all together,” Lesh says. In the almost four years since The Nail Station has been creating monthly pedicure specials, she says they’ve only had to nix one idea — and that was because it was cost prohibitive, not because she couldn’t find the product. Julie Nguyen, owner of Blu Water Day Spa in Kensington, Md., says her salon’s “apothecary bar” of different herbs, salts, and essential oils (which lets client customize their own services) was inspired by her local farmers’ market, which sells locally grown ingredients. “Our Apothecary Bar for hands and feet was created from the inspiration to support local farmers in our area,” Nguyen says, adding that this is part of the salon’s commitment to being environmentally responsible. Some ingredients are seasonal, she concedes, so she plans accordingly.

At My Sassy Nail Spa in Washington D.C., owner Misha Parham came up with a special menu of five “destination pedicures”, which are themed for different cities. “We did seasonal pedicures that were all a hit, so I kept around the most popular ones, relating them to the places that reminded me of the pedicure scrub scent,” she says. “So, for instance, we did a chocolate pedicure in the winter, so then I kept it around as the ‘Hershey Park’ pedicure.”

You can extend the theme to all aspects of the service or keep it limited to something as simple as using a different scrub scent. Service aspects you might consider incorporating into the theme include a foot soak garnish (like the real olives Reno, Nev.’s Soak Nail Spa and Lounge added to its Martini Pedi), all of the product scents (soaks, scrubs, lotions, mask, paraffin, etc.), food and/or drinks (like the sparkling wine served with The Pampered Girl in San Francisco’s “Chloe” luxurious French-themed pedicure), polish color recommendations, retail products, take-home gifts (like the rose bouquets The Nail Station offered for its Champagne & Roses Mother’s Day pedicure), and related services like facials or body treatments.

Make sure to plan several months in advance so you have enough time to procure the needed products. “We try to project themed pedicures six months out so we can research products and have them available for the services for that month. We buy our products one month in advance for each pedicure,” Lesh says. Nguyen says she keeps her salon’s featured services in a file and places them on the calendar as ideas.

Notifying Staff and Clients

Once you’ve settled on the new service, you’ll need to ensure all the employees are well-versed in the new service protocols. Julie Nguyen shares her strategy. “Staff meetings are held for new service launches. New services and protocols are demonstrated and practiced by our technicians for proficiency and technique. Prior to release, each technician is given a written or oral test on product knowledge to make sure the service is completely understood and can be technically performed properly.” At The Nail Station, Lesh says, “We try the services on each other at least once prior to the service being implemented. That way we are assured that each one of us gets a pedicure once a month!”

It’s also crucial that your front desk staff understands the new service concept so they can effectively recommend it to clients.

To get the word out to clients, salon owners recommend: e-mail blasts, Facebook and Twitter posts, newspaper ads, in-house promotions like product displays with table cards, press releases to the media, and posting it prominently on the website. Plus, once you get a solid grasp of the art of creating new services, your clients will start anticipating them and creating a buzz for you — a sign of creativity well spent.

Case Study: A Service Inspired by…Seasonal Needs

Blu Water Day Spa’s Peppermint Aromatherapy Mani-Pedi to address the winter needs: dry skin, cold, congestion, stress levels, fatigue, and loss of inner balance


Theme includes: peppermint foot soak, massage cream, paraffin, and a peppermint candy cane

Owner’s notes: “This treatment provides warmth by increasing blood flow, relieves muscle spasms, and arthritis. Peppermint stimulates the skin’s oil production and we often blend it with other oils to treat dry skin. The aromatherapy therapeutic benefits assist guests with feeling more energetic and relaxed by addressing anxiety,” Nguyen says.

Case Study: A Service Inspired by…a Holiday to create a one-stop shop for gift-giving men on Valentine’s Day

The Nail Station’s Cherry Cordial Pedicure


Theme includes: chocolate-cherry-scented soak, scrub, self-heating chocolate mask, and lotion, a box of cherry cordials, a teddy bear, and a pair of Pedi-Sox

Owner’s notes: “This pedicure was a little tricky. We had Keyano Aromatics’ chocolate pedicure products in-house, but trying to find cherry oil from one of our vendors was difficult,” Lesh says. “We actually found a new vendor ( that sold cherry oil, but we had to buy a minimum of $150. Now we have some great ideas for new combinations using the rest of the oils!”

Case Study: A Service Inspired by…a Product a sample package of Pedi Redi foot soak in Green Apple

My Sassy Nail Spa’s Apple Martini Pedicure


Theme includes: green apple foot soak, citrus sugar scrub, and an apple martini

Owner’s notes: “As I was testing the foot soaks, I thought, ‘Wow, this looks like an apple martini,’ then I thought ‘Wouldn’t it be fab to have a martini with your pedicure,” Parham says. “I wanted to use a different foot soak from the basic blue that other salons use.” This pedicure is now on her destination pedicures list as the “Las Vegas” pedicure.

Author Brian Clegg is offering his e-book Instant Brainstorming to NAILS readers for free. (It usually sells for $10.99.) To download the PDF, click here. The password is NAILSReader.

Illustration by Angela Martini

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