Old Rule: A real nail salon must offer acrylics.

New Rule: There’s real money to be made in maintaining natural nails.

Since the average consumer doesn’t wear any type of nail enhancement, there’s always been a large market for natural nail services. But, with the development of signature manicures and pedicures, nail techs were able to charge more for these services (and the perception of nail services was elevated in the eyes of consumers), which allowed natural nails-only salons to be profitable. “When I developed my Natural Nail Cultivation System, my vision was to provide a relaxing and pampering environment for my clients so they would look forward to their treatments every week. Creating an uplifting environment and offering exclusive natural nail treatments and pedicure services attracted the attention of Beverly Hills society and Hollywood’s elite,” says Jessica Vartoughian, who became a pioneer in the high-end natural nails-only niche with the opening of The Jessica Nail Clinic in Beverly Hills, Calif., in 1969. Since then, with increased client demand for natural nail services, natural nails-focused salons have opened up in droves.

Old Rule: Men don’t go to salons.

New Rule: Men make up 8.2% of salon clients (and many salon owners tell us their numbers are actually closer to 25% men).

Thank the changing notions of masculinity for this shift. Whether dubbed “metrosexuals,” “übersexuals,” “heteropolitans,” or something else, it’s become culturally acceptable for men to groom themselves. Bravo TV series Queer Eye for the Straight Guy glamorized the straight-man-makeover and showcased the advantages a sharp appearance can have in a man’s life. Salons too adapted to this trend by offering services just for men, like a “Foot Tune-Up” instead of a “pedicure,” and men’s-only salons have popped up all over the country. “We provide barbers and stylists in a very upscale unique environment that attracts many clients who may not typically go to a barbershop and would prefer a salon,” says Lee Garipoli, who opened ManKind (a salon for men) in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., in 2005. “Men…require and desire to be groomed and pampered.” Natural Nail Cultivation System, my vision was to provide a relaxing and pampering environment for my clients so they would look forward to their treatments every week. Creating an uplifting environment and offering exclusive natural nail treatments and pedicure services attracted the attention of Beverly Hills society and Hollywood’s elite,” says Jessica Vartoughian, who became a pioneer in the high-end natural nails-only niche with the opening of The Jessica Nail Clinic in Beverly Hills, Calif., in 1969. Since then, with increased client demand for natural nail services, natural nails-focused salons have opened up in droves. [PAGEBREAK]

Old Rule: Nail techs are relegated to the back of “hair” salons and are treated as an afterthought.

New Rule: Nails-only salons thrive.

Nail care has been in the U.S. since the early 1900s, but the development of enhancement products in the early ’70s and the marketing that showed off long nails as a fashion necessity helped pave the way for nails-only salons. Then, the Fall of Saigon in 1975 and the following growth of Vietnamese nail salons in the U.S. made nail care an affordable luxury to be enjoyed by the masses. These changes, coupled with the development of signature nail services and “hair” salon owners realizing how profitable nail services could be, brought nail techs out of the back room and onto prime salon real estate. “My first nail job in 1987 was as a manicurist in a salon where the nail area was originally a supply closet,” remembers veteran nail tech Shari Finger. “I left that salon and opened my own little salon within a hair salon where I was right in front near the reception area. My business grew quickly and I opened a second salon within a year also located in a hair salon, this time placing the nail table in the front window. I closed both of those salons 15 years ago and consolidated them into one nails-only salon where clients don’t just come in for manicures they come in for multiple services.” The rest, as they say, is history. 

Old Rule: Red polish or a French manicure were the only acceptable choices.

New Rule: Nail polish colors are matched to the latest trends in consumer fashion, with purples, blacks, yellows, and more being stylish depending on the season.

Suzi Weiss-Fischmann, executive VP and artistic director of OPI, explains: “When women first started wearing nail color, they were afraid to step out of the box and explore new colors. Since then, fashion has evolved so much, and nails have definitely kept up with the latest trends on the runways. Years ago, no one would have ever thought of painting their nails gray or purple, but today, they are the hottest colors for nails!” The increased number of polish color choices and nails gaining more consumer press and clout also helped. “Women have realized that nails make just as much of a statement as hair and makeup, and that is why they are now choosing bold colors to accessorize their looks,” Weiss-Fischmann. [PAGEBREAK]

Old Rule: Nail salons have a distinctive smell.

New Rule: Nail salons are odor-free.

Better ventilation options, advancements in nail technology like gel nails and odorless acrylics, the trend toward natural nail services, and stricter local indoor air quality laws have all made a huge difference in alleviating salon odors. “There is a cultural change taking place within nail salons. Consideration of the salon indoor air quality is moving toward awareness,” says Jeff Cardarella, president of salon ventilation company Modern Solutions. “Unfortunately, the idea that ‘nail salons are odor-free,’ is a goal, but not a reality. The good news is that a better understanding of air purification and exhaust ventilation is moving the nail industry toward both an elimination of offensive odors and healthy salon air quality.” 

Old Rule: Client appointments and confirmations are handled via telephone during regular salon operating hours.

New Rule: Clients appointments are scheduled and confirmed 24/7 via salon websites and e-mail programs.

The Internet revolutionized all aspects of everyday life, and nail salon appointment booking was no exception. Easy website-building tools allow even small salons to create homepages, and affordable salon software programs now allow for online appointment booking and client record-keeping. The web-based programs take the burden off both front desk employees and clients, so online scheduling programs caught on quickly.   

Old Rule: French means pink-and whites.

New Rule: French means a combination of any two colors that work well together.

As nails earn a higher profile in the fashion and beauty industries, nail styles have evolved to become more fashion-forward, including the alternative French look that’s been showing up on runways and on celebrity nails. “No matter what, the original French Manicure will remain as iconic as the Chanel 2.55 handbag. However, the influence of Mary-Kate Olsen and Lindsay Lohan’s reverse black and white French definitely turned heads and acquired a quick following,” says Orly celebrity manicurist Jenna Hipp. “I think with the celebrity and media influence combined with booming technology around us, people also want to create the next ‘big thing’ with nails.”    [PAGEBREAK]


Old Rule: Large, full-service distributors are the main source for nail products.

New Rule :A multitude of alternative distribution channels flourish, including small nails-only dealers.

Distribution channels have come full circle, starting with small mom-and-pop nails-only distributors about 25 years ago, to large, full-scale distributors in the late ’80s to early ’90s, back to small nails-only dealers and new channels like online distribution today. “In the ’80s, Backscratchers came out with a lot of new products but we were told by the full-scale distributors at the time to build distribution ourselves,” says Michael Megna, who co-founded Backscratchers about 25 years ago. “So we really got out there and did education in the schools, then the big distributors started getting calls about our products and they became interested.” Then, with the rising prominence of haircare companies and the buying out and consolidation of many of the large distributors, a void in nail product distribution appeared. That opened the door for the alternative distribution channels that now proliferate.

Old Rule: Clients are unconcerned about salon sanitation.

New Rule: Clients regularly ask questions regarding salon sanitation practices.

Scary news headlines talking about MRSA (Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus), other types of dangerous infections, and alleging “death by pedicure” woke consumers up to the need to inspect nail salons for proper sanitation practices. Several well-known reports of infections contracted at nail salons included a 1999 and 2000 outbreak from a Watsonville, Calif., salon that caused mycobacterial infections in more than 100 women. In November 2004, another outbreak occurred in San Jose, Calif., that had people suffering from leg lesions and infections. And in February 2006, a woman in Texas died from a MRSA infection after receiving a pedicure in which her heel was accidentally cut. Pop star and American Idol judge Paula Abdul also brought salon sanitation into the spotlight when she testified before a California Senate committee that she contracted a staph infection from a manicure she received at a California salon. Several states responded by toughening their nail salon sanitation and disinfection laws and increasing fines for violations. Some nail salons preempt client questions by including information about their sanitation practices on their websites and salon menus.  [PAGEBREAK]

Old Rule: No one schedules standing pedicure appointments.

New Rule: Standing pedicure appointments fill a solid portion of a nail tech’s book.

The introduction of CND’s SpaPedicure line in 1996 was the first organized professional pedicure system and it elevated the stature of pedicures for both cosmetologists and clients. The introduction of more and more pedicure spa manufacturers also made pedicures more accessible by driving the price down for pedicure thrones. Plus, client lifestyle changes in the past 20 years — high, strappy heels that are worn year-round and the fact that it’s now standard to wear skirts without hose — have led clients to booking monthly pedicures so their feet are always in tip-top shape. “We are a better groomed society than we were 10 to 20 years ago. Pretty toes and feet make us happy and a good pedicure can last a month! I think pedicures are seen more as a necessity than they are seen as a luxury by clients,” says Angi Wingle, a CND education ambassador. “Also, more people vacation than they did 20 years ago and sometimes that is the initial factor of getting a pedicure. If it is a wonderful experience and it stays perfect for my trip and beyond, then why wouldn’t I keep it up?” 

Old Rule: Enhancements are limited to fingernails.

New Rule: Gel toes, acrylic French pedicures using toenail tips, and other toenail enhancements are gaining in popularity.

Toenail enhancements are a service that gets clients talking, as perfect French pedicures and glittery “rock star” gel toes lead to referrals. Plus, when first-timers hear about the advantages (like no chipping and the opportunity for toenail shape correction), the service often sells itself. “I’m seeing an increase in demand for this service at the beginning of summer, before vacations, and near the Christmas holiday season when many wear open toe shoes to their parties,” says Christine Turner, NAILS Nail Tech of the Year in 2004, who included a before-and-after toenail overlay in her contest entry. She first offered this service to clients seven years ago and says that today, “It’s the new ‘it’ service for the well-groomed woman. I think manufacturers have aided in increasing awareness of the service by marketing toenail enhancement product lines.” The service still pales in number compared to fingernail enhancements, but growing awareness, word-of-mouth, and new products will ensure toenail enhancement services continue to grow in the future. [PAGEBREAK]

Old Rule: There are two pedicure options: basic and spa.

New Rule: Specialty services, based on themes (like a Chocolate Pedicure or Mojito Manicure) or on add-on services (like hot stone massages or reflexology), are seen as a great way to raise prices and keep clients coming back for more.

“We have now embarked upon a specialty phase,” says Tony Cuccio, whose company Cuccio Naturalé launched its first signature service kit (a Milk & Honey Scentual Spa Kit) in 2001 and launched three other kits in 2006. “It is a great way to increase your service income with the same customer base without raising prices,” Cuccio says. “The goal is to make everybody happy and raise your income by offering service choices.” The evolving role of the nail technician has also played a part in this change. Cuccio says, “Nail technicians are not just nail technicians anymore; they are expected to have greater knowledge and become a skin therapist and not only treat the nails but also the hands, arms, feet, and legs.”  

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