No one can argue that the nail industry has undergone some serious changes in the last decade. Ten years ago, techs who offered quality work, a clean salon, and excellent customer service could be pretty confident they would succeed. But with rising gas prices, the housing crisis, and the dollar dropping on the world market, some techs feel fortunate to eek out enough to pay the bills. Some techs have even left the industry, tired of fighting what they perceive is a losing battle to hold on to a profession that has lost its earning potential. “I know of about five techs in this town who threw in the towel,” says Debbie Milam, an Entity Advantage certified trainer and booth renter at Reflections Day Spa in San Angelo, Texas. “They said it was just too hard to make a living.”

Darlene Donovan, owner of Nails by Darlene, located at Salon Tuscany in Derry, N.H., understands the crisis: “Every time gas creeps up, I lose a client,” she says. “I remember when people couldn’t even get in for an appointment, but now a client can call and get in the next day.”

Many techs nod in agreement at this all-too-familiar reality. Nonetheless, some techs don’t believe the economy has hampered them from succeeding. “We’re crazy busy,” says Gina Silvestro, co-owner of Gel Essentialz in Cranston, R.I. She and her partner, Brenda Gates, opened Gel Essentialz a year ago as a place to educate and train techs how to use Akzentz gel products. They began with six empty nail tables, which they thought they would use simply as training stations, but one year later the tables are filled and business is booming.

“Recently I was able to increase my hours,” says Amy Bickel, owner of Amy’s Nail Spa in Temple, Texas. “I went through my list of old and new clients, notifying them of my extended hours, and the response has been overwhelming in just a few days of them receiving the cards.”

These techs have found a way to creatively respond to the market to achieve their goals. And they personify the resourceful ingenuity that is a trademark of nail technicians. The market and the industry have changed. That’s a fact. Nail techs need to ask themselves, “What am I doing to succeed in this new marketplace?”


Moving Forward

Bryan Durocher, president of Durocher Enterprises, a company dedicated to helping beauty professionals become more profitable, says “This is not the time to be afraid. It’s time to move forward.” He points to the day spas, which started becoming popular during the recession in the 1990s, as an example of moving forward during difficult times. Durocher says a nail service is always about value, so one way to improve business is to increase perceived value.

“Don’t lower prices,” says Durocher. “Add value. People don’t mind paying money for an experience.” This can be done through simple alterations: add aromatherapy during a massage step with scented lotion. Offer tea in a tea cup instead of in Styrofoam. Send birthday and anniversary cards, inviting clients in for a special-occasion treat, or send a follow-up card thanking them for their business and reminding them of their next appointment. Small, inexpensive details like these set your salon apart from the competition, but they also make the appointment about more than nails. It becomes about the client, not about her money. A client may be willing to trim the expense of a nail appointment from her budget, but she’s less likely to sacrifice the one-hour indulgence she allows herself where she is in the presence of someone who validates her, understands her, doesn’t interrupt her, and tells her in a hundred little ways that “she’s worth it.”

Donovan has this perceived value down so well that even when clients take their nails off because of finances, they come to her salon to keep in touch with her. She sees this as a sign that clients will return after the lean season is over. In the meantime, she solicits new clients through what she calls “walking advertisement.” She applies a couple of free sets of specialty nails, glitter nails for example, to friends. The friends talk her up while they are out and about, and it gets Donovan’s name out in the marketplace.


Set Yourself Apart

With the competition in the market — not just other nail salons, but any outlet that is vying for your customer’s dollar — it’s crucial to set yourself apart. “People are always looking for new and improved,” says Silvestro. “Get out there, find a great product, use technology, and take the business back.” Silvestro doesn’t look at the trend of clients stretching appointments to three weeks as a bad thing. Her theory is that if clients are looking for something that allows them to stretch their appointments, techs should find a product that lasts longer and give clients what they want. She says the upside of a three-week appointment is that she and her staff can take care of more clients.

The common theme among techs is that you can’t wait for business to find you — you need to go after it. “You can’t wait for clients to come to you,” says Bickel. “You need to recreate yourself and create excitement about what you’re doing.” Bickel did this by sending clients simple 4” x 6” postcards announcing her specials, and by making her salon more user-friendly through technology. She created her own website using Yahoo’s small business services, and she found a company called using SpaBoom that allows her to offer gift certificates online. SpaBoom customizes the gift certificates to include the salon branding and makes the certificate available to print or send via e-mail. This generates business for Bickel from local clients and from non-locals as well. Someone who lives in another part of the country may want to send a last-minute gift to a friend. SpaBoom allows that person to instantly have the gift certificate available — even as an out-of-town buyer.

A second resource Bickel uses is SpaEmergency. This company lists all the salons that use SpaBoom on its website. They market and drive e-commerce to their site so potential clients can look through the listings, find a salon that offers the convenience of on-the-spot gift certificates, and a sale is made. The best news is that Bickel can offer and promote this service as a benefit of choosing her salon, but she doesn’t need to be technologically savvy to make it happen.


Attitude Is Essential

Techs who offer these conveniences to clients will certainly attract new clients, and when they come in, the attitude of the tech is essential to keeping their business. Let your salon be the oasis where there’s no talk of a bad economy. Embrace an attitude of gratitude, both for the client choosing your salon and for life in general. And, suggests Durocher, change the way you view nail services. “If you think nails are a luxury, clients will think nails are a luxury.” Instead, speak of nail care as a choice to embrace overall well-being — all year long. For example, in January and February encourage clients to book pedicures. “Feet aren’t going to look fantastic the minute they come out of their winter boots. If you put pantyhose on your head and covered it with a leather bag for three months, do you think your skin would look good when you took it off?” In the same way, feet can’t come out of winter socks and shoes and be ready for summer with one pedicure.

Techs may understand perceived value, they may keep themselves current on all the latest industry trends, and they may utilize the technological tools available to them — yet they may still feel the proverbial tightening of the purse strings. It’s here that the resourceful ingenuity that seems to be found in so many techs is recognized. “I held on and thank God I did,” says Milam. “Now I’m booked solid.” It took courage for Milam to stick it out when she saw techs who had been doing nails from eight to 18 years close their doors in response to increased expenses. “I lost quite a few clients, but I knew the timing would change, so to supplement my lost income, I started to sell retail. I realized that if I’m excited about it, people would buy it.”

Gloria Spraguer, a nail tech at is DK Salonat 419 in Wilkes Barre, Pa., has been doing nails for six years. “This year has been especially hard,” she says. “Heating costs and gas prices are going up, but wages aren’t. I think people are afraid. They are being very cautious.” Spraguer navigates these hurdles by offering clients specials such as $25 pedicures before noon and adding a small charge to clients who stretch their appointments so far that it creates extra work for her. She also found success in contacting old clients to let them know the salon where she works has expanded into a day spa.

“In our town, we have about 35,000 people and seven or eight nails-only salons,” says Donna Shur, owner of Nails by Donna at Headquarters Salon in Huntsville, Texas. “December and January were very slow, but in February it started picking up and now I’m totally booked for the four days I work. During those slow months, I pushed gift certificates quite a bit and that helped my bottom line at the end of the month.”

Don’t wait for someone to tell you specific changes you need to make to “take the business back.” You can’t change the market or the price of gas, but you can stay committed and energized as you navigate your business through a whole new economy.


How Bad Is the Gas Crunch?

We all know it’s there, but how bad is it, really? Below we have a snapshot:
> In 1995, the average cost of a fill was $21; the average price of a gallon of gas was $1.25 — or 6% of a fill.
> In 2000, the average fill cost was $22; the average price of a gallon of gas was $1.50 — or 7% of a fill.
> In 2005, the average cost of a fill was $26; the average price of a gallon of gas was $2.04 — or 8% of a fill.
> We don’t have the figures yet for the average cost of a fill in 2008, but taking the price from three years ago, and using today’s gas price of $3.35, puts the price of a gallon of gas at 12.5% of a fill. Ouch.

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