Rhonda Harris left the nail business to earn her bachelor’s degree in finance, but after six years in the corporate world, she realized it wasn’t for her. “My true passion is doing nails,” says Harris. “So I decided to go back into the salon part time to see how things would go.”
Harris isn’t alone. Many techs leave the business — for maternity, to try their hand at a different career, even to become “domestic engineers.” But many find their hearts stir when they pass salons, and fond memories come to mind every time they open a bottle of polish. They realize they long to return to an environment that allows them to use their artistic creativity and develop new skills.
But what’s the protocol? When a tech returns to the chair, is it rude to call old clients — or rude not to? Should she make changes or use the same product and offer the same services as before? Where can she learn about changes in the industry? These are some common obstacles any returning tech will face.
CONTACTING OLD CLIENTS
Probably the first question on any returning tech’s mind is: Should I contact my old clients to let them know I’m doing nails again? “Each situation is different,” says Alice Wallace, a nail tech from Edison, N.J. “But I think if a tech is coming back into the business, it’s right to let the clients know.”
“I was gone for about a year, and when I moved back home I contacted my old clients,” says Maggie Franklin, a nail tech at Attitudes Salon in Visalia, Calif. Franklin says she didn’t expect clients to come back to her, and she wasn’t trying to steal them away from the woman she had referred them to when she left. However, she wanted to contact clients so they wouldn’t feel snubbed. “I sent them a card to let them know I was back in town and doing nails. Wording was tough! I wanted to tell them I was back, but I didn’t want them to think I expected them to come back to me,” says Franklin.
Cindy Sorrells, owner of Total Nail Solutions in Baker City, Ore., says her first reaction to the idea of contacting old clients to let them know she was back was, “No way! That’s way too unprofessional.” However, some clients misread Sorrells’ motive behind her quiet return. “Some of my old clients heard that I was back and booked an appointment with me,” says Sorrells. “But during their appointments, several of them told me they thought I was trying to ditch them, which was certainly not the case.”
Whether you choose to contact old clients or let them find you through word of mouth is up to you, but most techs agree on this: Once you leave, they are no longer your clients. You can appeal to them on the merits of your work, your past relationship, or your prices, location, or services, but ultimately, it’s like winning over a new client. One note to remember: Many techs refer clients to a friend or worthy colleague when they leave the business. If that tech helped ease your departure and has provided excellent service while you’ve been away, you may want to give her the professional courtesy of a phone call to let her know you’re back so she doesn’t hear it from someone else.
BUILDING A CLIENTELE
Many techs will remember those lonely hours in the first few months of business spent trying to build a clientele. Some would wait in the salon for walk-ins, others who were lucky enough to work in full-service salons spent the day “working the room,” promoting themselves to clients who were there for hair appointments. Still others spent all their free time passing out cards and flyers — anything to try to build a clientele. But that’s for rookies, right? Wrong. The way to build a clientele after a hiatus differs little from the first time around. All the same rules apply: shameless self-promotion and always keep your nails in excellent shape and your business cards handy. Pursue the ideal clients: teachers, real estate agents, bankers, etc. (the list is quite long) — responsible women with disposable incomes whose hands are seen and judged by the public. However, the times, they are a-changin’, so techs may notice some differences when building a clientele this time around.
“It is much harder now because people have so many options, with the number of discount salons available and the convenience of these salons,” says Harris. Fifteen years ago a nail tech needed a great personality, reliability, and creativity to be successful. Now, techs may feel like they’re up against corporate America, and they need a marketing degree and an interactive website to break into the business. That’s not necessarily the case, but the truth is that the typical nail client has changed. Discount salons have lowered prices and increased convenience — two staples the public has come to expect. These two factors have also helped to create a younger client — one who is unaccustomed to booking (or keeping) appointments weeks in advance, but who techs need to start talking to if they expect to stay ahead in the business.
Technology also makes a difference as you build your clientele. Websites such as MySpace, Facebook, and Craigslist help techs network for free with people from their area. Personal websites can be created at a reasonable price for clients looking online for a new salon. E-promotion companies, such as Constant Contact, help techs stay in touch with customers. Nancy McCoy, owner of The Nail BeD Salon in Ripley, Miss., says that she started a MySpace page in October 2007. She invited anyone within a five-mile radius to her friends’ list. She posts bulletins regularly and e-mails her list with new specials. She says she averages six new appointments a week from that page. All this advertising costs her nothing. MySpace won’t work for everyone, of course. It speaks to a certain demographic. However, returning techs are faced with the challenge of how to talk to the neo-client, and networking sites are good tools to use when appropriate.
While building a clientele, techs need to answer some questions: What is different about the atmosphere of my salon? Why are my prices different? What do I offer that clients can’t find at other salons — and why don’t I offer some of the things they can? When techs know the answers to these questions, they have a better understanding of what makes their salon and services unique, which helps them market themselves when they talk to potential clients.
Are you talking to the woman who wants a traditional salon where she is served refreshments and is encouraged to book ahead, or are you talking to the neo-client who wants to walk in with no appointment and get dazzling nail art while she talks on the phone to a friend instead of to you? In truth, techs are probably talking to both audiences, but there’s a balance there. You can’t be all things to all people. Find your niche; learn who your ideal client is, and then talk to her.
FINDING YOUR NICHE
Finding a niche sounds easy until you begin investigating the market. You could begin to feel like you’re drowning in confusion from the changing lingo: glitter gel, colored acrylic, solar nails, stiletto nails, mylars, impressions, flowers, etc. What’s going on? Techs who left the business providing basic services, such as acrylics with polish, return to clients who demand show-quality art. Returning techs won’t be back long before they realize the need for more education. “When I came back into the industry, there were big changes,” says Christianna Keller, nail tech at Salon One in Warren, Ohio. Keller realized that upon returning to the business, she had some work to do: She educated herself about gel nails, invested in a better drill, and began to advertise on Craigslist.
The good news is that not only has the clientele changed while you were gone — so have techs. “When I returned to the business after a few years home with the kids, there was a whole different feel,” says Laura Campos, owner of Southern Accent Salon in Gainesville, Fla. “Because of places like BeautyTech.com, there seems to be more sharing and caring between techs. We all want everyone to be the best they can be,” she says.
That’s great news for the returning tech. Information available online at places such as NailsMag.com and BeautyTech.com allows returning techs to see all the latest and greatest on the market. Plus, with the network of friends available online, returning techs will have all the support they need to get up to speed. That may mean technical knowledge — why choose gel over acrylics, and how to apply gel nails — to technology questions — what’s the most user-friendly scheduling software?
The truth is, techs are already familiar with the niche market. Years ago, the entire industry was the niche! As the industry has expanded and the client has become more educated, niche markets are created within the industry. Think about it — one niche market is the discount salon. These salons speak to clients who don’t want a relationship with their nail tech. They want a quick solution to unattractive nails, and salons are available to give them what they want. Another niche market is the permanent French nails for clients who want gorgeous, low-maintenance nails. Another market is the perfect pedicure; another offers natural nail services using purely organic ingredients. Techs can now build full clienteles on very specific applications and services. The key is to create a buzz around what you do well. Study your area, visit local salons to find out where they excel and what’s missing, and then carve out your niche. Before long you’ll find your mojo, and you’ll be back where you belong.