We asked three salon owners who’ve dealt with this issue personally to share their experiences and conclusions.


There’s been an influx of deep discount shops into my small town over the past few years. Two years ago, one opened up directly across the street from my salon. Was I afraid this place would affect my business? No. Has it? No. Will it? No.

What I have to offer will not be found in a discount salon. Topshelf products, no Dremels to burn the nails, implements washed and sanitized for each client, and a friendly environment are just a few of the niceties I offer all my clients. Did I mention I also take classes a few times a year? This is education that those who patronize discount salons will not ever get the benefit of. And my clients are willing to pay more for it — even with a discount salon within a stone’s throw from my salon.

Many calls I receive are from price shoppers. Recently a woman called to find out how much my fills are. When I told her, she got quite nasty and told me my prices were “disgusting.” I then explained to her the difference between where she goes and my salon. I added that she must not be happy with her current tech or she would not be calling me.

Of course, we all have limits on what we want to spend on services. Still, I have a full book of clients, most with standing appointments. This tells me my clients are happy with my services, and they are willing to pay more to come to my salon.

I do not feel that nails are just a commodity. Many women want their nails to look beautiful because they are working with the public. Some use their hands to demonstrate products. They want nails that don’t look like they are right off an assembly line. They want a service that does not hurt. They want nails that don’t look like Chiclets gum.

My prices are more than double the cost of the local discount salons in my area. I am making a nice profit and am not pushing the clients in and out as fast as I can to make money. Although our bottom line is to make a nice income, my clients do not suffer from shortcuts or questionable products.

The bad press surrounding our industry has not affected my business. I try to educate all my clients. Most are ignorant to the many ways they can be harmed in this industry, though quite a few have seen the news about the pedicure lesions in Northern California and the MMA issue. When they ask me about it, I am able to explain to them the dangers of not being aware of what is being done and what products are being used.

What has happened is I have picked up many clients who had become discouraged by their experiences at discount salons. They have come to me with nails ripped from the nail bed, bacterial infections that have not been taken care of, and rings of fire that hurt just to look at. I explain to them that I will not hurt them even though I do use an electric file. The difference is I am trained and proficient in the use of the e-file. The bottom line — you get what you pay for.

If you feel that you have to compete with the discount salons, then you need to set yourself apart from them. First and most importantly, continue with your education. This alone will make you stand out. You can never learn too much. The products and the industry are forever changing. Offer a service they don’t. Be sure to advertise that you have the cleanest salon in town, then be sure it is. Perfect your skills. Offer pink-and-whites that will wow anyone who looks at them.    – Lynnette Madden has been a nail tech for 10 years and is also licensed in esthetics. For the past seven years she has been the owner of Salon 29 in East Greenville, Pa.


Like it or not discount nail salons are here to stay. The question more and more nail techs and salon owners are asking themselves is whether discount salons are making it too hard to compete and succeed in their market. While it is true that the emergence of the discount salon certainly poses challenges to the more traditional nail tech and salon owner, these challenges are by no means insurmountable. I would like to suggest that there is room and indeed even a need for both types of salons and that we, as traditional nail techs and salon owners, can succeed and even flourish in this new marketplace. The key to our success can be found by defining for ourselves just who our target markets are.

For discount nail salons, the target consumer is someone whose priorities in a nail salon are (in order of importance):

1. Price

2. Speed and availability

3. Quality and craftsmanship

4. Cleanliness and sanitation


If you are looking to compete on this playing field you are probably going to lose. Most of the discount salons have access to cheaper labor and cheaper products. We’ve all heard stories about the use of illegal products, poor sanitation practices, lowwage workers, etc. The fact is, however, if someone is looking for the lowest price and her thinking is “get me in and get me out and I just hope you’re licensed and cleaning your tools and your pedicure spas according to state board standards,” then the discount salon is a welcome addition to the neighborhood strip mall. As a matter of fact, if not for the discount nail salon, this person probably would not even be getting her nails done. So are we in traditional salons really out anything? Is this the target market that you’re looking for? If not, then the outlook for your business is bright.

In contrast to the client who is looking for the advantages of the discount salon, our target client’s priorities should be the exact opposite. There are still people who are looking for a total salon experience; they want quality work and are willing to pay for it. Our target client’s priorities should be (in order of importance):

1. Cleanliness and sanitation

2. Quality and craftsmanship

3. An unhurried, enjoyable experience with someone who cares about me

4. Price

When we get a new client in our chair we should thank her for choosing us for her nail service needs, and ask her how she came to us and what she is looking for in a nail tech or salon. We should always educate our clients about the importance of strict sanitation procedures, have examples of our work to show, and demonstrate that we care about them and appreciate their patronage. When we develop a client list with this kind of consumer, we are destined for success and it doesn’t matter how many discount salons go up. We will succeed!

So, back to our original question, “Are discount salons making it too hard to compete and succeed?” The answer is yes and no. Yes, if you give up too easily and try to compete on their level, and no, if you don’t mind getting out of your comfort zone, don’t expect anyone to give you anything, and know that you have to be willing to work hard, work smart, and give everyone who sits down at your table extraordinary customer care and service.  – Rebecca Gardner has been the coowner of Park Avenue Salon and Day Spa in Paso Robles, Calif., for nine years. A licensed cosmetologist, Gardner has been doing nails exclusively for the past five years.



After almost 18 years in the industry, I finally opened up my own salon and am finding that my biggest challenge is educating the average consumer on professional nail care. So many new clients have never had their nails done anywhere but a discount salon. I prefer to call them “McNails,” a term I use with a certain level of respect for the market niche that they have carved out for themselves. While traditional nail salons are struggling to become spas or boutique nail salons, these salons have firmly staked out their ground and are doing very well at it.

The problem arises when a nails-only salon, like mine, attempts to take customer service and atmosphere to a higher level. When calling around for prices, a client may find one salon charges $15 for a “spa” manicure, while another salon charges $40. Discount salon customers have been duped by phrases like “lacquer” or “solar” nails, have never seen a true gel nail before, and do not know what a pink-and-white backfill is. They think a nail service is supposed to hurt and have never experienced anything close to a real spa-style pedicure. They think they are comparing apples to apples, when it’s really apples and oranges.

I do my best to educate customers, but it is challenging and not just because of the force of discount salons. It seems the traditional salons have been so busy competing against each other that the whole industry is suffering because of it. I have met and worked with a lot of talented nail techs I respect, but there are still a lot of techs who are not helping our cause. They don’t feel the need for continuing education and updated sanitation practices, nor do they want to invest any money in sprucing up their salons because their books are already full. I know of professional educators who have priced themselves to compete with the non-standard salons, 25-year veterans who haven’t raised their prices in nearly a decade, and salon owners who don’t even wash their hands between clients. How are we as an industry supposed to be empowered when our frontrunners don’t believe they deserve even a cost-of-living raise, let alone comprehensive benefits and a healthy work environment?

The truth is the traditional salons are losing the battle. If a customer is going to receive a mediocre service experience, she might as well save a few bucks and head down the block to a discount salon. Think about it, you wouldn’t pay $8.50 for a fast food hamburger, but you would pay that for a hamburger that was served to you in a comfortable restaurant with a fun atmosphere and all-you-can-eat fries!

I think we have to stop putting down the non-standard salons and start having a healthy respect for the challenge they pose to us. Yes, there are still many that are using MMA, hurting clients, and using sub-standard sanitation practices. But many of these salons are now being handed over to the next generation and they are aggressive, business-savvy, and nothing if not innovative. The bar is being raised and we need to adapt, and exceed, if we are going to survive.  – Deborah Blatchley is the owner of HFN: Hands, Feet & Nails in Fort Collins, Colo. She has been a licensed cosmetologist since 1990.  

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