After 14 years in the nail industry — seven in the salon and seven on the road — Chicago-based Calandra Lamb has seen what each situation has to offer and is happy with her choice to be mobile. She chose to leave the salon for self-employment, and to add flexibility to her schedule. She says the pace of being on the go suits her personality, and she likes being able to offer clients personalized customer service. “The benefit of going into a client’s home is that I can offer clients a level of privacy that isn’t available in the salon,” says Lamb.

Clients loved the idea of getting their nails done in their homes so much that Lamb had to explain the boundaries: She wasn’t there to linger, eat, or visit — she was there to work. “I had to let them know I had an appointment scheduled after them and I had to stay on time.”

Now, after so many years of going into their homes, clusters of clients have combined their appointment times, which allows Lamb to stay on schedule, but also allows the customers to plan a mini social event. “Many clients are related, so I’ll go to somebody’s house and three or four people are there to get their nails done,” says Lamb. This works well because while people are visiting and snacking she can continue to work on clients. They have the feeling of being pampered, and Lamb can service more clients in one day.

The concept of traveling manicurists is not new to nursing homes, where techs are commissioned to come on scheduled days to provide services to residents, or to hospitals where techs visit and provide manicures to women who can’t leave their rooms. However, between the time crunch of people’s schedules and the demand for personalized service, mobile opportunities have carved a lucrative niche in the nail industry that allow techs to venture beyond the traditional travel locations.

Uncharted Territory

Kenosha, Wis.-based Marvin and Jennifer Bayless have taken the concept of the traveling tech to a whole new level. After a visit with Jennifer’s grandmother that included Marvin giving a pedicure to Gram, they conceived the idea of going into seniors’ homes to provide manicure and pedicure services. While researching the idea, they realized they lived in a state where traveling techs are prohibited. Undeterred, Marvin looked over the rules and regulations and realized if he remodeled a motor home, he would meet all the state’s requirements for a nail salon. Thus began his journey from Harley-riding electrician to mobile nail tech. He converted a 30-foot motor home into a traveling salon equipped with two nail stations and a pedicure chair.

Once his salon was ready to go, he ran a $15 ad in the local paper targeted to seniors who wanted curbside service. Instead of being inundated with calls from seniors, he was contacted by SC Johnson Corporation. Johnson wanted the mobile male manicurist to drive to their lot during the business day so their staff could get manicures and pedicures done during their breaks. “This fits right into the work/life balance that employers are trying to provide for their employees,” says Bayless. In exchange for bringing his salon to their location, the company advertises for him on their inter-office communications.

Bayless says he attracts two types of clients who wouldn’t schedule traditional salon appointments. “Many of these are clients who wouldn’t take time after work to drive to a salon, but they can walk right out of the building into my salon to get their nails done while they are eating their sandwich for lunch,” he says. And then there are the other salon-shy clients who Bayless sees.

Manly Man

Men. Of course they get their nails done, right? Well, maybe in the big city, but in small towns it’s still an attention grabber. It’s precisely because of the curious glances from women under the dryers that many men avoid the salon atmosphere. “Men don’t want to walk into a salon and see one of their wife’s friends,” says Bayless. Half of the customers that Bayless sees are men in their 50s and 60s. “They need their toenails cut; they aren’t able to do it themselves, and their wives aren’t about to do it. So I get a call,” he laughs. Bayless says he turns on a sports channel and the men relax and drink coffee during their appointments.

Andrea Jones has also found a receptive market among male clients. Jones is a nail tech in a barbershop in Chicago who went mobile because many of her clients worked too late to get to the shop before it closed. To accommodate her clients, she offered to come to their homes after work, or on Sunday. She said her clients appreciated her availability and going mobile has increased her business. Plus, once her clients’ wives and girlfriends realized she would come to their homes, they started making appointments, too. Now, she’s able to be mobile three days a week.

Take the Good with the Bad

Taking the show on the road has offered techs adventure and non-traditional clients, but there are some disadvantages. The upside of the pace and flexibility can also be the downside. Conditions are always changing; traffic, bad road conditions, or severe weather can make a scheduled day fall apart. Jones says even though her Buff & Go nail station allows her to carry all her supplies conveniently she still struggles with getting in and out of the car during Chicago’s bad winters. Add to that a traffic problem and you could be forced to reschedule your whole day.

Lamb identifies a problem she has experienced while being mobile: not eating properly. “Sometimes I’m so tired during a 6 p.m. appointment, and I realize I haven’t eaten all day,” she says.

Finally, being away from your base, whether it’s a salon or your home, can add stress to your workday because of the extra work it takes to carefully check your kit “essentials” each time you go out.

Desiree Tatum, a nail trainer and tech also from Chicago, is willing to leave the salon to participate in a multi-client appointment, but says, “after being in the business for 10 years, it’s just not appealing to go to an appointment for only one person.” By the time she factors in travel time, planning, and preparation, she views staying in the salon as a better use of her time. However, if you plan well, have the ability to bounce back from schedule changes, and remember all the supplies on your list, traveling to clients’ homes can be a positive — and lucrative — business move.

Extra Service + Convenience = Higher Profits

One of the most appealing aspects of in-home services is that the added attention and convenience to the customer can mean a higher paycheck for the tech. Bayless charges $25 for an express manicure, and $40 for an express pedicure, about 10% more than the going rate at area salons.

And although traveling isn’t Tatum’s preference, when she does travel, Tatum knows she can get up to $70 for a pedicure. It’s this perk that can be the deciding factor when techs weigh the pluses and minuses of travel.

For one nail client-turned-nail technician, that wasn’t the motivation at all. “As a client, I was tired of trying to find a nail tech who liked her job,” says

Lorraine Flynn of Rochester, N.Y. “I would sit through my appointments with a tech who didn’t smile just so I could have pretty nails.”

Flynn says that even after trying several different salons she couldn’t find the relaxed, service-centered experience she was looking for. In response, Flynn enrolled in beauty school, earned her license, and started Manicures on Wheels, offering manicures and pedicures to clients in their homes. Her business, which began in October 2004, has been well received by brides, and Flynn hopes to expand into other markets. “Everyone is complaining about time and money,” she says, “I’m offering to meet them at a convenient location — on their time — and keep my prices the same as they would expect to pay at a salon.”

While the possibility of more money may or may not be the reason to travel, as customers continue to increase their demands for more personalized service, experts say the demand for on-location appointments will increase. Leatrice Woody, owner of Chicago-based Buff & Go — manufacturer of a self-contained, wheeled nail station — says more and more people are looking for services in their homes or businesses.

“Discount places have provided nails to the masses so more people than ever have nails, but people want attention — they want to be pampered,” she says. Woody says the demand for mobile techs is coming not only from busy professionals like doctors and lawyers, but also from women who want house parties that are a relaxing escape.

This side demand — women who want a tech to provide manicures and pedicures for their parties — is an extra opportunity beyond servicing your regular clients with their scheduled appointments. Instead of parties where women come to buy makeup, cooking gadgets, or home decorations, women are scheduling their house parties to be a “girls’ night in.” It’s these parties that Tatum says are worth the travel time. She says parties are fun and laid back and clients love them. Plus, on a Sunday afternoon, she can make more than $300. (Pedicure parties will be covered in greater detail in part 2 of this article in the August issue of NAILS.)

All Packed Up and Ready to Go

If you find yourself visualizing how you are going to sell at-home services to your clients, keep one thing in mind: Not all states allow techs to go into clients’ homes (see chart on page 66). While creative solutions are sometimes possible, as Bayless proved by opening his mobile salon, this is obviously a big consideration. Once you know you are in the clear to mobilize, determine what your goals are. Do you want to travel every day? How far are you willing to travel? What will you charge? Do you want to stay in the salon and add travel services only on nights and weekends?

Once you’ve decided what you mean by “have tools, will travel,” it’s time to launch your new service line. Tatum offers suggestions on breaking into the biz. “To get into the mobile business, pitch the idea to a friend,” she says. “Start by calling a friend (or client) and say, ‘Hey, remember that party you had last year for your birthday? That was so fun! You know what you should do this year? You should have a manicure party.’ Then offer to go to her house and give her guests manicures and pedicures. Once there, you could offer your services to the guests at their own homes.

Another venue for clients is upscale hotels. “Contact the nicer hotels in the area. Offer your services to hotel guests and leave literature and a price list with the concierge,” says Tatum. She also adds that if you are affiliated with a salon, you may be more successful than if you just walked into a hotel with no connection to an established local business. Discuss with the salon owner how you can distribute and market their salon while offering your services to hotel guests.

If you are going to break into the mobile business with your current clients, you’ll need to prepare a travel kit. Tatum recommends the Buff & Go station for convenience and mobility; Bayless uses a foam-lined tool case. What you store in your unit will depend on which services you offer — pedicures, manicures, enhancements, etc. You can cover the basics by looking through our “must-have” checklist, but each tech will add her own favorites. Flynn likes to arrive in a professional, white jacket. Lamb carries personal files and buffers for each client and Jones brings candles to her appointments. By providing excellent, personalized attention to their clients, these techs are expanding their loyal customer base — from the road. n

On-the-Road Survival Kit

Be sure to bring the following essentials along:

• Table lamp

• Extension cord

• Nail table towels

• Polish remover

• Cuticle remover

• Cotton

• Orangewood sticks

• Hand sanitizer

• Cuticle pusher

• Nippers

• Nail primer and application brush

• Nail tips

• Glue

• Glue remover

• Powder and liquid

• Application brush

• Various files and buffers

• Cuticle cream/oil

• Scrubs

• Nail strengthener

• Ridge filler

• Base coat

• Top coat

• Colored polish

• Implement sanitizers

• Pedi spa

• Towels

• Toe separators

• Spa fizzers

• Pedi booties

Michelle Pratt is a freelance writer and licensed nail tech based in Johnson City, N.Y.

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