My editor’s note a few months ago about how difficult buying nail products has become for nail technicians struck a nerve. And not only with nail technicians. I heard from as many manufacturers as I did nail technicians after it was published. It seems nail technicians aren’t the only ones frustrated by the state of nail product distribution. In the early days of the nail business, nail product makers didn’t have a lot of choices about how to get their products into the market. They usually took advantage of any opportunity that came down the pike, often spending weekends at trade shows, or selling products direct to customers via an 800 number, utilizing small distributors or beauty stores, all the while knocking on the doors of the big or growing nail distributors trying to get their products considered.

Over time, as the major distributors saw the nail business grow, they started making some shelf room in their stores for more and more nail products (marketers and dealers alike agree that stores are where nail techs do their primary shopping). And eventually, thanks especially to the efforts of the nail companies that helped train (and incentivize) distributors about nails, nail care was a profitable area for many dealers. As nail product manufacturers grew, they focused their energies on the bigger distributors, sometimes eliminating the smaller ones. It was a business necessity.

But as the distributors themselves grew, and started buying up the little distributors, all but the dominant manufacturers found their shelf-space getting squeezed out. Distributors who once threw open their shelves to nail products were now limiting their nail options to only the most basic and well-known products. Many product makers who were once selective about who could and couldn’t distribute their products are now reconsidering restrictive territory boundaries. Many distributor-loyal manufacturers are offering their products direct to salons in areas where they have no distribution.

That’s where we are now: Nail techs are back where they started years ago, using whatever sources are available to get all the products they need.

But here’s the opportunity — and it’s one for both nail techs and manufacturers. The little guys are back in power! Nail distributors focusing on nails only are experiencing a resurgence. Nail techs themselves are opting to become minidealers, distributing their favorite brands in a small territory and making a nice supplemental income. Manufacturers who once were straightjacketed by their distributor contracts are now expanding their distribution. We’ve heard plenty of manufacturers tell us they’re emphasizing their business with “the little guys,” the mom-and-pop beauty suppliers who have a few stores and focus on nail technicians.

I’m sure the criticism of distributors will earn me more hate mail, and I’ll follow up in this space at a later date with the dealer’s perspective. 

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