Just as the Las Vegas hair and Nail Conference was kicking off this past May, in a room high above the show floor, a group of industry professionals gathered to share insights on the state of the nail industry. Led by NAILS publisher Cyndy Drummey, the group identified and discussed challenges that plaque the industry.

While identified problem ranged from a lack of summer awareness of the industry, a lack of basic business skills amongst techs and salon owners, continuing problems with sanitation, a poor industry image, difficulties in building a clientele, and unrealistic expectations amongst techs entering the industry - the issues of poor education and continuing education and a lack pf proper industry-wide sanitation topped the list of industry challenges.

“Nails techs come out of schools completely unprepared,” said Debbie Doerrlamm, NAILS’ Internet correspondent and founder of the industry website BeautyTech.com.

Darlene Feric, and AVA Nail tech of the Year finalist, manufacturer’s educator, and salon owner based out of Antioch, Ill., agreed. “As manufacturer’s educators, we go into schools to educate students about our products and end up having to teach the basics as well,” Feric said. “Many teachers are qualified to teach nails.”

The problem, many agreed, is the practice of teaching to the test. “The curriculum itself needs to be revamped,” said Doerrlamm. “It needs to be more focused on becoming a tech and a businessperson - not just to help students pass a state exam.” consequently, nail techs are graduating from cosmetology school often lacking technical and business skills.

One solution offered by the round table group is the implementation of apprenticeship programs, either at the state or on an individual level. Maisie Dunbar, a salon owner and an AVA Nail Tech of the Year Finalist from Silver Spring, MD., has instituted her own apprenticeship and assistance training program in her salon. “I work with three students for three months to teach them the standards and practices of my salon,” she said. “They see how a salon works and I choose and pay for their continuing education.”

Creating her own program has allowed Dunbar to groom students for an easy transition into the salon as employees. “As salon owners we have to take control of the industry and find ways to benefit our business in the long run.”

Other techs place the responsibility for creating successful apprenticeship programs with each state. Mary Metscaviz, a salon owner and manufacturer’s educator and AVA Nail Tech of the Year finalist from Graysake, Ill., sees room for improvement in state apprenticeship programs.

“Illinois has an apprenticeship program, but salon owners have little incentive for participating because they don’t get paid,” she said. “As an educator and an owner it has to be worth my time to do it.” Taking the time to independently teach a nail student technical and business skills may not be feasible for smaller salons that lack established training programs or salons that cannot spare the resources or man-hours to accomplish the task.

Taking a different tack, David Miller, founder of Luxe Nails in Libertyville, Ill., offered the suggestion that an allegiance between nail techs and manufacturers be formed in order to impress upon schools the importance of teaching business skills to students.

“It all comes down to education at the school level,” offered Miller.

“Salon owner need to learn how to run their business, how to determine profits margins,” said Dunbar. Doerrlamm agreed, noting that business-type questions dominate the topic of discussions on BeautyTech.com chats and message boards.

Another such problem is poor sanitation practices among many techs within the industry. “Sanitation needs to start at the bottom,” said Drummey. “Wash your hands, make your clients wash their hands. Clean your foot bath. Consumers are aware if your salon is not clean.”

Techs voiced strong opinions on the subject. Feric suggested, “By law, every owner should have to take a sanitation class every year. Every salon should be checked every two years by an inspector - I have been doing nails for 15 years and have never been checked.” Dunbar agreed, nothing, “Owners have to lead by example.”

Things are getting better, however. “Discount salons are improving; they are raising their standards,” noted Drummey. A good way to  promote higher levels of sanitation in salons is by educating clients. “We have to make sure clients know they are coming to a tech who is continuing her education,” said Metscaviz. Patti Blanusa of Creative Bail Design agreed, “It all comes down to consumer awareness. It needs to start at each salon.”

Pooling of resources also appealed to the group. “The Association of Electric File Manufacturers is a great example of people working together to set up industry-wide standards,” said Drummey. “They changed the way the industry views the electric file and rehabilitated its reputation.”

“Each person can make a difference by setting goals and reaching them,” said Feric. “We need to work at the state level, we need to motivate people who want to change the industry.”

Drummey may have said it best when she noted, “More and more great things are being done by smaller and smaller groups of people.”

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