Weekly technical sessions, monthly creative jam sessions, staff-developed and -led mini-workshops every six to seven weeks, an annual trip to New York or London. The salon owner ticked off the elements of his hairstylist training program, then enthusiastically launched into the details of each. “We don’t want our hairstylists to become complacent,” he says of the styling team that’s earned the salon international recognition. “When you’re doing 10-12 clients a day, you continually need a shot in the arm to keep yourself enthusiastic and on the cutting edge of our field.”

So, what about your nail techs? “We emphasize education in every department,” he quickly responded.

“They attend classes through our dis­tributor whenever there’s something that is relevant.”

We won’t be so rude as to name-drop because, to be honest, this top salon owner’s attitude reflects an industry wide ambivalence toward nails. We won’t go so far as to call it contempt — because the owners who feel that way don’t even bother — but we firmly believe attitudes like his are what drove the growth of nails-only salons in the first place.

Even so, foil-service salons hold tremendous potential for nail techs. In fact, more than one owner has told us in recent months that they could provide any skilled nail tech with a full clientele on her first day. If you’re up to the challenges, you’re set for a profitable career.

“Working in a full-service salon is what you make of it,” asserts Lois Burak, co-owner of Philadelphia’s highly successful BeautyWorx salon. “I’ve never regretted the decision to go full-service. If I had stuck strictly with nails, our salon wouldn’t still be in business today.”

But just what kind of business can you expect? Nothing that most nail techs can’t handle. And as Burak points out, the rewards often are well worth it. Here nail techs share their most frequent complaints against full-service salons, along with some good advice on making the most of it.

“Multiple-Service Clients Always Make Me Late”

The situation:

When a client couples her manicure or pedicure appointment with a massage or haircut, it never fails that the first service runs over and the nail tech is left racing to make up the time.

The solution:

This one’s tricky because there are so many factors that can throw a service off schedule. Start by viewing the squeeze as a symptom, then examine more closely the cause. Was the client late to the salon, throwing everyone off schedule? Was the service provider behind because of another late client? Is he or she always running late? Is the receptionist overlapping appointments to make things fit? Are appointments booked too tightly to allow for the inevitable glitches that arise in everyday situations?

Once you’ve identified the causes, make immediate action more likely by presenting the problem with a few possible solutions For example, if you observe a pattern of lateness with a few specific service providers, ask the salon owner to address the issue with them. If appointments are overlapped to make things fit, the owner might need to revise the booking policy.

Even with solutions in place, come up with your own response plan for the inevitable late client. Some techs advocate a 15-minute “cushion” for every client, but the practice lowers your potential income by as much as 25% on a given day (because you’re sacrificing a possible 2.5 additional appointments for every eight-hour shift). Instead, consider keeping a portable “starter kit” on hand so that you can prep the client’s nails at the hair station. Or recruit a helper to prep your next client so you can get back on track. And it never hurts to know which corners you can cut on a given service without sacrificing quality.

“There’s a Double-Standard for Education”

The situation:

With hair trends changing on what seems a weekly basis, it makes sense that hairstylists need a lot of education. But too many full-service salons leave education up to the individual nail techs’ discretion — and budget.

The solution:

Advocate for ongoing education, with an emphasis on your particular staff’s needs. Some needs may be best served in-house with biweekly or monthly tutorials that leverage someone’s particular strength. For example, have the tech who does the fastest fills create a technical tutorial. The following month, have the queen of never-lift nails teach nail prep and acrylic application.

Next, make a wish list and look at outside opportunities. If you’re considering new services, seek a distributor class that teaches the product, or hire an educator to come in-house Dawn Mongelluzzi, owner of la Bar-beria University Spa in Cleveland, advocates creating an education account for each employee that’s funded by a percentage of retail sales. Some salon owners direct all retail commissions to this account, while others split it between a cash payment and education credit.

“We don’t Get Any Respect”

The situation:

Whether it’s a vague sense of ambivalence toward the nails to an outright rejection of ideas, you’re made to feel like the poor relation.

The solution:

Respect drives from the top down, so start with the owner. Does she respect nail technicians as hard-working professionals who make a significant contribution to the bottom line?

“The owners here are very supportive of nails and open to suggestions,” says Deborah Sox of Jolie Salon & Day Spa in Blue Bell, Pa. “I have seen some places where we’re looked down on, and when that happens you have to work with the owners to show them what nails can be.”

Respect has to be earned, cautions Roxana Pintilie, co-owner of Warren/Tricomi, one of New York City’s top salons and a high-demand nail tech in her own night. “I’m always just listening and asking questions of my clients and thinking about what everything means,” she says of her own success. “I always want to know what I can do to make women feel good.”

Her answers to those questions led to a stream of innovative services that made her one of the hottest nail techs in New York. But she finds fame far less satisfying than the respect of her peers. “I want to be treated as an equal in this industry,” she says. “I deserve respect for what I do.”

While you have every right to expect a modicum of respect in your position on the salon team, you’ll have to earn personal respect through your attitude and actions. The good news is, as you apply the solutions to the smaller problems named above, the larger issue of respect should solve itself.

“Hair Clients Don’t Want Their Nails Done”

The situation:

Many full-service salon owners view their nail department as an incubator for new hair clients, but no one seems interested in sending clients your way.

The solution:

Generate some excitement. In-salon referrals are nice, but not to be counted on when building a clientele. Hair and skin care clients will and do get their nails done, says Burak — but typically not at your salon. With budget salons crowding strip malls nationwide, many clients don’t think of the full-service salon for a manicure.

Converting those clients who get their nails done elsewhere may not be as hard as you think, she says. In her experience, it’s a matter of making clients aware that you offer nail care, and educating them on the differences between your $20 spa-type manicure and the budget salon’s $6 offering.

“We have been offering the same services since we opened, but we still have hair clients who just never notice,” says Burak, herself a licensed nail tech. “It’s no longer about setting up a table—you have to make a personal connection. Be visible and verbal.”

Burak urges new techs to work the floor, offering clients a free hand massage during a haircut or a free foot paraffin while their colour processes. Make your time well-spent by providing them with a nail and skin analysis coupled with some specific suggestions on how you can help them improve the appearance of their feet and hands. Finish up by offering them a free service upgrade such as a hand facial with their first appointment.

“No One Talks Up Our Services!”

The situation

Other service providers in the salon don’t talk up nail services to their clients.

The solution.

Two things may be at play. First, nail techs in salons that do a great job at cross-marketing say the behaviour is driven from the top. If the salon owner wants it done, it will happen.

Randy Currie, owner of Currie Hair, Skin, and Kails in Glen Mills, Pa, cultivates an atmosphere of cross-promoting by providing each service provider with a stack of referral cards to hand out as client rewards. “Say someone has a new hair client who doesn’t come here for her nails,” Currie explains. “The hairstylist can fill out the certificate for a free manicure. Second, they may not feel like there’s anything to talk about. Energize your hand and foot menu with seasonal services and exciting add-ons. Sheila Joiner, owner of Chelsea Tyler Nail & Body Spa in Schaumburg, Ill., rolls out a new hand or foot service to clients every two months. “Clients are always excited and looking forward to finding out what’s new,” Joiner says. “It really gets conversations going.”

“All the Good Stuff is Gone”

The situation:

Skin care sales get credited to estheticians and hair care products post to the stylists, even when nail techs make the sale. Who can get motivated by a 15% commission on a $5 bottle of polish?

The solution:

Call foul if this situation exists where you work. When Becky Rocco worked as a nail tech at Yellow Strawberry Global Salon in Sarasota, Fla„ her retail sales regularly equaled 31 % of her service sales because she was motivated to recommend hair and skin care products to her nail clients.

Negotiate a new sales agreement that makes you the beneficiary of any sales you make, regardless of the service area. Bottom line, the salon owner shouldn’t care who makes the sale. And remind argumentative estheticians and hairstylists that they can keep the sale by closing it themselves. Rocco recommends attending as many product education classes as possible so that you can make informed recommendations that keep clients satisfied and coming back for more.

Susie Galvez, owner of Face Works Day Spa in Richmond, Va., also encourages her nail techs to suggest trendy and unique products to retail in the nail area. Her nail techs have had great success retailing body creams, rosemary foot soak, and laundry additives (they couldn’t keep the one that smelled like fresh-cut grass on the shelves, she confided)

“Give them some high-end things that are colourful and cool to make it easy,” she urges salon owners. “How many times can you talk about a nail polish?” The hottest sellers in recent years have included bath and body products and anything aromatherapy.

“No One Understands Nails”

The situation:

Does the nail department have what a real estate agent would term, “lots of potential”? Many nail techs say their department is left to run itself because no one seems to have the interest or the knowledge to build the department.

The solution:

It you’re astute enough to recognize the problem, you’ve most likely got a list of possible solutions already formulated in the back of your mind. Put your ideas to paper, then schedule a meeting with the salon owner to discuss your department’s future.

“You need to offer solutions because many full-service salons hire nail techs straight out of school,” Burak says. “Those nail techs still need a lot of technical training and they may not know how to market their services or follow-up with clients.”

All it takes, however, is one highly qualified nail tech, Burak affirms. “Make it your business,” she says. Make a list of possible improvements and plan your pitch around how they will improve the bottom line. For example, would some basic training increase service quality and speed? Each impacts customer retention and service volume. Would advanced training in “extras” such as reflexology, stone therapy, or esthetics create new services? New services, especially those with high add-on potential such as these, can help grow the department’s average service ticket. Would some targeted marketing and creative promotions draw new clients? If so, departmental sales volume would grow, which also increases the salon’s bottom line.

Sox and Burak both recommend selling yourself as the expert when no one else is filling those shoes. Set a reasonable timeframe by which you both can measure results, and be sure to negotiate fair compensation and management time where you’re on the clock but off the appointment book so you can focus your attention on growing the business rather than your own clientele.

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