Nail techs are constantly being urged to sell more retail, but many don’t know how to go about it without seeming like they’re being pushy. We talked to salon owners and industry figures and obtained retail marketing strategies that have worked for them—and can work for you.

Although the majority of nail salons say they are retailing (76.4%, according to NAILS’2002-2002 Fact Book), many nail techs and salon owners are still going about it unproductively. The products may be sitting on the shelves ready to be purchased, but there’s one thing that’s sorely lacking: product promotion.

“Retailing is all about outstanding customer service,” says Kristi Valenzuela, a “salon success coach” and owner of Crystal Focus Inc. in Holly, Mich.  “Clients are dying to know what we are choosing to use on their skin and nails, and they want to know why our products are better than what they can purchase at the drugstore.”

By properly promoting and marketing your retail items, you’re not only enhancing your business and letting your expertise shine, you’re also exceeding your clients’ expectations in caring for their personal health and beauty.

Still, although it may sound simple, many nail techs and salon owners get sweaty palms when the dreaded “r” word comes up. They’re happy to feature retail items in their salons, but when it comes to promoting them, it’s a different story. Many feel they come across as pushy and fear making their clients uncomfortable. Others think they’re simply there to do their jobs, and selling isn’t part of their job description.

“What we need to realize is that the main reason we don’t talk about our products and avoid closing the sale is because we’re afraid of the word no,” Valenzuela says.

Of course, no one likes to hear the word no, but it’s important to look at promoting retail differently. Part of your job as a nail technician is to make recommendations and have products available for at-home care.  Remember, your clients come to you for advice, so they’ll be more than willing to hear about the newest nail strengthener or latest polish color.

“Listen to what your clients are not saying,” says Maisie Dunbar, owner of M&M Nails and Wellness Center in Silver Spring, Md. “If they need six items don’t try to sell all six if they cannot afford them. Sell them only three products, then sell one or two on their next visit.”

Promoting and marketing your retail doesn’t have to be difficult. Take it from the various salon owners and nail techs we talked to, who all know a thing or two about successfully promoting their retail.

[1] Deliver the Message.  The next time you feature a retail promotion, make sure your clients get the message in the mail. At All About You Salon-N-Spa in New Castle, Pa., salon regulars get promotional cards in the mail detailing specials on services and products. The mailing makes clients who might not have visited the salon for some time aware of its specials.  Dashing Diva in White Plains and West Nyack, N.Y., takes it one step further. On their birthdays, clients receive a postcard in the mail, which entitles them to 20% off any nail service or product.

[2] What’s in for the season.  SaVerne Smith, owner of Nails by SaVerne in Inglewood, Calif., offers products to fit the season. During Valentine’s Day, clients are likely to see heart-shaped toe rings and pink foot scrubbers. Renee Borowy, owner of The Salon at VIP in Riverview, Mich., decorates for each holiday with a theme. During Christmas, she offers tree ornaments and cinnamon-spiced candles, among other items.

[3] Plan a Strategy.  If you’re in a small salon and don’t have much room for a retail section, then turn your entire salon into a retail area. Place items you’d use for a pedicure, such as foot files, pumice stones, and toe separators, in your pedicure area. Items that you’d use in a manicure can be placed around the nail tables.

[4] Pack a visual punch.  It’s all too common to see salons with retail areas and displays that are visually unappealing and lack any character. Instead of simply placing products on a shelf, place them in interesting, attention-grabbing displays. Update your displays frequently to keep things new for regular clients, and tie in your display with whatever you’re trying to sell. If you’re promoting something for the summer, then make sure your display conveys that message with a tropical theme, for example.

[5] Hold a super sale.  Twice a year, Polish NailExporium in Brooklyn, N.Y., holds a sale where clients can receive up to 25% off current inventory.  “We usually have the event catered and make it a big soiree,” says owner Erika Kirkland. Clients will remember the event and will be more likely to come to you once that bottle of polish runs out. Or, hold a monthly nail night where you focus on one particular product or line you carry.

[6] What’s your sign.  There’s no better way to let your clients know the benefits of the products you sell than using signs. Shelf-talkers, product literature, table tents, and counter cards are a good idea, especially if staff member are sometimes too busy to talk about a product.

You can even frame manufacturer ads and place them on nail tables to pique client curiosity. “Ask your clients if they’ve seen X products in their favorite magazine,” Valenzuela suggests. “You can collect the ads and articles and make a ‘look book; for your client of all the magazines they’ve been featured in.”  Consumers love buying items they’ve seen in magazines—make signs with the torn out pages that say “As seen in…”

[7] Guarantee your products. It’s normal for clients to purchase a product only to find they don’t like it or it doesn’t quite work the way they expected it to. Make it known that if a client is not happy with a product, you’ll be more than happy to exchange it for something else.

[8] Offer coupons.  Jennifer Pealer, owner of Jennifer & Co, features coupons in newspapers and newsletter, as well as on her website.  You can also hand out coupons in the salon, especially if you have a new item you’re promoting.

[9] Follow through.  Once you do make that sale, follow up with a phone call to see how the product is working. That’s exactly what Dunbar and her staff members do, and she says it surprises and delights clients to see that someone is checking to see how they like the product.

[10] Reward big spenders.  Offer clients who frequently purchase products at your salon with a punch-out card. Have a buy-10-get-one-free deal.  Once the card is completely filled, present the client with a full-size bottle of her favorite product, or let her choose any item she’d like.

[11] The beauty of samples. Everyone loves to test things out, especially if it’s a new product. After you’re done polishing your client’s nails and before she heads out the door, offer her a sample of that new body lotion or cuticle oil that just arrived. Have tester bottles out for all of your retail items.

[12] Go into cyberspace.  Many salons already have their own websites.  Make the most of what you have and add any retail promotions you’ve got going on to the site. Monette and Monique Moore, owners of Aroma-Listic Day Spa in Agora Hills, Calif., have a section on their site, where clients can purchase their custom-blend products online. Ordering online makes it easier for clients who don’t have time to go to the salon and pick up a product. Even if you choose not to sell retail online, it’s a good idea to promote what you have. Dubuque, Iowa-based Designworks Salon and Spa’s website,, features a Products We Love page with a different product showcased each month.

[13] Consult with clients.  Before you begin a service, consult with your client about the condition of her nails and her lifestyle. Of you have retail products that will help mend her brittle nails, for instance recommend them.

[14] Be suggestive.  At The Brass Rose Salon & Spa in Blairstone, N.J., clients aren’t just handed a service menu. They’re also provided with a Creative Gift Selections menu, which suggests gifts for men, women, and children—all of which are available in the salon’s retail boutique, of course.

[15] Visibility counts.  Place your retail where it can be seen.  At Blooming-nails in Lake Geneva, Wis., owner Heather Milo places her retail products where people can’t miss them: at the front window, in an eye-catching display.  The display changes often to keep passers-by and clients enticed. And keep products at eye level.  Don’t make clients reach for a product. If your reception desk has room, you can place quick-grab hot items there. Who can resist a cute, last-minute buy at the register?

[16] Free is good.  When was the last time you bought a product just so you could get the free gift that came along with it? Try the same strategy with you retail. Offer a gift-with-service promotion, or a buy-one-get-one-free special. Clients will be more apt to purchase a product if they know they’re getting something else with it.

[17] Mix it up.  Besides offering the usual, give your clients a little more selection to make things more fun. Kelly Hensley, owner of Mani/Pedi Beach House Nail Salon in San Francisco, offers nail products as well as toe rings, handbags, and slippers. Clients love the fact that they can purchase a range of items in a nail salon.  Other salons we talked to retail everything from jewelry and tank tops to trinkets and paintings by local artists.

[18] Work well with others.  Find manufacturers and distributors who will support your retail effort by helping with merchandising, display ideas, counseling, product recommendations, inventory tracking, and promotions. Many manufacturers offer displays for their retail items—everything from disposable corrugated table displays to permanent wood-furnished end caps.

[19] Keep your retail area sparkling.  There’s nothing more unattractive than a dusty, dirty, unkempt retail area. Clients will be quickly turned off of they see a speck of dust on a polish display because it will make it look like no one is buying your products. Promote your retail the right way: Keep your products clean and dust-free.

[20] Offer gift baskets and goodie bags.  Put together a basket of goodies for clients to take home.  Deborah Reeves, owner of Nail Hand & Foot Spa in Cashiers, N.C., says she groups products together to create "moments.”  She’ll place an aromatherapy candle along with a jar of bath salts and a neck pillow in a basket to create a relaxation package. “We usually have a gift basket or two sitting around and we let clients know that we customize them,” Reeves says. She says her most popular basket contains an almond-scented hand lotion, cuticle oil, and a bag of Jordan almonds.

[21] Get them on the phone.  The next item a client calls to set up an appointment be sure to mention that month’s featured product.  Valenzuela suggests something along the lines of: “Thank you Mrs. Jones for scheduling your next appointment with Brooke. We will see you next Tuesday at 2 p.m. for a rebalance. Can I tell you about this month’s featured product? This month we are featuring a great new product called X.  Please ask Brooke for the details when you come in on Tuesday. Thank you for calling.”

[22] The power of print.  Auburn, Calif.-based Savoir-Faire puts ads in the Yellow Pages advertising its services—and products. That way, potential clients who are perusing the Yellow Pages for a salon will know just how professional you are because you offer services and professional products to go along with them. Or, advertise your wares in your local newspaper or your own newsletter. Reeves says most of the newspaper advertising she does in targeted toward her retail boutique.

[23] Tell, don’t sell.  "Use and recommend the product for home maintenance throughout the service,” says Alethea Eatman, a Cleveland, Ohio-based educational consultant and founder of Nail Techniques University. “That’s one of the easiest and most important techniques that can be used by any nail tech—seasoned or novice. “That way, your client becomes educate on a product and will be more likely to purchase it if she knows how to use it. Liz Shappart, owner of Nails Down Under in Pocatello, Idaho, says that if she has a new product she wants to promote, she makes sure to include it in her service as a one-time complimentary service. “As I’m applying the product, I explain to the client what the product does and its ingredients,” Shappart says.

[24] Keep product plentiful.  “If you only have one or two miscellaneous items on the shelf, clients do not know if that is your stock or items for sale,” Valenzuela says.  “For some reason, clients do not like to buy the last products on the shelf.  They think something may be wrong with it.” Retail displays need to look like you mean business. Valenzuela suggests keeping at least three to four containers of each product in your shelf.

[25] Use what you sell.  Almost everyone we talked to said one of the most important ways to market your retail is to use the products you’re trying to sell.  “We love all of our products and use them all personally,” says Gina Marsilii, owner of perfect 10 Nail Salon & Spa in Wilmington, Del. “From time to time nail techs and the front desk staff will discuss with clients a new product they love. One week we all tried and loved a new exfoliant and it turned out to be our exfoliation week.”  If clients know that you’re using and love what you’re selling, they’re more likely to follow in your footsteps.

Hot Sellers.  What's flying off the shelves at salons throughout the country?  Our Top 10 list details what the most popular retail items are.

  1. Polish
  2. Top coats/nail treatments 
  3. Hand lotion
  4. Cuticle treatments
  5. Hair care
  6. Files/ buffers
  7. Adhesive/glue
  8. Quick-dry products
  9. Skin care
  10. Nail jewelry/charms


Source: NAILS’ 2000-2001 Fact Book

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