Maxine Kroll had always shunned expanding into spa services — until she noticed the steady flow of clients from her hair salon to the skin care salon across the hall. If clients really wanted those services, she thought, shouldn’t she be the one to offer them with the same high standards as her hair salon?

Yes, and no. Kroll was confident her clients would entrust her salon with their skin, nail, and body care needs, but she knew she could not be the one to personally back those services. She simply didn’t have the knowledge—or the passion — for spa services that she does for hair.

Kroll hired a spa manager, Bonnie Canavino, to cultivate and grow the spaside of Maxine. Her job entails the day- to-day management and training of 11 nail technicians, four massage therapists, and six estheticians. Canavino personally responds to each client complaint — making sure she gets both sides of the story before acting.

When she’s not on the spa floor, Canavino usually can be found in her office, ordering products, balancing schedules, and doing paperwork. At the same time, she makes sure to set aside time each week for big-picture planning. “I continually look for ways to grow the business,” she says. “Whether it’s finding ways to strengthen client relationships, researching new products, developing new services, or brainstorming new marketing opportunities.”

Kroll credits Canavino with helping her develop a nationally recognized salon. “She’s taken us to the next level,” she says. “She brings the creative juices to the job that keep the menu fresh and the staff fresh and, therefore, the clients fresh. We’ve had a tremendous response.

Kroll urges any salon owner who doesn’t know the nail industry but offers the services in her salon to hire a “top gun” nail tech to manage the department. Communicate your goals and train her to your standards, then set her loose. “When Bonnie joined us, we barely had one manicurist, and now we have 12, including her,” Kroll says. “She’s developed that entire end of the business.”

Whether your salon has three nail techs 0113, a nail department manager can provide the service expertise and personal attention to the staff and the clients that a salon owner or manager may not have time for.

“If you have three or more nail techs, someone needs to be in the position to help them work well together, do the services correctly, bring new ideas to the table, and grow the department,” Canavino asserts.

If you think you can’t afford a department manager or that she might not have enough to do, think again. We talked to five nail department managers at various salons and learned that the title maybe the same, but the responsibilities vary widely according to the salon’s structure and objectives. Here, five nail department managers describe their roles and how they think the position benefits the entire salon.

Mario Tricoci (Michigan Ave.) Chicago

Gloria Williams-Jiles views the nail department as central to Mario Tricoci’s operations. First, at $20 for a basic manicure, she understands it’s an entry- level service in the salon for some customers. Second, with most nail clients visiting the salon every one to two weeks, the nail department serves as a stepping-stone to other services.

“The nail area is located in the center of the salon, and clients will often ask us about the hair and makeup services,” Williams-Jiles notes. Accordingly, she encourages her staff to cross-promote the salon’s other services.

In hiring and training new nail and pedicure specialists (techs specialize in one or the other at Mario Tricoci), Williams-Jiles evaluates new employees’ skills, reviews with them the salon’s policies and procedures, and sets up their training schedules.

In addition to these responsibilities and a full-time clientele, Williams-Jiles takes the time each day to review the department’s retail and add-on service sales. If the numbers are down, she seeks out the reason and looks for a solution, such as additional training for a partic­ular staff member.

“I also do some in-salon training through role-playing,” she says. “When I first put a tech on the floor I place her close to me so I can observe her tech­niques and customer service skills.”

Williams- Jiles views herself more as a mentor than a manager to her staff. “Staff retention is all about support, not salary,” she says. “Get to know each person and keep in touch with what’s going on with them.”

Mitchell’s Salon & Day Spas Cincinnati, Ohio

Sherry Williams oversees 50 nail technicians spread across Mitchell’s three different locations, but she still spends two days a week with her own clientele. An assistant nail director at each location oversees the daily management responsibilities, while Williams focuses on recruiting and hiring, new product research, and coordinating staff education. She also develops department promotions and staff incentives such as contests.

Williams likes to remain highly visible to staff and clients. She also conducts regular department walk-throughs. (She says she always knows when she starts to slack off because it shows in the department.)

Don’t underestimate the value of a department manager to the technicians, she advises. “Nails tend to get pushed to the side in full-service salons,” Williams observes. “I give my staff support they can’t get from a general salon manager because I understand the industry.”

When Williams gets a complaint from a client, she first researches the client’s history with the salon. She finds out which salon she visits, how long she’s been a client, who she regularly sees, and whether she has a history of complaining. Then she talks to the nail tech to find out what happened. “I do all that before I call the client,” she says. Usually, she says, the tech knows why the client complained before. Williams even asks. When she finally does call the client (usually within a matter of hours), she has a good grasp of the situation and says she can quickly put things right.

Each quarter, Williams works with the assistant nail directors to review the entire nail staff. In the evaluations, they look at the tech’s total service revenue, her client retention rate, average service ticket, and ratio of retail sales to services. “We sit down with the staff member and show her what she’s doing,” she says. “Then we discuss where we’d like her to be.” They also use the time to discuss the technician’s strengths and weaknesses.

“One of the reasons my departments are successful is I include the staff in the decision-making,” Williams notes. “That way they feel they’re part of a team.”

Odyssey, The Salon St. Aberdeen, Md.

When Jennifer Donato first started working at Odyssey six years ago, she was one of four nail technicians tucked into an area behind the reception desk When the owners expanded into spa services a few years ago, the day-to-day job of managing the individual departments and maintaining their clienteles became too much.

Donato’s rapport with the other nail techs and her recently earned college degree made her the ideal candidate to manage the nail department. Since assuming the role, the department has swelled to 10 nail techs.

“I can connect with my coworkers and solve a problem quickly,” she notes. “It doesn’t have to be on a list as something to deal with because I’m there to handle it. And if we need something in the department, I can go out and get it.”

She acts as a liaison between the nail technicians and the salon owners and other managers. For example, she’s discovered staff members often have issues they’re not comfortable raising with the salon owners but that need to be addressed.

Donato spends a lot of time researching new products and services. “I try new things that the owners might not have had time to research,” she says. But her favourite aspect of the job is heading up the salon’s visual merchandising efforts. Drawing on her art degree, she brainstorms display ideas and combs local shops for props and other visual aids.

Donato balances her managerial responsibilities with the demands of a full-time clientele by coming in early and staying a little late, and by handling some of the smaller tasks between appointments.

“The most important part of my job is making that connection with the techs and helping to keep people motivated,” she says. “And that motivates me.”

Panache Hair Salon Whitehouse Station, N.J.

“Whatever needs to be done,” That’s how Nancy Marino sums up her role as nail department manager. For starters, she conducts all the technical interviews with new techs, researches and samples new products, and conducts regular staff meetings with her department.

Marino eased into her position over a period of time. Initially, she was asked to manage the department’s inventory, and gradually assumed more responsibilities as the department grew. Five years ago, she was officially named department manager.

In Marino’s view, her priority is to keep the nail staff abreast of trends and techniques. She combs consumer and trade magazines, calling attention to whatever she thinks relevant. She also creates a continuing education calendar, whenever possible, she tries to bring the educators to the salon.

Marino meets with the other department managers once a month to discuss everything from new services to cross-promotional opportunities to scheduling issues. With a full-time clientele herself, Marino strongly believes in sharing the load. She delegates tasks such as taking inventory and stocking the retail area to other technicians.

Marino’s advice to other working department managers? “Find the time to block out one to two hours a week so you can sit down and really focus. You’ll get a lot more accomplished that way. And take the advice of the people you work with, because the more you talk to them and keep them involved in the process, the more receptive they are to following your suggestions and directions.”

Pay Day

So what does it pay to be a nail department manager? There are no formulas for com­pensation, but the nail managers we spoke to recommend these options:

  • Provide a base salary for managerial duties, plus straight commission for nail services. The dollar amount of the base salary depends on the demands of the position.
  • For the full-time manager, give a base salary plus a bonus for exceeding quarterly or annual service and retail goals.
  • You can pay aft hourly wage for time spent on managerial duties, plus a straight commission on nail services. (Two salons told us they also pay 100% of their managers’ medical insurance premiums over and above the hourly wage because they know it’s impossible to keep track of all the five-minute managerial tasks that add up over the course of a day.)
  • Give a monthly override on department sales plus an annual bonus if department exceeds pre-set goals.
  • Higher commission Simply pay a. percentage on the service they do to cover their managerial duties.

Grow Your Managers From Within

If you choose to add a manager to an existing nail department, try to promote from within the department if at all possible if you have a staff member with the right qualities but not enough seasoning, Bonnie Canavino recommends easing her into the role.

First, take measure of the talents and skills she already possesses as well as the areas where she needs training. Then get her input oh where she thinks she needs additional training and support Schedule some time each day during the first few weeks to review her responsibilities, train her on your procedures, and to discuss any challenges she encounters.

“First off put her in control of product inventory arid researching new products,” Canavino suggests “Ask her to evaluate the department’s product usage as well as alternatives in the industry and to suggest some ways to cut costs without impacting service levels”

The next step may be to have her oversee the department’s schedule arid to respond to client complaints Retain some oversight for a while by asking her to first propose her solution to you before implementing it.

The next step depends on your objectives as an owner. If you want to grow the department, consider charging her with recruiting nail technicians. Clearly state the qualities your seek in new-hires, and ask for her suggestions. Sit in on a few interviews until you’re assumed she knows what to ask and how to evaluate the applicant’s responses.

Or you may want to first focus on revamping the service menu and implementing a price increase invite her to research consumer trends, determine their relevance to the nail department and propose a new service menu. Ask her input on the salon’s price structure and what she thinks the market will bear—all backed with research of course.

If she doesn’t already have a strong business background make it a job requirement that she take some business and management courses. The salon’s distributor and the local community college both should provide some good options.

“When you put someone in charge of a department, the ultimate goal is to grow revenues,” Canavino emphases. With that goal in mind she encourages salon owners to share relevant financial information.

“The manager needs to know what the department is doing currently and where I those numbers need to be so that they can make a plan to reach those goals,” she says.

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