Editor’s note: If you could do something during any one of your nail services on the foot or hand that a) the client loves b) adds value, and c) allows you to charge more, would you do it? That “something” that does all of the above is the massage, which is already part of your basic nail service, whether on the hand or foot, natural nails or extensions. Nail technicians need to concentrate on providing their clients with services and experiences that simply cannot be duplicated anywhere but in their chair. We believe that hand and foot massage is just one of those unique experiences.

This article is the first of at least six we have planned this year on the subject of massage. We’ll cover all the basics and some advanced moves of hand and foot massage, reflexology, licensing and training issues. We’ll cover some aspects of head and neck massage, but our focus is on how you can work with what’s right in front of you: the hand and foot, and how to make them feel great by simple but heavenly, massage.

Ffirst the warm soak in a vibrating foot bath, then the trimming and filing of the nails, next the exfoliating foot rub … finally, it was time.

I settled back in the comfy club chair as nail technician Kristen Kicker of Fingertips Nails and Tanning Salon in Roswell, Ga., started massaging the bottom of one foot, moving up to the calf with a light kneading motion. At first it tickled, but as I relaxed my foot and leg began to tingle and warm as she worked out the tension and aches that resulted from a hectic week, a new exercise program and a few bad shoe days. When she rotated my ankles she demonstrated I still was tensing up. So I deliberately settled lower in the chair, gave my leg and foot totally over to her ministrations, and chatted with her about her career choice. Within just a few minutes, the tingling warmth had spread all the way up into my as other muscles took a relaxing cue from my feet and legs.

Although a cool drizzly day here in metro Atlanta, by the time Kicker had finished I was warmed through to the bones. The crowning touch: a paraffin dip topped off with terry booties. It was so great I can’t stop thinking about the 15-minute deep massage she told me the esthetician will do as part of the pedicure for an extra $10. Ah, what a nice massage can do!

Experience Counts

Nail enhancements, polish, and products do a great job of making the hands and feet look better, but the most successful nail technicians know that feeling better is just as important to their clients. “I’ve found that high school-and college-age clients are just interested in the results of the service,” Kicker observes. “But my clients who work full time or who stay home to raise their children really appreciate the relaxation aspect or the service. For some, the massage is the only thing they really care about. They just melt.”

Nail technicians need to think of their services in terms of what they offer that a client cannot do herself or get elsewhere. It’s like the scalp massage at the hair salon: You can shampoo your hair at home, but there’s something relaxing and wonderful about that three minutes that keeps you paying for it at the salon. Likewise, anyone can polish their fingernails or toenails, but a really good foot or hand massage is something you just can’t – and wouldn’t want to – do yourself.

While attention to technical expertise, speed and product choices are important, most nail techs give too little weight to the whole experience of getting one’s nails done. Let’s face it: a nice-looking set of nails is a commodity in today’s market. On the other hand, anyone living in today’s fast-forward world welcomes any opportunity to relax and unwind, no matter how briefly. That’s where the 5-10 minute hand and arm or foot and leg massage comes in. It’s a no cost, no training service that can garner your clients’ undying loyalty instantaneously.

“I believe massage is 50% of the service clients receive,” says Jaimie Sullivan-Brown, owner of Jaimie’s European Day Spa in Londonderry, N.H. “When we tell people that 20 minutes of the service is dedicated to massage they’re thrilled.”

Powerful Touch

Massage therapy is more than a feel-good service. “ Research shows massage reduces the heart rate, lowers blood pressure, increases blood circulation and lymph flow, relaxes muscles, improves range of motion, and increases endorphins, the body’s natural pain killers,” say materials from the American Massage Therapy association (AMTA). “Therapeutic massage enhances medical treatment and helps people feel less anxious and stressed, relaxed yet more alert.”

While still the exception to the rule, a small-but-growing number of insurance companies are extending coverage to include massage therapy. And any salon offering massage will attest that it is one of its fastest-growing services. If you need further proof, just look to your local business district or mall, where massage shops are becoming as ubiquitous as coffee bars.

Lynette Novelli, a spokesperson for the AMTA, owns just such a business. Minute Massage Inc. is located in downtown Chicago near the Sears Tower, offering seated massages and table massages. “Massage is an exploding industry; we are just on the cusp of an amazing turn in our health care industry,” Novelli asserts. “So many people are turning to alternative modalities for healing. People are becoming more in turn with self-awareness and their bodies, yet there are millions not being touched and massaged.”

Penny McElroy, owner of The Skin Institute in Marathon, Fla., reminds nail technicians of the power of touch. “Some people don’t get touched in their lives except for in the salon setting. If nails are the one service they receive, massage is a very important part of it.”

Sullivan-Brown began incorporating more massage into her nail services after she went back for her esthetician’s license. “It was such an important part of esthetics that I realized it was missing from nails,” she says. “Now, our basic and spa manicures include an intense massage up to the elbows. We also do reflexology when people request it.”

At Noelle Spa for Beauty and Wellness (Stanford, Conn.), nail department manager Silvia Cappola says clients have been known to choose their nail technician based solely by the massage technique. “Certain people like the way one person massages their hands as opposed to how someone else does it,” she explains. “We’ve been discussing a lot lately how important massage is to the nail service, and we’re talking about bringing in reflexology.”

Cappola says she’s actually had clients fall asleep during the massage part of the service. “They start listening to the music while I’m doing their nails and it helps them unwind,” she says. “By the time they get to the massage, they become so relaxed they can fall asleep.”[PAGEBREAK]

Noelle’s clients enjoy not just a massage during their manicure or pedicure, but a neck and shoulder massage while their hands are under the nail dryer. “We found women didn’t like to sit under the nail dryers because they were bored and just ready to leave, so we started doing a neck and shoulder massage and now everyone looks forward to it,” she says. “You can do a lot with that massage because there are so many points you can touch on the neck.”

For salons that really want to meld massage therapy with their nails services, Novelli  recommends chair massage, which is done using a specially designed, ergonomically correct chair with a chest pad, face rest, and armrest. “Clients could come in and have a manicure while they’re getting a shoulder or back massage,” she says. “It’s a phenomenal tool to increase clientele.”

Sullivan-Brown agrees, saying they just added chair massage a few months ago. “They’re vibrating massage chairs, and the idea is if someone is getting their nails done the nail technician can offer a quick shoulder or back massage,” she says. “We’re also finding clients want a quick 5- or 10-minute massage and they don’t want to get disrobed.”

Learn Before You Earn

While therapeutic massage techniques require specialized training, and licensed massage therapists spend hundreds of hours studying anatomy and physiology in addition to hands-on techniques, Novelli points out that clients gain much just from the superficial massage a nail technician can offer. Most nail technicians learn the basics of hand and foot massage in school, and Lana Huff, a nail technician at Marilyn Ihloff Salon in Tulsa, Okla., says refining techniques are something that can be picked up along the way. “I took a Reiki class, but it takes practice more than anything else,” she says. “You also should talk to people in the massage therapy field, and go have a massage yourself. Pay for the service with someone you really want to learn from. That’s how I keep learning new things every day.”

“A weekend workshop would be all a nail technician needs for the fundamentals,” adds Will Green, president of the International Massage Association and owner of Georgetown Bodyworks massage School in Warrington, Va. “And the more you do, the better you get.”

Marla Fisher, a nail technician at Skin Sense in Los Angeles, Calif., also urges her peers who seriously want to pursue massage as part of the nail service to learn more about reflexology. “I think nail technicians who want more diversity should consider reflexology. You can add it to your menu and offer it as its own service. I charge $25 for half an hour of reflexology, and $40 for a full hour. The training is not that expensive. I went to a weekend-long training session twice because the first time I knew nothing about anatomy and had to work very hard. The second time I concentrated on my technique.”

McElroy says she charges $1 per minute for reflexology, saying she will have clients lay on a massage table with a pillow under their knees. Clients come out very relaxed.”

Beyond the opportunity for additional income, however the massage aspect of the nail service presents the ideal opportunity to transform their nail appointment from yet another obligation to a must-have opportunity for relaxation. For your part, it presents an opportunity to grow and further your career while building your client retention rate.

“Nail technicians were very stagnant in the past, and that’s changing now because they are realizing they can do so much for the hands and the feet,” Sullivan-Brown says. “They’re crazy if they don’t further their education and learn more about services like massage because it will make them more well-rounded and improve their client retention. When you give more to the client, she feels like she’s gotten more for her money and she will come back.”

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