As a salon owner for more than 10 years, I have found myself in some uncomfortable situations—from confronting an employee with poor workmanship to taking a customer to small claims court to recover money form a bad check. But nothing unnerves me more than when a competitor walks through my salon door.

All nail technicians love to get their nails done and be pampered. One day, I decided to book an appointment at a salon a couple of towns away. I had special plans and wanted my nails to look great.

When I arrived for my ap­pointment I was escorted to my technician, who was very pleasant. I immediately dis­closed that I was a nail tech­nician and the reason I was there. She didn't seem to have a problem with the fact that I was in the same profes­sion. We talked about my plans for the evening and laughed about how awkward it is to be on the other side of the table. And then I heard a loud voice from behind me that said, "Mrs. Finger, I hope the service is up to your expectations!" It went on to ask, "Why couldn't you do your own nails?" I turned around to find the salon owner standing at the front desk yelling across the salon. To this day I have not gone into another salon for fear of being recognized and em­barrassed.

Now, 10 years have passed, and being a salon owner my­self, I am often faced with other technicians, many times students, coming in to have their nails done. When I have one scheduled with me, I practically meet them at the door with a hug and make sure they leave with a wealth of information, asking them to keep in touch. I often do see them again in class or at tradeshows. It's very exciting to watch someone grow and develop into a successful technician or salon owner. And it's the same drive that: brought them into my salon to watch that will also make them a success, and I am flat­tered to be a part of that.

Unfortunately, many of our fellow nail technicians aren't always happy to share information. This is a phe­nomenon that 1 have never understood. Some techni­cians look down their noses at fellow technicians. 1 per­sonally have always enjoyed talking and being with fellow technicians. It's the only time I can talk about my favorite subject, nails, without the person nodding off.

But, one day, I was faced with quite a different situa­tion. It was my day off, but I came in to work with one of our junior technicians. The owner of a nail salon in town walked in, and to my shock, she was scheduled for a pedi­cure and a fill. Over the years she and I had had several confrontations, and I just couldn't believe she would even want to come into my salon. A million other thoughts also raced through my mind. Was she there to -steal ideas? To find out what -product we use? Was she going to try to steal my staff? I frantical­ly looked around the salon to make sure everything was in place. After all, I had unexpected company and I wanted to make a good impression.

When she settled into the pedicure bath, she noticed me a station nearby. She seemed surprised to see me, and said, "Shari, I thought you were off today." Of course that made me even more insecure that she would book her appointment on my day off. We chatted for a while and I then excused myself, stopping the one-on-one training that I had started. I sure didn't want the salon owner to overhear and receive her own private lesson on our application and procedures. During the time she spent in my salon, the owner behaved profes­sionally and was very friendly to the technician servicing her. It was obvious that she wasn't there to disrupt our day.

For days I thought about why she came in and of other ways I should have han­dled the situation. Maybe I should have asked her to step outside and told her here that we wouldn't service her. Or better yet, if I had only caught her name in the ap­pointment book I could have just can­celed her appointment. I'll never know her intentions, but nothing has been changed by her visit.

After all, isn't that one of the things we fear? That in some way, our business will change? Aren't we worried the competi­tor will leave and tell everyone that the service was not performed properly? I thought about when I went into that salon earlier in my career, and the reason I chose that particular salon. The reason I made an appointment in that salon is because I knew they were good. After all, why would I go sit in a bad salon and pay to have my nails done? Is that why my competitor chose us?

The salon owner that I had encoun­tered obviously didn't think about the positive possibilities of welcoming me. Her salon was located several towns away and I could have referred cus­tomers to her. After all, her reputation was so good that even I, a nail technician who could have done her own nails, wanted to spend time and money in her salon.

When you're faced with a situation like this, keep one thing in mind: A competitor can't walk in and pick up your talent, knowledge, or success and put it in her purse and steal it. The only way to handle the situation is to be professional and provide a quality service salon. I have nothing to hide and I am very proud of my salon, workmanship, and employees. Having a "special visi­tor" gives us the opportunity to show why we are her competition.

Shari Finger is the owner of Fingers Nail Studios in W. Dundee, Ill, and NAILS' 1997 Nail Tech of the Year.

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