Getting the Goods: How Nail Techs Buy Their Products

bySuzette Hill | July 1, 1995

Editor’s note: This is the first of a three-part series on the state of nail product distribution. In Part I, nail technicians speak out. Part II will focus on the manufacturer’s perspective and in Part III, you’ll read what distributors have to say.

What so nail technicians look for in a distributor? What makes them stay loyal to one distributor and shun another? A group of nail technicians told nails what they love, and hate, about the places they buy their products.

There are almost as many' ways to buy nail products as there are nail products to buy. You can buy pro­ducts through mail order, from in-salon reps, at beauty supply stores, through full-service distributors, from mobile distri­butors, or even manufacturer-direct. You can buy by phone, by fax, or in person. So everyone should be satisfied with the state of distribution in the '90s, right? Well, yes and no.

NAILS asked a group of nail technicians what they like and dislike about how they buy their products. We found that things have changed in the past 15 years, when the most common complaint nail technicians had was that nail pro­ducts were hard to find. Today, nail technicians say that although most distributors earn' several lines of products, they still have to shop at more than one place to get all the products they use at a price they're willing to pay.

Price certainly is a consideration for the technicians we spoke to, but it isn't their overriding concern. Instead, their stumbling blocks are selection and available. They say they can't find one distributor who carries all the products they're looking for and if they can, the products aren't always in shock.

These nail technicians want distributors to carry a wide selection of product lines, and they want customer service representatives who are nail technicians trained in the products they are selling. They want a distributor who keeps products in stock and who has the newest products on the market while they're still new. They also want quality education for all levels of experience.

In an industry where profes­sionalism has become a mantra, nail technicians expect to get as good as they give. They want to be told if a product is back-ordered and when they can expect to receive it; they want orders delivered on the day they were told they want orders packed right — no crushed boxes or broken bottles. And a little old-fashioned courtesy goes a long way, they say.

Here's what else this group of nail technicians had to say:

Where Do You Buy Your Nail Products and Why?

Kelly Ostraat, Nail Works by Kelly, Portland, Ore.: I buy some products at tradeshows, some from supply houses. I've used some of the mail order houses. A lot of it depends on who has what. For example, I picked up a pedi-file at Cash & Carry's show here, and when I went to buy more they no longer carried it. 1 called every supply house I could think of and no one had it. I went through NAILS and called Hair Care Nail Supplies and they had it, so I ordered a bunch of other stuff while I had them on the phone.

Shelly Golick, Nail Creations by Shelly, Oak Lawn, Ill.: I usually buy from Marshall Beauty Supply in Allsip, Ill., and from Nailco. Between the two they carry most of the products I use. The places I used to go to didn't carry all the products that I use and retail.

Marshall is a full-service distri­butor that carries several lines of nail products. They are in the next town so they're easy to get to. I like going into the store because I see more. The person who comes into the salon can tell me about new products, but I like to see them and try them and ask questions. I also hate to take time away from my clients when the salesperson comes into the salon.

Debra Gibbs, Bold & Beautiful of Key Largo, Key Largo, Fla.: I buy my products from Hair Care Nail Supplies up in Ft. Lauderdale. I find they're the least ex­pensive. I would like to go in and see what I'm getting, but I buy over the phone because it's a two-hour drive; I just can't do that every time I need products.

There is one distributor near me, but he charges about triple what I pay in Ft. Lauderdale. When they opened I asked if they would match the other distributors' prices, but they said no. It I run out of something and need it fast I drive for an hour to Sally's to get it. I won't buy from the distributor near me; I hate being ripped off like that.

April MacFie, A Show of Hands Nail Studio, Bothell, Wash.: I buy

about 75% of my products through local distributors. I can stop in, see the different products. They also deliver, and that's handy. They have a truck that comes around once a week. I also order from Nailco and from some places in California for products I can't get locally.

Lisa Kathan, Progressive Nail Concepts, Dayton, Ohio: I'm originally from Chicago so 1 buy from there or from a company in Michigan. I like a certain smaller distributor because they're person­able and will got what 1 want, even if they don't have it. J don't like the distributors in Ohio — they're backwards and behind the times. Their education is okay, but the supplies are behind the times. If you want a state-of-the-art drill, for example, they don't know what you're talking about. When you wait it high-quality sanitation, they don't know what you're talking about.

Susan Wagner, Salon Ahloe, Kansas City, Mo.: I buy every­thing but Infiniti from State Beauty Supply; I have to get that from Feel's. I choose to buy from State Beauty because I have bought from them for years. I know the owner, the employees, and the delivery people. They treat us on an individual basis. They are reliable. Other places have mixed up my orders, sent the wrong stuff.

I don't buy products through the mail because of the C.O.D. charges, and because you don't always get your delivery on the day they say you will. I can call State and order something and I'll have it tomorrow. There's no minimum order to have some­thing delivered.

Cheryl Henderson, Nails Too!, Columbia, Md.: I buy most of my products by mail because the pro-ducts cost less, and they get   them out fast. I get them   within three days, maybe two if it's local. I just call and say I need it and it's here. I buy my artificial  products locally through a full-service   supplier because you can't buy my brand  through the  mail.   I also go to educational classes through my local distributor as well.

Mail order offers a better selection, but I like to take classes. I like being able to have hands-on training. But that doesn't always mean the product can be purchased locally. For example, I took a Tammy Taylor class, but they aren't local. I had to order from Virginia.

Jacque Harker, A Perfect Ten, New Bern, N.C.: I'll stock up on cotton and remover — the basics -- at Sally's. Then I go to the big shows in Atlanta, Detroit, and Chicago to get hands-on demonstration of new products advertised in the magazine before I buy because I have dropped a lot of money into things that don't work. I normally buy from Ace Nail in Atlanta and from Nailco. I don't mess with local distributors because they can't get me everything. One sells Creative, one sells OPI. I like to get it all at once.

Christi Vreeland, Half Moon Nails, Allentown, Pa.: I buy most of my products through the mail. We pick up things like acetone and cotton at the local beauty supply. The beauty supply by us doesn't carry a lot of the products we use. Sometimes we order products from the manufacturer.

I buy products through the mail because they get here fast and are not back-ordered. Once in a while product is not sent or it is broken in shipping, but they're very good about Anderson taking it back and getting new stuff out immediately.

Lynn Copple, Beauty Ware­house, Scottsdale, Ariz.: I buy pro­ducts through Beauty Warehouse or through another supply house. Beauty Warehouse does not carry a good selection of nail products; the products they carry are aimed at the average consumer. This doesn't bother me. For my base coat and top coat I prefer to use something my clients can buy so I can retail it to them. For my acrylic product, I prefer to use a pro­fessional product they can't get. I buy from Nail Pros in Tempo. I like that they deliver to me and don't charge for it. The disadvantage is they are so far away and it's hard to go in and browse.

Nancy Burns, Barefoot in the Park, Sacramento, Calif.: I've bought from reps in the salon and from beauty supply stores and through the mail. Mail order has always been a pain. I hate paying C.O.D. and freight. But no one locally sold the products I used. I just switched to a new product because I can buy it locally. Through mail order, people would say the product would ship out the next day and I wouldn't get it for a week. At this point, I've given up on mail order.

Sherri Hale, Just Nails, Flor­ence, Ky.: I order from Nailco in Michigan, but I get Backscratchers products from a distributor in my area who delivers. I call in the afternoon and he runs it right down. I like that a lot. The stuff 1 order from Nailco comes UPS. A lot of companies are C.O.D., and I don't like that. It's expensive: I could buy more products if I didn't have to pay that C.O.D. charge.

Michele Loch, Just Nails, Allentown, Pa.: I use the beauty supply closest to my shop for mostly everything. The girls there are always very friendly and very helpful. It's a pro­fessionals-only shop. Most of them are licensed hairdressers and they're knowledgeable about the products I'm buying.

What Do You Look for in a Distributor?

Gibbs: Price, quality, and whether products are in stock. That's a problem, me needing something and them not having it. I also want better catalogs. Nailco has an excellent catalog, but they're very expensive and it takes a few days to get our products, depending on what day you place the order. I can't wait that long

Henderson; I expect the salespeople to be courteous above all. I find they are courteous over the phone, but not in person. I won't necessarily buy a product because it's cheaper. A lot of places will say they have a copy of what you use, but that's not necessarily so.

Ostraat: What's most important to me is product availability and service. I don't mind if they don't have a product, I just want to know if they can get it in a reasonable time. I look to distributors to keep me abreast of new things, but don't expect it. It's a nice bonus. I know I'm responsible for myself; that's why I go to tradeshows. If I don't go to a tradeshow, a new product may not make it here (to Portland) until two years later.

Harker: When I order from a distributor, I want to get everything unbroken. I've had a problem with that. I want it wrapped properly — no crunched boxes — so I can retail it. I've gotten broken bottles, you name it.

Lynn Alcala, Just Nails, Gunnison, Colo.: I expect a distributor to be willing to assist me. A lot of times it's difficult to get to a store because it's several hours away. I ask the salespeople to describe products and I ask for their opinions on those products, and they're Lynn always willing to help. The reps also come into the salon and then go back and place the order. They'll either ship it or bring it with them next time. That saves me a lot on shipping.

I expect distributors to notify me of great new products or new trends. They should spread the word to their customers.

Golick: What's most important to me is education and prices. Also, when you buy a product from a distributor, I like them to back it. Other companies I've bought from haven't backed their products.  Marshall and Nailco guarantee that if you have any problems they take it back. It's like me selling myself. If I do a set of nails, I guarantee they won't fall off. I back myself and I expect the distributor to back himself and I expect the distributor to back himself. And they have to know about the products. Where else are you going to get your education?

Kathan:  I want a small supply house that is progressive. I've been in Ohio five years and I'm still buying out of state.

Renee Soteropolus, Barefoot in the Park, Sacramento, Calif.: When I lived in Palm Desert, Calif., I worked in a fancy salon and we had people from supply companies who came in twice a week and delivered two days later. Since I moved    to Sacramento, I've found that products cost a fortune and distributors are always out of stock or it takes forever to get products delivered.

I'm particular about what I use. I can't buy from the distributor that J want to. They told me they can't ship product up here because it's not part of their territory. I don't care who sells it to me, I just want to gel it. I went to West Coast here and they were out of the product. That's just the name of the game. I have to be careful to order in time so I don't run out.

Another thing, no one here in Sacramento sells Essie. I want someone to because I may only need a bottle or two at a client's special   request and it's too expensive to have one bottle shipped from New York.

Hale:  It's important they have a good selection because then you don't have to have three distributors. I want one distributor where I can get everything I use.

What Do You Look for When Choosing a Primary Beauty Supplier?


a wide variety of products



fast delivery and convenient price



does not sell to the public



the highest-quality products



the lowest price



educational support and classes



i like to go to a store and see the products myself



having a representative come to the salon



a company with a good reputation



i need to be able to return items



discounts for bulk or credit card orders



i can buy on credit





Source NAILS 1995 Reader Survey


Wagner: I want promptness and courteous salespeople. I expect them to call on us at least once a week to see if we need anything and to show us anything new and discuss it with us. State Beauty demonstrates products or gives us samples we can try; if we like it we c: purchase it; if not they'll take hack and refund us.

What Do You Like, and Dislike, About Your Distributor?

MacFie: Some distributors have cut back on the different lines they carry. Each distributor tends to carry a certain line so I have to go to more than one distributor or do long-distance ordering.

Harker: I wish I were in a big city where I could go and look at products. But I'm about three hours from Raleigh; there's nothing major around here. The big cities are more up-to-date. I want to sec what the whole country is doing.

You never know when you open that box what you're going to find. I've never had a broken box from Nailco, they take special care in wrapping it. But I like Ace because I have a good relationship with my rep. At Nailco I always order from someone different, and I prefer to work with one person.

My rep at Ace does nails herself and I ask her opinion about new products. She's real honest. There were some tips that she said were Wagner garbage. I bought them anyway, and she was right, they were garbage.

I used to deal with another distributor, but they would switch the salespeople who came to the salon all the time. I want someone who knows me and my salon. I like to give my money to a person I know.

Loch: I used to order my files from Delaware, but   it   would   take   two weeks to get them here. Time Michel is an issue because I'm so busy in the salon. When I told the em­ployees at the new store I was buying files from Delaware they worked hard to find comparable files at a comparable price. I've been very happy with what they came up with.

They're very well-educated. They attend classes. When something new comes out they know about it. But when Creative put out Radical French tips I saw them in the magazine a month and a half before the distributor got them. That was a little frus­trating. When I find something new I want to try it, and it's not always available.

Every time we go in they show me what's new and how it works. They're usually honest about what they've heard from other salons and technicians. They'll say "so and so" has tried this and really liked it.

Kathan: Their salespeople are either nail technicians themselves or they just have a great deal of product knowledge. Most of the larger companies that offer you the latest and greatest don't understand how the products work. These people are informed and educated, and they're involved in the industry. They really work at servicing. They offer classes all the Lime and they keep their people very much up-to-date.

Alcala: I buy from State Beauty and from Peel's. State's rep always conies in and works with me. I really like the people and I have a relationship with the rep. I try State first because of that re­lationship. One time I didn't get catalog and when  I called state the woman taking my order went   through the whole nail section with me over the phone because otherwise it would have been too late to take advantage of the specials.

Soteropolus: I want someone who treats me nicely and isn't rude to me. I won't buy from one local distributor anymore because they were rude to me once.

Vreeland: The one thing I do not like is that there are beauty supplies near us where you don't need a license to buy professional products. I don't like that. They aren't strict enough about showing a license.

Loch: Availability of product is what's most important to me. I used to Christi use a store that was a little further away and they never had my products in stock. I usually buy in large quantity and they never had the amounts J needed. The local supply house always has what I need or they bend over back­wards to get it.

Ostraat: There is one supply house here in town that carries the acrylic product I use. At first 1 went there because they carried Seche, which is hard to find. I like doing an account because I like calling and having my order delivered, and they would do an open invoice as long as I paid in 30 days. But their service is horrible. They were supposed to deliver an order that I really needed and it never came. Then I called and they said "Oh, 'so and so' didn't take care of it." And it still never came. And the guy who owns it is abrupt, bordering on rude. So I haven't done any business with them recently. That's why I go through the mail.

When you only have one supply house and you get poor customer service and products that are out of stock all the time, you have to resort to mail order. Then you have to pay a premium to get it to you. Mail order is cheaper, but you pay the shipping charge, then usually a C.O.D. charge, then if you want it the next day that's an extra charge. I figured it out last time that the prices were lower, but by the time I paid shipping it came out about the same. Maybe if I did an order once a month it might make it work out cheaper. As with most things, volume really does make a difference.

If I have to have something right away, I'll find it locally, even if it means dealing with the distributor who was so rude. But if I don't have to deal with them, I won't. Another local distributor had everything, all lines, a huge selection. But if you had a prob­lem, they weren't good at standing behind the product and repre­senting you with the man­ufacturers. I had a pair of nippers where the front tip broke off. 1 hadn't had them very long and they were really expensive. I thought it was defective and I took the product back. They told me to call the manufacturer.

Burns: There are many things I dislike about beauty supplies. I have to go to three different distributors to get the pro­ducts I need. And I shop prices because they vary drastically. I don't like buying things the public can buy, and that makes it hard. It's frustrating when customers tell me they bought products at the beauty supply. But it's hard to find professional-only stores. I spend a lot of time in the car. Now I stock up, but that's a big expense. I wouldn't mind freight and delivery if a distributor carried everything.

Not one rep has visited my salon in the four years I've been open; I think it's because I do foot and nail care only. They don't think it's worth it.

Copple: When I have ques­tions I ask one of the salespeople at Nail Pros. They have quite a bit of knowledge; if they don't know the answer, they find out. If I need product fast, 1 can call and if it's before 10 a.m. they'll run it over. For example, last summer I had some monomer thicken up. When I went to work on my first customer the mono­mer was like gel. I called Nail Pros and they had a new bottle there by 10 a.m.

Golick: Marshall's keeps us up-to-date on new products. Some­times the owner calls and tells me if something new came in or she'll send me samples that we'll try on our clients and get their feedback. If they like it, we'll use it and retail it. In emergencies, they take care of me. Once I ran out of acetone and she had her son over here in 15 minutes with more.



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