Editor’s note: Pedicures, our newest technique column, will appear each quarter, rotating with our other new technique columns, Nail Art News and Competing. In September look for a profile on salons that specialize in pedicures.

The key to keeping pedicure clients coming back for more is the way you perform the service.

Luxurious, pampering spa pedicures, once reserved for patrons of the world’s top spas and health resorts, are popping up in salons all over the country.

Featuring whirlpool baths, vibrating seats, and intense massage, these super-deluxe pedicures leave clients feeling like millionaires who have all the time, and money, in the world to be soothed and spoiled at a ritzy spa.

“A pedicure is the kind of service that, if done properly, can sell itself,” says Debi Bragg, a technician at The Grand Salon in Chicago, Ill. “We attract and retain a lot of clients by giving them a pedicure experience they can’t forget.”

At The Grand Salon, clients don’t just sit in a chair and stick their feet in water. Nail technicians first make them comfortable… provide them with cushy, comfy seating that makes it hard to get up, offer them cool drinks in summer, and warm, cozy beverages in winter… then the spa pedicure begins.

“Our spa pedicure is performed with the client sitting in a chair that looks like a throne,” says Bragg. “It has a whirlpool in the bottom, which we fill with warm water, and the chair itself vibrates, so the clients can really relax. The chair is so big and comfortable, clients can’t resist sitting down and being queen for a day.”

Once clients experience the surge of the bubbling water invigorating their feet, nail technicians have no trouble getting them back in the chair for another appointment. Aromatic therapies and soothing, soaking liquids also foster that desire for a monthly pedicure. “We use a special sports solution that our clients love,” says Ginny Burge of Day Spa Beautique in Houston, Texas. “It helps eliminate minor soreness while soothing the feet.”

Other pedicurists select soaking solutions specifically geared to the condition of the client’s feet. “Sometimes, if a client’s doctor requests it, we’ll use a medicated soap,” Bragg says. “Otherwise we have several scented and unscented solutions she can choose from.”

Spa pedicures can also include paraffin treatments and an in-depth massage using heated oils or lotions.

But technicians agree that simply adding services to the standard pedicure is not the answer to a profitable pedicure center. “It’s not just what you offer clients, but the way you perform each service that counts,” Bragg says. “I’m really fast and I can complete a pedicure in 40 minutes. Yet I make my clients feel like they’ve been in the chair for hours.”

Clients say they know a good pedicure from a great one when they feel it. New Jersey resident and regular pedicure client Harriet Leinwand tries to explain. “My first pedicure experience was at a spa in Florida,” she says. “Up until that time, I never liked the thought of someone touching my feet. But my friend talked me into trying the service, and after an hour in that chair, I felt like dancing. I vowed to treat myself to a pedicure regularly.”

Thus began Leinwand’s search for a pedicurist who employed the same techniques as those practiced at the spa. “I went through a lot of technicians over the years,” she says. “Most of them did an adequate job, but something was missing. Then, finally, a few years ago, I found someone who made my feet feel the way they did at the spa.”

Leinwand says it wasn’t that this technician performed extra steps or did anything drastically different, but “she performed pedicures with lots of T.L.C.,” Leinwand says. “She made it seem as if her time with me was really important. Everything had to be just so. When she rubbed my feet with lotion it was so gentle, it really felt like she cared. And the way she shaped my toenails… When she was through, they were as pretty as my fingernails.”

Unfortunately for Leinward, her favorite nail technician retired a few months ago, and she no longer looks forward to her monthly appointments. “I can’t seem to find someone to replace her,” she says. “Once again, something is missing.”

Leinwand’s experience provides an important lesson on what clients are looking for. “Sometimes technicians burn out, and they stop giving quality service,” Burge says. “When a customer spends $40, they expect – and deserve – the best. To make sure each step is luxurious and relaxing for our clients, we retain even our experienced technicians every three months, just to make sure they’re on track.

SPA PEDICURE BASICS                                                                                                                                                                  

All salons that do a burgeoning spa pedicure business agree: Little things make a big difference from the minute a client walks through the door.

Do you tell clients to sit down or take the time to make sure they comfortably seated? Do you ask clients if they want a beverage and bring it to them, or do you expect them to get their own drink if they’re thirsty? Do you leave a pile of magazines at the front desk and expect clients to pick one out before the pedicure begins? Or do you take the time to ask clients what publications they’re interested in and hand them the latest issue? “We make clients feel special even before we begin the service,” Bragg says.

After getting a client comfortable, the first step is to spray her toenails with a disinfectant spray, then remove her old polish. “It’s so important to use disinfectant at several stages during the service,” Bragg says. “We soak our implements in a disinfectant, where the client can see it, and we also have a sterilizing box where tools are placed each night. We have plenty of clean towels and we make sure to wipe down the entire chair, and all the other equipment in the room, with disinfectant between clients. Sanitation is so important that most clients will run the other way if they see a salon isn’t following proper procedures.”

The next step is to place a client’s feet in a vibrating or whirlpool bath filled with a soothing solution. After at least 10 to 15 minutes of soaking, remove one foot at a time. Dead skin and calluses are then eliminated with an exfoliating cream and, if necessary, a scraping tool like a pumice stone. Burge’s nail technicians use sea salt mixed with gel to exfoliate the skin’s dead cells. “We don’t limit our service to the feet,” she says. “We go all the way up to the knee to offer clients that extra pampering.”

Next work on the cuticles and cut the nails. “I push the cuticles all the way back so they’re easy to cut,” Bragg says. “And I never cut the cuticles because they grow back really fast.”

While exact cuticle and cutting techniques vary, the key is to learn to work gently. “Your touch should be so soft that a client can fall asleep at any time,” Bragg emphasizes. “Keeping a client relaxed at all times is one of the most important skills you need to do a quality spa pedicure.”

When it comes to filing, Bragg says, “I’m an expert at filing nails fast into any shape a customer desires. My clients can really show off their feet when they walk out the door.”

Massage is another important part of the total pedicure experience. “Ten or 15 minutes of really working the foot sends clients out the door feeling rejuvenated,” Bragg says. “But don’t pull and tug. Massage gently. I’ve been told that one reason clients love my work is because I have such a soft touch. It’s that relaxed feeling that clients remember long after their nails have grown and their polish fades.”

The type of massage employed by technicians varies greatly. At Day Spa Beautique, technicians treat clients to shiatsu, a Jpaanese form of acupressure that provides therapeutic benefits while releasing tension and stress. “Before performing shiatsu,” Burge adds, “technicians apply strips of paraffin all the way up to their client’s knee, then cover it with a plastic bag to hydrate.”

Other technicians massage hot oil into the feet, then wrap them in plastic bags and place them in plastic bags and place them in heated booties. Reflexology is another popular massage method, although it does require specialized training. “I work on the four balls that support the foot and massage that area deeply, applying lotions as I massage, for about 10 to 15 minutes,” Bragg says. “That relaxes the client and really helps relieve tension.”

Still other technicians attend classes and become licensed masseuses, incorporating Swedish massage and a number of other techniques into their services. “Massage is one step that immediately upgrade any pedicure into a deluxe or spa service,” Bragg says. “If a technician is looking for one thing to add to her basic pedicure that all clients love, massage is it.”

Another important part of the complete pedicure experience is convenience. “A lot of my clients are working women who come to the salon during lunch hour and don’t have time to slip into a pair of slippers and relax until their toenails dry,” Bragg says. “To accommodate them, I slather their nails with oil, which helps them dry hard, then cover them with a plastic bag cut to the shape of their foot. We’ve perfected this method so that a woman can return to work, safe in the knowledge that on one, unless she tells them, will know she’s wearing clear bags under her shoes.”

Perhaps the best news for clients is that all the pampering involved in the spa pedicure experience won’t empty their pocketbooks or take a lot more time than the standard pedicure. Bragg’s relaxing 40-minutes spa pedicure costs only $30. Spa pedicures range in price from slightly less than $30 to more than $50, depending on the salon location. Many salons offer more than one type of pedicure. “We offer both a regular and spa pedicure,” Burge says. “The difference between the two is the extra steps in service. Regular pedicures last an hour, while our spa pedicures last an hour and a half.”

Regardless of which services a client chooses, Burge trains her nail technicians to give clients a relaxing experience they won’t forget. “Pedicures are a big part of our business now,” she says. “They’re really profitable. We currently have eight chairs, and we have to be careful not to overbook. Some of our clients who jog or who have jobs where they’re on their feet all day alternate weekly between regular and spa pedicures. Others come once a month. But once most of our clients try wither of our pampering pedicures, they eagerly schedule appointments again and again.”

For reprint and licensing requests for this article, Click here.