The climb to the top is seldom easy. There may be rocks, even boulders, along the way, and the most surefooted and determined climbers may sometimes lose their footing and backslide, ‘To make it to the top in the nail industry, you need to be diligent, persistent, hardworking, and willing to learn. Yet those who have made it to the top say the rewards are more than worth it. These women own and manage successful salons, keep their employees content, and try to give back to the industry what they’ve learned throughout their careers. Here 10 successful technicians tell a little about themselves and their healthy nail businesses, and they offer advice to the next generation of nail industry pioneers.

Be On The Cutting Edge

Barbara Griggs and her eight lull- time employees have made Nail Visions in Pasadena, Md., a place where everything works together. “Nail Visions, now two years old, oilers just about every service but hair,” says Griggs, who started in the beauty business as a cosmetologist. The salon employs six nail technicians, an esthetician, and a massage therapist, and it oilers a wide range of nail services, as well as waxing, pedicures, and body care.

Griggs first became fascinated with nail technology in the mid-70s, when she and some colleagues watched a technician create a set of sculptured nails at a tradeshow. They convinced their salon’s owner to buy a nail kit and to send them to a nail class for training. It was “love at first sight” for Griggs, who immediately started offering the service to her clients. “I was sort of a know-it-all,” she says. “But fortunately someone let me know pretty quickly that I could improve my skills and make better nails.”

Griggs came to understand how committed her clients were to their nails. “I would listen to my clients’ husbands and boyfriends tease them about their devotion to their nails. Even in hard times, women were sacrificing other things to pay for nail services. I decided to concentrate on nails only and build up my clientele. Seven years ago I stopped doing hair, and with three technicians began a nail business.”

In the progressive nail industry, staving on the cutting edge is essential. Griggs keeps abreast of new trends by continually educating her- self. She also educates for a nail manufacturer and judges nail competitions. She says she shies away from nonsense stuff.’ “There will always be new products and new gimmicks. Sometimes these new products are great, but try them cautiously. My stall and I use products on ourselves first before abandoning our tried-and-true systems.”

Her advice to nail technicians and salon owners is to choose systems wisely and allow enough time to get comfortable with them. Get the answers beforehand to any questions you have and be open to learning new things.

Know Your Clients’ Needs

For Paula Gilmore and partner Stephanie Bricker, the nail business is all about customer service.

They feel so strongly about this that they have a full-time salon coordinator whose main purpose is to advise the salon about client needs. This coordinator spends a lot of time on the phone talking to clients, finding out how they feel about the salon’s services.

A team concept works well for Gilmore, a 15-year veteran in the nail industry. As co-owner of Tips Nails and Image Center in Foster City, Calif., Gilmore has from five to eight technicians working at all times. She fosters a team atmosphere with customer service as the local point.

A former horse trainer, Gilmore got her first set of nails after giving up the horses and was hooked. “Those nails made my hands look so beautiful, and I was amazed by the procedure of putting nails on. I knew right then that this was what I wanted to do, and within one year I had opened a nail salon in Malibu,” says Gilmore.

She says being hired by a nail manufacturer as an educator was a turning point in her career. “Through the company, I learned a lot of technical information and I received wonderful training in communication skills. I also had an opportunity to meet some of the most amazing people I’ve ever known. This business is full of geniuses!” says Gilmore.

Her advice to newcomers is to find a nail buddy someone you trust and whose work you respect, to mentor you through your early career. “It’s important to have someone to give you advice and to help you try new things,” she says.

Don’t Be Afraid To Compete

Liz Fojon, a former accountant and 9-to-5’er, began doing nails as a hobby. She always had kept her own nails well-manicured and would watch what her nail technician did. One day she tried doing nails herself. That was 10 years ago and Fojon now owns Phenoma-nails and Hair Salon in Fair Lawn, N.J., where she employs H nail technicians and four hairstylists.

“I was looking for something new to do with my life when I went to an auction, and they were auctioning off a nail salon. I couldn’t believe it! I knew I wanted it, but there were people then who were able to bid higher than I could. The organizer of the auction saw that I wanted to bid but was afraid. I He told me to bid anyway. Somehow I ended up getting that business.”

Fojon was intrigued by nail competitions and began competing. “I started competing because it helped me learn how to do nails better. I competed on the amateur circuit for two or three years, then went into the professional arena. In 19SS I won the World International Nail and Beauty Association Championship. That was a definite big break for me,” she exclaims. Her win was covered in New Woman magazine and she made the front page of the Wall Street journal, admirable feats, especially for a small business owner.

Fojon’s words of wisdom ring loudly: “Take the nail business seriously and enjoy what you are doing. Start in a salon that is serious about taking care of its customers as well as its technicians, because there you’ll find people who care about nails and want to teach you. Above all, spend time practicing your trade the time you put in is worth it.”


Susie Weiss was a nurse for 18 years before she decided to get into the nail industry. She says that nails and nursing aren’t as different as one might think. “You see so much of the science of nursing in the nail business, and both professions are about dealing with people and their needs,” says Weiss.

Weiss got interested in the beauty business while still a teenager. Before entering nursing school she enrolled in a cosmetology school, but didn’t complete the program. “My father insisted that I finish what I start. It took me 18 years, but I did it,” says Weiss.

The owner of Nails International in New Orleans, La., Weiss always has had the desire to compete. In 1987 and 1988 she won the Who’s Who award in New York for sculptured nails. This was a real boost; she says, because it made her more visible to manufacturers and other nail technicians. She began working for various manufacturers, who provided her with now products and educational opportunities. She has won 37 competitions during her short second career. “I’m sort of the grandma competitor,” says Weiss, but she keeps bringing home the trophies.

Weiss advises nail technicians to take advantage of the free instruction offered at shows and seminars to acquire a solid basis of information on topics ranging from new products to sales and retailing. Weiss asserts that specializing in one area only and being unwilling to learn about new things in the nail business can be dangerous. “Get a well-rounded education. It’s not necessary to be an expert at everything, but having some understanding of a variety of topics is vital.” she says.

Think Big

Elaine Shapiro had a dream. She dreamed that her Cranston, R.I., salon, Elan Hair Design, could mirror the most elegant New York or Beverly Hills salon. And she made sure that dream came true.

Shapiro began in the beauty industry more than 16 years ago with a booming hair salon business. Over time, she noticed that some of her clients wanted nail services. She soon realized that going full-service had become a necessity. Her salon is 4.500 square feet and she employs a staff of 32. H of whom are nail technicians. Shapiro took the concept of the salon as an art form and made it work for her. She says, “I went to this famoussalon in New York City and was amazed at the layout. There were many floors and each one catered to a different group of services. I simulated the look at my own salon. We were the first salon in Cranston to offer a day of beauty, and this was long before anyone in Rhode Island had ever heard of it.” According to Shapiro, the day of beauty really pays off. For instance, her salon sells day of beauty giftcertificates, and in the two to three-week period before Mother’sDay, Shapiro’s gift certificate sales peak at $15,000!

Shapiro looks back on the days when she was ready to get out of the beauty industry and laughs. “The best thing that ever happened to me may have been getting fired from a salon job. I was really depressed and had just decided to look for something else when my clients began calling me at home to say that I couldn’t leave them.”

Shapiro advises beauty professionals to get their personal presentation in order. “A nail technician should dress well, carry a resume with her at all times, and he able to communicate. Above all, you need to persevere, be patient, and work hard.”

Be Flexible With Employees

Debi Duemig started her career in the restaurant business in sunny Brandon, Fla. Her sister, also a nail technician, introduced Duemig to the wonderful world of nails as a career that offered flexibility. Now at her own salon, Debi Duemig’s Nails at Last, Duemig employs 14 nail technicians who share their stations and their schedules. Thesalon, located in a strip mail, is open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. six days a week, and offers nail technicians who are seeking flexibility the opportunity to customize their hours.

Duemig says that the restaurant business gave her a head start in the nail industry. “My years in the restaurant business helped me organize the way the salon operates. I spent a lot of time back then working around waitresses’ schedules and making sure they were happy and that we had enough people working at all times. This has made me sensitive to the needs of employees and to scheduling,” says Duemig.

To keep themselves abreast of new trends and practice’s in the nail business, Duemig and her staff read trade magazines and put into practice what they read. This gives them a chance to implement new ideas while they keep an eye on how other nail technicians are doing.

Duemig’s nine years in the nail business have yielded this advice to newcomers: “Give the customer the ultimate in service that you can give. You only build business on return clients, not on one-timers.

Give them a treatment they can’t get anywhere else and you will be assured a business for life.”

Love The Industry

Maggie Boyd, who has been in the nail business 12 years, has her own salon and has made quite a name for herself within the ranks of dedicated nail professionals. One would think that this Chicago Cosmetologists Association committee chairperson and Nails Industry Association director had carefully plotted out her career in nails. But according to Boyd, she got into the business on a fluke.

It was 1983 and Boyd needed a job. A help-wanted ad for a manicurist caught her eye. She got the job, apprenticed for three months, then, still in her first year, became an independent operator with a full book. Within the first few months she knew that this industry would come to be her lifelong love. She soon combined her sales management background with her love of nails to open Avenue Salon in Barrington, Ill. This gave Boyd a new career and the opportunity to recapture her dream of becoming an artist. She loved to paint and beautify nails.

Boyd believes that if you want your clients to be loyal to you, you must be loyal to them. “Always tell clients the truth about the products, about your services, and about whatever else they need to know,” she says.”Get at the truth in every aspect of your business.”

Don’t Be Afraid To Grow

For Karren Hiatt and her girl-friends, beautiful nails were a part of life. They wouldn’t be caught dead without a perfect manicure. So it’s not too difficult to imagine Hiatt talking her own nail technician into teaching her how to do nails.

“In 1980 I talked my technician into teaching me how to do nails, then spent the next three months perfecting sculptured nails. I worked in five salons before finally opening my own,” I Hiatt says.

Her own salon, #1 Nailhouse in Murray, Utah, opened eight years ago. She employs 15 nail technicians, including her two daughters, her son, and one daughters mother-in-law. When Hiatt was still working for someone else and teaching nail technology in the evenings, a student (who was also a client) kept pestering I Hiatt about opening her own place. “I knew that I wanted to open a salon and I thought about Inning a partner. So this woman and I opened the salon. My money from teaching financed us in the beginning.”

Hiatt knew she was going to make it when she became so overbooked that she needed immediate help. She convinced her daughter to work for her and eventually a second daughter became hooked. She is proud of persuading her son, the latest family member to enter the world of nail technology, to join her business.

Hiatt believes in staying on top of the ever-changing nail market. “I compete to learn, and I go to tradeshows and read trade magazines.” She doesn’t underestimatethe value of learning from her mistakes, either. She explains, “If it works, I keep doing it; if it doesn’t, I stop.”

Hiatt says her business success has been fueled mostly by stamina. “In order for your business to begood, you have to be in the business. You can’t expect it to flourish if you’re not taking care of it.” She says trying new marketing methods has been one of the most successful things she’s done for her business. a client referral system works best for her. “I give” clients three business cards and reward them for referring new people to me; then those new people are asked to refer more new people. You can have a full book in a matter of weeks.”

Establish A Positive Image

Lynne Gallo was 19 and in her third year of college when she announced to her family that she was leaving college to become a nail technician. “I told them this over dinner,” explains Gallo. “They literally dropped their forks.”

Gallo had been in awe of the beautiful sculptured nails her nail technician had done for her. She remembers that having those nails was so important to her that shewould spend money earmarked for partying on nails instead.

After” completing cosmetology school, Gallo went to an area hair salon that didn’t offer nail services and made them an offer. She would rent a small space within the salon in exchange for access to its hair clients. Her business took off in only four months.

Now, 14 years after she left college, Gallo owns Experts Salon for Nails and Hair in Marlton, N.J., where she has 22 employees, 12 of whom are nail technicians. “Having a successful salon is contingent upon being a good manager People are not born great managers they have to read about it, learn it, and practice it.”

Gallo’s advice to newcomers is to find someone who will take you under her wing and teach you. Shesays that establishing a positive image can mean the difference between success and failure.

Expect Success

Erika Giannotti opened her first salon. Erika’s Naughty Nails, in Phoenix, Ariz., 12 years ago. She now owns four “mother” salons and one franchise. Another” franchise is in the making, and she plans to continue branching out. Giannotti is constantly on the go, working with her managers in the salons, training employees, and servicing her own clientele’.

Thirteen years ago, Giannotti began working as an independent contractor at a Phoenix salon. Within nine months she was so fully booked that she needed an assistant. When one of her customers completed cosmetology school, Giannotti taught her more advanced techniques, paid her lease, and gave her products. Soon both were fully booked, and Giannotti did the same with another technician. It wasn’t long before she was ready to open her own shop. She says. “I was confident of success. I knew what I had to offer and my employees were good.”

Her advice to salon owners is to look after your employers as well as your clients.”It’s hard to look after five salons, but I have good management,” she says.

Believe In What You Do

These women’s stories of how they became successful business owners attest to how a career in the nail industry can be a rewarding and lucrative one. But staying on top and in demand only happens when you really believe in what you are doing and in the service you provide. No one stays in the limelight for long if she isn’t making wise choices and treating others fairly and kindly. These 10 successful women advise nail technicians to line! a mentor, never slop learning, and allow themselves the open-mindedness necessary for success. That success also encompasses an enduring satisfaction that comes from a job well-done and the wonderful opportunity to give something back to the industry that gave so much to them.

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