When Creative Nail Design pulled Nail Basics, its three-step natural nail care system, off the market in 1991 because of lack of interest, it never anticipated the reaction it would get from nail technicians.

“The day we pulled it off our phones went crazy,” exclaims Jan Bragulla, president. As it turns out, one of the products in the system, Protect, was used by many technicians as a nail dryer. This came as a surprise to the company, says Bragulla, because Protect was intended for use as a nail polish plasticizer, not a polish dryer.

Out of one product failure comes another product success. Nail companies are always trying out new ideas, searching for the one product that’s going to revolutionize the industry. In some cases, like Creative Nail Design’s Nail Basics, the product fails. Other products, however, do take the nail industry one step further into the future

. In this case, Creative Nail Design’s failure gave birth to another success – Dry & Shine.

The industry is full of product failure and success stories (though most manufacturers are reluctant to discuss the failures). Developing new products, even simple polish colors, takes inspiration, research, months of testing, and plain luck. NAILS talked to nail product manufacturers and got a behind-the-scenes look at how a product gets from the creative mind to the distributor’s shelf.


Usually product innovations come about from someone setting out to solve a problem. Several nail companies got their start by responding to the concern or complaint of a nail technician. Richard Rosenberg, president of Isabel Cristina Nail Care Products (Teaneck, N.J.), relates how he got into the nail industry: “My wife has been a manicurist for 30 years. Several years ago she came to me and said, ‘You know those activators? This is what doesn’t work about them.’ ”

At the time, Rosenberg was working as a chemist in an aerosol lab. In his spare time he set about developing an activator that addressed his wife’s complaints. After five years of research and development, Isabel Cristina Nail Care Products was born and Let’s Go aerosol spray activator was introduced.

Pro Finish’s story about its light-activated nail dryer is similar. According to Kurt Kittleson, who purchased Pro Finish, (Phoenix, Ariz.) about a year ago, the company founder was married to a nail technician. He was intrigued by his wife’s tales of clients who ruined their fresh polish before leaving the salon and he set out to find a solution. Three years and countless versions later, Pro Finish, a UV light-activated polish dryer, was introduced.

On a trip to Paris in 1978, Jeff Pink, president of Orly International (Chatsworth, Calif.), noticed that high-fashion runway models were using white correction fluid or paint to paint the undersides of their nails for a fresh, clean look.

After some research, Pink found that no one produced professional products to create the look that’s now called the French manicure (a name the company says it coined). Since Orly already marketed nail polish, Pink just had to find the right the right shades and opacity of white and tinted polishes to create the look with nail polish.

Star Nail Products’ (Valencia, Calif.) Client Guard Pak was a response to consumer trends and the constant negative publicity over salon sanitation. Owner Tony Cuccio learned of an Oregon law that requires salon clients to have their own implements; this sparked the idea to produce a kit containing the disposable products used during a service.

Sometimes, the product itself isn’t new, but the use is, Menda Scientific Products’ (Santa Barbara, Calif.) dispensers were used in other industries for years before someone suggested the company introduce the dispensers to the nail industry to hold acrylic liquid and polish remover.

Many manufacturers give credit to working nail technicians for sparking a new product idea. “We decided to make an odorless acrylic because we heard from techs that if they could snap their fingers, that’s what they wanted,” says Beth Hickey, national sales manager for Origi-Nails (Arlington, Texas). “We sent out thousands of questionnaires and asked techs what they wanted and needed out of a product that would be the ultimate.”

Bragulla says her company is customer-driven as well. “Our philosophy is that the product needs to be something the consumer wants, because we can come up with a million fabulous ideas, but if the consumer doesn’t want or need it, we  get nowhere with it. It’s not that we’re so brilliant, it’s that we’re listening to what people say. The moral of the story is that our hot line serves as an incredible resource,” she says.


A great idea is one thing, making it work is another. Once a manufacturer has an idea, they have to decide if it’s feasible to create. It’s never a case of just mixing a few ingredients together. Even the simplest product goes through months of research and development and numerous formulations before a version is ready for testing.



Though the leap from doing nails for a few hundred clients to manufacturing products for tens of thousands of nail technicians may seem big, many nail manufacturers got their start in the salon. According to the technicians-turned-manufacturers NAILS spoke to, the transition came from seeing a need or opportunity that was unfilled.

Eimsuk Armino, president of Eimsuk Arminio’s Nail Gallery (Downey, Calif.): I’d been hand painting nail designs for 14 years when I noticed that there were no hand painted decals on the market. I charge $7 to $35 and have people coming from as far as San Diego and Riverside. I knew people would pay $2 per nail for the decals.

Terry Cutrone, president of Develop 10 (Plainview, N.Y.): I was a hairdresser for 17 years but stopped when I had children. When I decided to go back to work, I wanted to be a nail care professional. I found that nail polish didn’t stay on long, so after a few years I was on my way to a chemist who could help me. I worked with the formulation for five years before I ever sold one bottle. I guess that’s because I never thought of going into business, I just thought in terms of having a large clientele. Finally, in February 1982 I sold my first bottle.

Tom Holcomb of Tom Holcomb Nail Products (Corona, Calif.): I was doing nails in the salon and competing when I was approached by a marketing agent because of my reputation in the industry. When I got started doing nails I didn’t think of opening my own company; I didn’t have a long-term goal. But then I was retired for having won too many competitions so I decided I would compete on the next floor – for the nail tech’s business.

Kym Lee, co-owner of Galaxy Nail Products (Huntington Beach, Calif.): I got into the manufacturing side through competitions, which exposed me to a lot of other aspects of the nail industry. My husband was very involved with me in the competitions and he began researching the nail industry. At the same time, I started educating for another manufacturer and saw the demand for quality education. You could tell nail technicians anything and they’d believe it. It took about six months to get the company of the ground – do all the research and develop a product. I personally tested the products on my own clientele to get an accurate idea or what worked and what did not.

Tammy Taylor, owner of Tammy Taylor Nails (Irvine, Calif.): I started working in a hair salon doing straight manicures. But the trend was for acrylic nails and I just couldn’t do them. Every night I practiced at home on practice sheets. I would also practice on anyone with the patience to be a guinea pig. Finally, after about 10,000 practice nails, I discovered a system that worked for me. I developed a 12-step system, knowing I couldn’t be the only one who struggled with acrylic techniques. It wasn’t long after that I developed a product.

Mona Townsend, president of Nail-Stuff-N-More (Sacramento, Calif.): I began working 29 years ago as a hairstylist and learned about nails several years later when I returned to school to get my instructor’s license. While I was an instructor I became fascinated with changes in the nail industry and began attending shows to get samples of the new products for my students. After discovering I was sensitive to the liquid monomers, I began experimenting with different products. I formed a partnership with the school owner and his son to develop a product that was lighter and more flexible. The result was fiberglass wraps. After 9 years, I dissolved the partnership and opened a new fiberglass product company with my sister.


“After an idea is born, we order raw materials for laboratory samples and start formulating,” says Susan Weiss-Fischmann, vice president of OPI Products (North Hollywood, Calif.). “Then we test it on machines and come up with lab samples to try on somebody’s fingernails. We can go back and forth formulating and testing for a while.”

OPI Products has its own lab and chemist and is always researching new products, says Weiss-Fischmann. For the 3000 Series acrylic, the company adapted new technology from the dental industry. “We saw that there was new technology in other industries. Our job was to tailor it to nails. We had to work around the small nail surface and the effects of body chemistry, and it had to be flexible,”

Almost every manufacturer NAILS spoke to says they go through numerous formulations to make a particular product work just right: Rosenberg says Let’s Go went through 50 versions using about 75 different chemicals in 300 different combinations. It took Pro Finish three years of research before it found a formulation that worked for the UV light-activated polish dryer.

Even a product that is already used in other industries, Menda’s pump dispensers for example, requires research and development to be adapted to the nail industry’s particular needs. According to David Landecker, Menda president, the dispensers had to be modified because they found that acrylic powder on the brushes was clogging the pumps. While redesigning the pump, they discovered they’d have to use a different stainless steel that could be bent to accommodate the design changes.

Creative Nail Design’s Protect went through several months of research and development before it was reformulated and introduced as Dry & Shine. “Once our focus was on polish, we wanted to make sure it would dry four coats in five minutes. We took the product into our lab and did four coats, applied Dry & Shine, and measured the rate of cure,” says Bragulla.

After some testing, Creative Nail Design’s chemist discovered that Protect only completely dried half the polish layers. It took six months of lab work to refine the formula and make it work just right.

For products that rely on design instead of chemical makeup for their success, the research and development phase can be just as drawn out. According to Calvert Billings, owner of Calvert International (Laguna Hills, Calif.), the Lacquer Whacker polish and acrylic remover went through 10 prototypes before the final design was ready for injection molding.

First, Billings built a working wooden prototype. This first version was rejected because of its size – it was 1½-feet tall. He reworked the design, reduced the size, and built his second prototype. With a few more revisions, he ordered his first vacuum-formed Lacquer Whacker, Vacuum forming is a plastic manufacturing process that is much less expensive than injection molding, which is how the final version is manufactured.

Sometimes one good product spawns another, European Touch Ltd. II (Brookfield, Wis.) had great success with its whirlpool Pedicure Spa, but found that a portion of the market couldn’t afford the cost of, or the space for, the unit. Says Joe Galati, vice president of sales and marketing, “There were three reasons people gave us for not buying a whirlpool spa: It took up too much space, it was too costly, and it required plumbing.”

The company decided that if portable dishwashers could be hooked up to sinks, then so could a pedicure spa. This eliminated two problems: The unit could be made much smaller and it wouldn’t require special plumbing. Since size was reduced and special plumbing was no longer required, they knew the price would drop. While they were at it, they decided to make sure the unit could be shipped by UPS, another cost-saver. “It couldn’t be more than 70 pounds or 130 inches in diameter in a box. We had to keep within all those confines,” he says.

The company did several drawings and then worked with a design engineer. “Research and development with equipment is different than for chemical processes. Our R&D focused on how it was going to look and operate,” says Galati.

By no means do all ideas make it to market. From what manufacturers told NAIL, only three or four of every 10 ideas become marketable products. Product ideas can die at any stage, but most fail in R&D. But, most manufacturers say that if they strongly believe in the idea, they will keep working on it.

Says Weiss-Fischmann of OPI’s long awaited wrap system, “It’s been in R&D for 2½ years and it’s still not on the market. Sometimes we decide to abandon an idea, but if it’s in an important category like this, then we work on it a while.”


Product testing is an important part of research and development. “A product can work just fine in the lab, but the average nail technician has to be able to open the box and just make it  work,” says Billings.

Once a company gets a product that does what they want it to in a lab setting, they usually take it out to the salons and have technicians work with it and offer their input.

Every company has different ways of testing their products, some complex, some simple. Origi-Nails has a three-level testing process. Stage 1 is lab testing, while stage 2 involves bringing clients with different lifestyles and careers into Origi-Nails’ on-site salon. (In the case of its odorless acrylic system, Origi-Nails monitored the application and wearability of the system on these clients.) In stage 3, the company distributes the product to 12 to 25 technicians around the country.

According to Bragulla, Creative Nail design has 100 customers who test a product once it passes the lab stage. “We try to integrate new salons each year. We always test market in salons for at least six months. We may find that the product is wonderful but that they don’t like how the bottle feels in their hands. They give us recommendations and point out things on fragrance or color.”

Creative Nail Design usually goes through three product versions during testing. “In each wave we refine the product on the basis of likes and dislikes,” says Bragulla.

OPI also tests its products for a minimum of six months and sometimes as long as a year. “It’s not just that you put it on and it works great. You have to do it and get the long-term results: daily, weekly, and monthly once a person has it on, says Weiss-Fischmann.

The 3000 Series acrylic system went through six months of salon testing. “We had to do alterations on the 3000 Series three times; setting time and cracking were the major problems. The final version went through 2½ months of testing,” says Weiss-Fischmann.

Orly put its French manicure kit through product testing, though polish itself was not new. Says Lynn Hayes Granger, marketing manager, “Technicians gave us input on how the products are applied, color combinations they liked best, and even the best way to create the chevrons and moons.” Their comments helped finalize the company’s instruction sheet.

“Technicians don’t even realize what they’re saying to you and they’ll tell you possible uses or possible problems that you need to address that you never thought of. That’s why you need so many people to test them,” Hayes Granger says.


Jim Rudolph, president of Rudolph International (Brea, Calif.) says salon testing on its Nail Wrap File demonstrated several features the company didn’t even know about. For example, he says, they learned that using the file with cuticle oil caused even less airborne dust and that the more the file was used, the better it performed.


You can have the hottest product for the ‘90s, but if you don’t market it right, you won’t sell a single unit.

Marketing involves packaging, advertising, support materials – think of it as the image-making process for the product. Even after all the time, energy, and money the manufacturer invests in developing a new product, it’s got to be packaged and promoted right.

“No one hears about a new product if it’s not marketed,” says Mikki Shea of Shea Advertising (Costa Mesa, Calif.), who handles marketing for Rudolph. “There’s so much on the shelves that you can’t get a product moving without it. That’s letters, packaging, pricing, name, point-of-purchase displays, technical information, education and programs.”

Bragulla gets her best descriptive copy for new products from the technicians. During testing, technicians fill out a test result form, telling how they use the product and how they would describe it. Not only does this help the company write ad copy, it also helps them write instruction sheets using nail technician lingo.

Orgi-Nails also uses technician input to put together its marketing campaign. When introducing the odorless acrylic, Hickey took technician input one step further by personally visiting 100 salons and showing them packaging samples. She asked them what color schemes and designs they liked best and took their advice.

For Star Nail Products’ Client Guard Pak, marketing was everything, says marketing director Christina Jahn. “Client Guard Pak is much harder to sell because it’s a concept product versus a usage product,” she says. “We had to show the need. The techs who are sanitizing these implements want to know why they have to have individual kits if they’re already sanitizing. So we have to take clippings form the news media and put it on a video to show techs what their clients are watching at home. The client concern is present and salons are losing clients because of it.”


By the time a product gets to market, manufacturers have invested hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars making sure the product fills a need in the marketplace. Most manufacturers don’t just see the opportunity for a quick buck and throw a product on the market. Their reputations are on the line, and when a product fails, they fail, too.

Entering a product in the marketplace is like entering a nail competition. You work hard to perfect your skills and enter your best work. If you don’t think you’re good, you don’t enter. It’s much the same for nail manufacturers: If they don’t think a product is a winner, they don’t enter it into the marketplace.

Nail manufacturers are quick to emphasize that their best ideas for product innovations come from nail technicians. Who knows better than the working technician what she needs or what could work better?


Say you’ve just invented a new product to extend nails that is totally unlike systems currently on the market. You know it would be a hot product, but you should also know that without patent protection, any company can copy your formulation and sell it under its own company name.

A patent, issued by the United States Patent Office, gives the inventor the sole right to make, use, or sell her invention in the United States for 17 years from the date of issue. After 17 years the patent expires and anyone can copy the invention.

Applying for a patent is a long and complicated process. Most companies use a patent attorney, who specializes in researching and applying for patents. You should talk to a patent attorney before you get too far in researching and developing your new product to make sure you aren’t reinventing the wheel. A patent attorney will search existing patents to see if your “invention” is really an unsuspecting duplication of another invention.

“We did a patent search on the Lacquer Whacker and there were a few similar things that popped up, but they were different enough that there was no problem,” says Calvert Billings.

However, while a patent search tells you whether someone else holds a patent for the invention, it doesn’t tell you if someone has applied for a patent. Once you have a basic design or formulation for your invention, you should file a patent application, Although a patent application does not offer immediate protection, it does give your application precedence. On the market, your invention is also protected by the phrases “patent pending” and “patent applied for.” You shouldn’t put your product on the market until you’ve applied for a patent.

At Seche Inc., president Charles Martens and vice president William Martens put so much emphasis on patenting their unique top coat that they applied for a patent almost a year before they incorporated the company. William describes the process: “You have to find a patent attorney by interviewing different ones and going with your feelings about who’s going to do the best job for you. The first thing you do is a patent search. You take the formula and see if it’s ever been used for that use – find out if the ‘art’ (category) has ever been taught before in patent history. There had been no art in the patent laws for top coats.

“If that’s clear, you sit with the attorney and figure how you’re going to write the application. There are certain things you have to do and you have to structure your application a certain way,” says William. “Once we knew the art had never been taught before, we knew that we had a pretty clear line to a patent. We just hoped no one else was applying simultaneously for a patent with the same ingredients we had.”

It took about two years for Seche’s patent to be granted, says William. During that time, William and Charles had to update their application several times. “There was a little confusion at first about whether it was a nail enamel or not and we had to file amendments refining our claims. There was a lot of work involved,” explains William.

During this two years, their top coat was not protected from copycat products. However, says William, if someone had copied the formula and marketed a like product, they would have had to pull it off the market once the patent was granted, and Seche could have sued the other company to recover any profits it made.


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