The average annual pay for 1990 was estimated to be $23,602, yet the average nail technician makes only $17,921---if she works 52 weeks a year. In fact, according to NAILS’1992 compensation survey, almost 75% of technicians make below the national average.

Now the good news: Getting your income up to the national standard isn’t difficult. Since the average technician sees 29 clients a week, adding just $6 to half those tickets will boost your income to $22,445. If you can work a few more hours (only 31.3% of technicians work the traditional 31-40 hours a week) and increase more than half your tickets, you can be on your way to living large.

Skeptical? The 4.5% of you who make more than $800 a week aren’t. (That’s $40,000 a year with two weeks’vacation!) Part of these money-makers’ secret is they add value to their service and they charge for the things that have monetary value (that means they’re not doing free repairs and polish changes).


Why should a nail technician, who doesn’t make up income in retail sales, give her services away? There are plenty of little extras that you can do for your clients without charging to give your service the added value that makes it stand out from competitors---coffee, tea, great music, sanitary conditions, convenience, late hours, a little extra hand massaging, and a totally professional, service minded attitude---but everything else should be reflected on the ticket.

Another contributor to low technician income is the price of a basic manicure which has decreased since the inception of the quick-service nail salon.

Says Gabriel Marra, owner of Marra’s Hair Nail Designers salons in Hillsdale and Montvale, N.J., “The price of the basic manicure is well below its value.” A nail technician gives the same amount of time as a stylist. Sure it’s a different service, but it’s just as important. If you give more value within the same time frame, you can increase the price.”

One way Marra increases the basic manicure price is by doing an airbrushed French manicure. For $15 instead of $12, clients get the same service as a basic manicure until the finish. Then, for the lighter tips, they can select different angles or rounded shapes with an airbrushed finish.

“Many of our clients prefer the airbrushed finish,” says Marra. “It took a few months of promotion to get it off the ground, but now we have lots of requests for it.”

Added-value services make you stand out from your competition and increase your ticket, depending on what you add. Marra’s salon offers an aromatherapy manicure that serves both purposes. During a basic manicure, essential oils are selected, based on the cl;ient’s skin type or activity, and are then used during the routine hand and finger massage.

“We have a certified massage therapist on staff, so she taught the nail technicians to work with the finger bones,” he says. “It is all done in the same time frame as the basic manicure and we use it to give the service more value without raising the price.”

Why doesn’t Marra charge more in this instance? Because he’s counting on making up his costs with a retail sale.

“The oils can increase retail tremendously,” he says. “All our technicians are required to attend product education classes, so they know which oils are good for what and can tell clients how to use them.”


Jewelry cleaning is another plus you can offer to increase your service’s value or charge for and increase your pocketbook. At Beautique in Westboro, Mass., Debbie Nichols says she doesn’t charge for jewelry cleaning, but probably could charge each client $1. While it’s difficult to begin charging clients for something they’re accustomed to getting for free, if you don’t offer jewelry cleaning, consider introducing it as an inexpensive add-on.

Nichols bought her ultrasonic cleaner for $200, but Marra found a local jeweller who gave him a machine in return for allowing the jeweller to put his name on it, thus promoting his own business to women in the area.

Creative skin treatments are another great way to double a ticket. While Nichols offers reflexology treatments, these do require special training and education.

Technicians who don’t have the expertise to do skin care can still offer paraffin dips, a simple and extremely popular treatment that anyone can do.

In the basic paraffin dip, moisturizer or essential oil is massaged into the hand, nails, and cuticles; the hand is then dipped in warm paraffin, wrapped in plastic bags, and placed in hot mitts. The results are immediately noticeable, making it one of the sellable services you can offer.


Lynn Parentini, vice president of Esthetic Research Group and a former practicing nail technician, suggests you make the paraffin treatment part of a menu of mini-ser-vices that develop incrementally.

“Start with a hand facial that’s short and sweet,” she explains. A skin facial involves a quick cleansing, exfoliating, rinsing, and moisturizing. Depending on your geographic area, you can add $3 to $5 for this service.

Next, move to a true hand facial that includes an essential oil massage and a mask. Then, for what Parentini calls a hand makeover combine all the treatments by dipping the hands in paraffin after the mask is applied and proceeding with baggies and mitts (All these work for feet, too.)

“The more you do, the more you should charge,” she adds. “The hand makeover can bring as much as $20 and is excellent for clients whose hands are constantly exposed or who tend to have dry skin. When you remove the paraffin and mask, finish with a good hand cream.

“These services must be strongly promoted to be successful,” she continues. “Place a sign suggesting the service at every station and offer clients an enticement by doing one hand free. When they become accustomed to requesting the service, springboard into retail.”

At Maximus Spa Deluxe in Merrick, N.Y., Josh’s $15 basic manicure includes an aromatherapy treatment that uses avocado body lotion mixed with an essential oil. For a special touch, she warms the mixture in the microwave. Her step-up treatment is a hand exfoliation and manicure for $20.

A number of salons include the lower arm and elbow when adding on an exfoliating or paraffin treatment. With this in my mind, Barbara Salomone, founder and director of the Conservatory of Esthetics, developed a series of microtreatments that can done alone or incorporated into full, specialized treatments. Their greatest advantage is that they can add a small or substantial amount to both your ticket and your time frame, meaning there’s something for every schedule and every budget.

One of Salomone’s original microtreatments is called the elbow rescue treatment. With this service, the elbows are cleansed with a special decongestant cleanser and a face brush, then rinsed and softened with an enzyme mask. After the mask is applied, the elbows are wrapped in steaming towels and plastic for five minutes, then exfoliated, rinsed, and soaked in lemon halves for another five minutes. A moisturizer completes the 15-minute treatment.

Microtreatments can be done during little gaps in your schedule, or they can be handled as a la carte services that increase any nail service ticket. If you have 10 minutes open and a client is waiting for a hair service, Salomone suggests offering a 10-minute hand paraffin treatment, herbology hand treatment, or foot spa-glow as a way of introducing yourself. During a manicure, if you notice a client has age spots or pigmentation problems, suggest a pigment-discouraging cream and demonstrate how it’s used. Several professional companies offer pigment lighteners or discouragers, and if you use one during the manicure, it could become the easiest retail sale you’ve ever made.

Always remember you have the daily opportunity to treat much more than nails, and that add-on hand and foot treatments offset the declining price of a manicure. You can develop your own versions of exfoliation, hand masks, and exotic paraffin treatments.


Besides special hand and foot treatments, be alert for special problems that you can help your clients solve. Anyone who pays for a manicure doesn’t want torn cuticles, weak nails, horizontal splits, or one short nail that detracts from the others. If your retail arsenal doesn’t include cuticle creams, nail strengtheners, and the like, stock up now. Then, reconsider your traditional approach to repairs.

While many salons repair broken nails for free, this should only be done with artificial nails, and only if they break within three to four days of application. At the Polished Outlook in Milford, Mich., Mona Hemmerling-Ruggers has developed a flat-free program that includes repairs and ensures that her clients will return to her, whatever the problem.

“During the initial consultation, clients are told about our Deluxe Manicure program,” she says. “For $22, clients get a manicure, warm paraffin spa, free repairs on up to four nails, including extensions, and a four-minute polish drying treatment. Between-appointment repairs are free, too. But to get into the program, clients must book every two weeks. We encourage our clients to go into it and 70%  of them do.”

Clients not on the program pay $10.50 for a basic manicure, $15.50 for an aromatherapy manicure, and $3.50 each for repairs. The light polish-drying is optional and an extension is $5, making it shrewd for the client to select the Deluxe Manicure program.

At Beautique, Nichols fixes nails with a wrap or overlay for $3 or adds sculptured nails for $6. She discovered that the basic manicure client who has one short nail is the perfect candidate for these simple add-ons.

At Arnold & David’s in Woodmere Village, Ohio, owner David Porris says acrylics are not for everyone, but that you should always consider what’s best for the individual and suggest it immediately.

“A client who has weak nails is an excellent candidate for a silk wrap,” he says. “The trick is to make a recommendation immediately and get the client to try it then and there. You have to work around your time a little, but even if you have to shift a client to another manicurist in order to perform a longer service, you should do it. Why lose a $50 service to a $10 manicure?

“Your client will leave happy if you offer what’s best for her and give her the proper home maintenance kit,” says Porris.

Adds Hemmerling-Ruggers, “Our policies and procedures manual states we will sell to service, not just to sell. The manicure client is making an investment and you want her to do certain things to protect her investment, which includes making regular appointments, applying a top coat after the second day and then every fourth day, and re-applying polish. Constantly using polish remover to change colors is drying to gels, wraps, and natural nails, and polishes add a bit more strength, so we encourage clients to re-apply rather than change polish. Often, we’ll sell the client a slightly darker shade to do this.

“We teach our clients that their nails are jewels, not tools, and to stand behind what we preach, we retail both rubber gloves and dermal gloves, which are cotton liners that absorb perspiration.”


“Whatever service you offer, give it an interesting name and create a conversation piece to support,” says Parentini. “Add-on services don’t sell themselves. Ask your manufacturer or distributor about sampler programs, because giving the client something is the simplest way to get her hooked on it. Give gift certificates for sample treatments and let a new technician who has openings do them. Next time, the client will buy them.”

Adds Nichols, “Nail technicians are too afraid to sell retail if a client is spending $25 on fills. If you want to sell it, they have to see it. We sell lots of nail art, too, and to sell it, technicians should wear it.”

And nail jewelry, of course, offers yet another avenue for increased sales and client excitement. While it is more popular in certain geographic regions, you can develop subtle, tasteful art and designs to appeal to clients who may never have considered it. Start by suggesting nail jewelry to just two clients a week and see what happens.

“Be very conscious of your time and the amount of money your client is spending,” stresses Richard Calcasola, owner of Maximus Spa Deluxe and the adjoining Maximus Hair Salon. “If you’re doing a basic manicure, it’s very important to ‘up-sell’ the client. If she’s a good candidate for wraps or acrylics, do one for free and see what happens.”

Contributes Warren Michaels, co-owner of Michael Thomas in Chicago, “The biggest part of any business is to promote yourself. It’s amazing how many technicians don’t have well-groomed nails themselves. It’s simple stuff, but if you want to increase sales, use your time to talk about the service and the add-on services you offer or don’t talk at all. Focus in on clients’ needs, just like a hairstylist does. Stylists can suggest color or a perm; you can suggest a hot oil treatment, a paraffin dip, and many more treatments that will become real gems to your client and moneymakers for you.”


Increasing your value to the entire salon is another way to increase your income. At Maximus Hair Salon, Richard Calcasola pays a flat salary plus benefits, so anything his technicians do, such as making cross-referrals, is considered during their performance review and reflected in salary increases.

At another salons, such as Michael Thomas, technicians are paid commission but are given assistance in promoting themselves and their services. And at Arnold and David’s, David Porris recognizes that stylists have a better opportunity to make retail dollars and allows the entire staff to share in total salon retail profits via quarterly payments. Soon, he’ll change over to paying stylists a percentage and give everyone else the same percentage they got in the past, based on the number of days they work.

The point of each example is that whatever the staff pay structure, owners are willing to make extra efforts to help you increase your business and your income. In fact, not a single salon owner we asked said they would not find some way to give a special reward to the nail technician who made entrepreneurial suggestions or extra efforts. Here are some of the things they said they’d reward:

  • Promotions conceived by the technician. Most said if a nail technician had an idea and saw it through, they would reward the effort. They stressed that the promotion should benefit everyone. Examples included holding a men’s night and giving gift certificates to each man, who had to give it to a woman, and holding a nail care clinic for clients.
  • Increased responsibility. The technician who offers to do office filing, client-card updates, client mailings, development of in-salon promotional signage, and product ordering and tracking are far more likely to be able to negotiate commissions, bonuses, and more with owners, according to them.
  • Cross-referrals. While most owners said they naturally expected manicurists in a full-service salon to make cross-referrals, many said they would be willing to run contests with cash or other prizes going to the person who made the most referrals within each department.
  • Retail Sales. Retail won hands-down as the easiest way to increase your income. Many owners pointed out that the price of a bottle of polish is much lower than that of a shampoo, and said that as a result they would be willing to pay a bit higher commission. Additionally, technicians who branch out into aromatherapy oils, cuticle treatments, home-care kits, exfoliating scrubs, hand creams, pigment discouragers, and hand masks will find their retail can increase substantially. Owners were very amenable to supporting technicians who develop promotions around such service-related products---particularly if the promotion involved the entire salon. Many said they would pay the entire cost of the promotion if they were given a good idea.

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