Illustration/Lynn Foye

Illustration/Lynn Foye

Whether your salon has two or 10 nail technicians, a salon policies and procedures manual can ensure smooth operation.

“When my salon grew beyond one other nail technician, I realized that we had to have a written core policy to work around,” says Gina Marsilii, owner of Perfect Ten Nail Salon & Tanning in Wilmington, Del. “It is especially important to set policy standards in a nail salon because everyone works so closely together every day. Without a core understanding of everyone’s responsibilities, chaos could result.”

“With eight nail technicians, an esthetician, and two receptionists, it’s too difficult for me to tell everything to everyone,” says Wendy Coleman, owner of Distinctive Touch in Hamilton Square, N.J. “So we grouped everything together and made a set policy.” Why else does Coleman recommend having a policy manual?

  • Fairness. A manual provides an objective means to solve unforeseeable problems. If an issue is not addressed, the manual can be modified for the next time that problem arises.
  • Legal reasons. By following the manual, it ensures there’s no favoritism by management.
  • Professionalism. It creates standards to follow and outlines employee responsibilities
  • Objectivity. It puts solving all issues into an impersonal context.
  • Focus. It allows a sharing of visions.

“Even though Distinctive Touch is run democratically, the more employees you have, the more you need to define the areas where you need control – which may vary from staff to staff,” Coleman adds. “It helps you keep the business running smoothly and keeps everything consistent from your perspective and from the clients’ point-of-view. For example, there’s no question that everyone here must wear a lab coat all the time, we all have the clients pay before their polish, everyone always walks the clients to the nail drying area and carries their purse. As a result, we always run on schedule.”

“We found a big need for a manual because when an incident would occur, the nail technician would immediately say, ‘You never said that,’ even if she had worked here for a year,” says Michelle Barna, owner of The Nail Clinic in Lorain, Ohio. “It’s a good point of reference so everyone knows exactly what is expected all the time and time and it ensures that everyone maintains the same level of professionalism and the same team-oriented attitude.”

Candice Kopp, owner of Candice, Place for Nails, in Pompano Beach, Fla., concurs: “After being in business for six years, I introduced a manual last year because we were beginning to have some problems with staff members saying ‘I didn’t know I was supposed to do that.’ I should have done it a long time ago.”


Your salon’s manual can be as simple as three to five photocopied pages in a simple folder to a more extensive guide ranging from 20 to 40 pages that you have printed and bound. The format that’s right for your salon depends on how detailed and comprehensive you want to make it, as well as what you and your staff are comfortable with and can live with day to day.

To get started, Barna suggests borrowing manuals from other businesses and customizing them to meet your own needs.

“First, I read my accountant’s manual, and we patterned ours after it,” she says. “I liked the way it specifically outlined the path of advancement in the accounting firm, so I adapted that to the salon. The local library is also a great resource.”

“My attorney recommended writing a salon policy manual and showed me his as an example,” Marsilii adds.

If you don’t have a word processor, Barna suggests tapping into your clientele to get your manual produced professionally.

“The daughter of one of my clients was an English major at college and she needed some hands on publishing experience. So, she took on our manual as a class project and actually got graded on it. As a result, we got a very professionally produced manual.”

Kopp also suggests asking everyone you know for examples of their manuals, from your spouse to your clients to your employees who might have worked outside the salon industry.


What you decide to include in your manual depends on how formal you want it to be and the tone you want to set. Many salon owners include a welcoming letter to new employees or a general letter of introduction to help set the tone of the manual and the salon workplace.

You’ll also want to determine if there are specific problems in your salon that you need to address. The number one issue for many salon owners we talked with for this article is the dress code.

Distinctive Touch’s manual opens with a welcoming letter telling employees that the manual was prepared to assist them in their work, then immediately addresses dress code, employee purchases, employee benefits, hours of operation, lunch policy, pay day, personal data, probationary period, sick days, snow days, resignation, termination, and vacation policies, and penalties for failure to comply with the policies in the manual.

Says Marsilii, “My goal was to have something in writing, but I didn’t want it so carved in stone that it was inflexible. We don’t hesitate to modify the manual if the need arises.” As a result, Perfect Ten’s policy manual includes basic salon policies on operations, sick days, lateness, materials and supplies, payroll, benefits, salon and station cleanliness, proper sanitation procedures, salon ethics, and – a sign of the times – the salon’s recycling policy. Recently, Marsilii updated it to include dress code and policies prohibiting gossiping.

“I try to cover anything that the staff members could not otherwise figure out for themselves,” she says. “This way, there’s no ‘trickle-down’ explanation and it eliminates confusion.”

At The Nail Clinic, the 17-page manual addresses basic issues, but goes further to define the three levels a nail technician can achieve – new tech, mid tech, and high tech – and the criteria that must be met in order to progress to the next level. It includes the minimum time employed by the salon, the number of classes that must be attended, the time it takes to do a full set, the number of requests that the technician has, and the retail sales required. With each higher level comes a higher commission on services and retail.

“Since we put everything in writing, the nail technicians have advanced much more quickly because there’s no question as to what they have to achieve,” says Barna.

The Nail Clinic’s manual also contains a specific dress code.

“With all of the styles available today, we had to be very specific as to what is appropriate for in-salon wear and what is not,” says Barna.

“Everyone seems to have a different idea about what is acceptable.”

In addition to dress code, Kopp’s manual addresses absenteeism, drugs in the workplace, smoking, gum chewing, phone privileges, and having friends come in.

“Now, everyone knows what they can get away with and what not to try,” she says.

Coleman is currently redoing Distinctive Touch’s manual to make it even better. “I’m combining the policies and procedures manual with performance reviews, as well as a checklist of dos and don’ts for conduct in the salon,” she says. “By integrating the manual with our six-month performance reviews, employees will have a reassurance twice a year that they are in compliance. It will also turn each person’s handbook into her own personnel record.”[PAGEBREAK]

To give you an idea of how Coleman works it, the list of dos and don’ts includes the rules of day-to-day activities, such as the following:

  • Nail technicians must arrive at the salon at least 15 minutes before their first client.
  • Before leaving the salon, nail technicians must say good-bye to everyone so that other staff members know who is in the salon and available to assist at all times.
  • A lab coat must be worn at all times.
  • Clients must never feel rushed, no matter what the circumstances.

The reference manual will include all information from where the fire extinguishers are located to where to park.

The six-month review will reinforce all points in these two guides.

“I’ll introduce the revised manual at one of our bimonthly meetings, and we will sit there and read it together,” says Coleman.


It’s generally agreed that the more input the staff has in writing the manual, the more they will accept personal ownership of its policies. That’s exactly what happened at Distinctive Touch.

“The salon is very democratic,” says Coleman. “If we all decide together to make a new rule – and we do that often – then we’ll add it to the list. For example, everyone agreed that we should have the six-month reviews. It gives them a formal time to come to me with suggestions and complaints, and they really like that.”

At The Nail Clinic, the staff had two meetings to discuss the manual before it was finalized.

“They were really excited because they had input, which really makes the manual work,” says Barna.

Kopp says that her staff didn’t have input in the manual. “I knew what I wanted,” she says. “There were no surprises. I just detailed what the staff already knew.”


So there’s no confusion when the manual’s needed the most, many salon owners have their staff sign a page in it indicating they have read the manual and understand its contents. Coleman agrees with this philosophy.

“New staff members receive the manual on their first day. They take it home and in a week are required to sign a sheet that says they have read and fully understood the procedures in Distinctive Touch’s reference manual. If they haven’t, I’ll give them a few more days. That way, they can never say, ‘I didn’t know that,’ when an issue arises.”

Barna also has her new techs sign a statement saying that they understand the content of the manual and agree with everything it contains. Kopp does the same.

Marsilii takes a different approach. She says she likes to run her salon informally, so she doesn’t have the staff sign the manual. She gives it to them on their first day of work and encourages them to come to her with questions. Since her staff members have all been with her at least two years, everyone knows where everyone else stands, so she doesn’t believe the formality is necessary.

“With open minds and open communication, we all work very well together,” she says. “In fact, I re-read it myself periodically just to brush up. Then, I re-issue it and say ‘Here’s the policy manual again in case you lost it or want to review it. That keeps it fresh in everyone’s mind in a very non-threatening way.”

“The biggest benefit of having a manual is that you and your staff never have a question,” says Kopp.”Every day, everyone comes to work knowing exactly what to expect, how to dress, and how to conduct themselves professionally.”

Marsilii sums it up like this: “Whether you have one or 10 people, a policies and procedures manual shows that you are serious about your business.”

Writing The Next Volume

At Distinctive Touch, owner Wendy Coleman is going a step beyond a basic policies and procedures manual. She is developing a salon reference binder containing everything nail technicians need to know, from technical information to diseases and disorders to nail art.

“I’ve been collecting articles from magazines and instruction sheets from manufacturers for three years,” says Coleman. “Putting them all into one clearly labeled manual will give the staff something to read when they are not busy or to use as a handy reference guide when they have a question or a client has a specific problem.”

Signing on Receipt

Most salon owners agree that it is a good idea to have staff members sign a statement acknowledging that they have read the salon’s policy manual and agree to abide by its contents. Here’s a sample statement for you to use or adapt for your own use.


I, _______________________ (employee’s name), have received and read a copy of the Policies and Procedures Handbook, which outlines the benefits, policies, and employee’s responsibilities at ________________________ (salon name). I understand the contents of this handbook and agree to comply with the information contained within it. If I have any questions about its contents at any time, I agree to take the responsibility to seek out the answers from the salon’s owner or manager.

I understand and agree that the salon has the right to change the policies contained in the handbook and that any changes will generally be communicated to me by my manger during salon meetings or through official notices, I accept responsibility for keeping informed of these changes.

I also understand that this handbook is not a contract of employment and should not be deemed as such, and that I am an employee at will.

I agree by accepting employment with this salon to abide by present and future personnel policies and practices.


_________________ (employee’s signature)


_________________ (date)


_________________ (salon owner’s/manager’s signature)

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