What is the future of the nails-only salon in this age when customers seem to want all their beauty services in one place? Can a salon that offers only nail care compete with salons that also offer skin care, hairstyling, tanning, retail shopping, and a host of other related (and often unrelated) services? Can salon owners afford to specialize in nail care anymore, or do they need to offer more services in order to retain their nail clients? And do nail technicians need to job-hunt in full-service salons in order to secure a future for themselves?

NAILS’ reader surveys mark an interesting pattern over the past three years: The number of nails-only salons in the United States is dwindling. In 1989, nails-only accounted for 32% of all salons offering nail care. That number dropped to 26% in 1991, and fell again this year to 19%. These figures may be saying the answer to the question is, No, nails-only salons cannot compete by concentrating solely on nails. At the very least, nails-only salons will find it harder to compete.

I don’t think that the drop means nails-only salons are going out of business; I think it means that they are offering additional services, like skin care and tanning, for example. Clearly, customers want to be able to tend to more of their beauty needs at a single operation, rather than going to one salon for nails, one for hair care, one for skin care, one for tanning, and one for massage.

We can’t jump to any conclusions about the decline of the nails-only salon (you can still find plenty of nails-only shops on a one-mile drive through Southern California), but I think we can fairly say something about their continued ability to compete. We probably did not have adequate representation of the discount nails-only salons in our surveys, but I think the average-price nails-only salon finds itself in a tough place these days. They’re wedged in among average-price nail salons that offer additional services, full-service salons that offer nail care (as a convenience more than as a specialization), and bargain shops that offer cheap nail care. Is the answer that you must expand in order to survive? You tell me. The industry is thriving, but perhaps is also changing its face.

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