There are those days – even the most professionally run, upscale salon is not immune – that are right out of “The Young and the Restless.” A client pouring her heart out over a messy divorce, one technician accusing another of stealing her clients, a loose – lipped manager divulging business secrets to a client, two formerly romantically involved technicians nursing wounds over their recent breakup. Whether you’re a participant, a supervisor, or an intrigued observer the situation is not good for business.

The very relaxed environment that makes the salon ordinarily such a pleasant place to work – the open design of the work area, the close relationship of the technician and her clients, the coziness between women who work together regularly - is the same environment that can breed discontent. A Salon is ripe for personality conflicts, flared tempers, and bruised egos.

Consider a nail technician and her clients, and the relationships she develops with each. Add four to eight other technicians and all their clients. Now toss in an owner, a manager, a receptionist. You now have a cornucopia of different personalities.

There are always going to be office politics to deal with any time you have two or more people around each other eight hours a day. Acknowledging that problems will exists is one thing; handling them is another. There’s no reason to let a few minor skirmishes send your business to the poorhouse. Here are some common salon dilemmas and their commonsense solutions.

She’s Mine! No, She’s Mine!

One of the most widespread problems in nail salons today – and one of the most easily remedied – is technicians “stealing” other technicians’ clients. The best way to cure this is to expel the “this client is mine; that client is yours” attitude that exists in some salons. Dee Holland, owner of Nails After Dark in Cedar Grove, N.J., has found a way to do just that. Every time a new client walks through the door, Holland introduces her to each of five nail technicians. One of the technicians – it doesn’t matter who – does the customer’s nails. The next time that same client comes in, someone else might service her. Maybe after a few months the customer will prefer a certain technician. That’s okay, too, says Holland. This way nobody’s feelings get hurt and everybody gets to do everybody else’s nails. For Holland and her employees, it works.

 “You really don’t get any of this ‘my customer’ type thing,” says Holland. “Everybody does nails the same way, and I move my customers around so well get a chance to make money every week.”The simplest way to deal with the problem, Holland insists, is to establish strict rules.

It sounds simple, but - let’s face it – no many salons work this way. For those that don’t, problems are always going to crop up when a technician is out sick and one of her clients has her nails done by someone she happens to like better. Unfortunately, this situation is often followed by an ugly scene when the technician finds out that her client is making appointments with another technician in the shop. Technicians who loose clients should use the energy they might spend being angry to lure a few new customers into the shop.

The Daily Soap Opera

Technicians may also have personality conflicts among each other – a day-to-day occurrence in all lines of work. Salon owners and technicians agree that the best thing you can do is deal with personality problems as they arise, not a week or two after the fact or whenever you get around to it. In this respect, management should set the example on grow to handle interpersonal friction. If owners let problems stew-even minor scrapes-technicians also learn to handle conflict by sweeping it under the rug.

“Don’t let problems fester or wait until they explode,” advises Brenda Baker, a nail technician at Fingertips and Finery in Calabasas, Calif., “A lot of times, problems aren’t really problems; they just things that were left to sit there and weren’t handled.”

Bobbi Hoole, a nail technician at Gold ‘N Nails in Fountain Valley, Calif., feels that getting problems out in the open is as important as handling them immediately. “We never do anything behind anybody’s back. It’s always very open. And we don’t spend a lot of time discussing things that can’t be discussed among all of us at one time, “says Hoole.

At GOLD ‘N Nails, regular staff meetings give employees and owners the opportunity to settle disputes and discuss ideas for new ways of doing things. Most nail industry veterans say shop meetings are one of the most effective tools for clearing up misunderstandings and minor difficulties that might otherwise turn into major conflicts.

Communication is paramount to good salon relations, according to Pam Baker, part owner of Special Affects, A full-service salon in Peoria, III. “Like in a good marriage, you have to air your difference occasionally or they build up and become something you can’t handle,” says Baker. “If you have a problem, confront the person as soon as possible, but not in front of others,” she advises.

“If something a technician is doing brothers me, then we talk about it before I go home,” says Holland. “I don’t hold things in, they just start to hate you.”

The Green-Eyed Monster

Another rampant problem Holland has observed in nail salons is jealousy-usually related to skills one technician possesses and another does not. In her own career, Holland excelled at airbrushing, and her boss at one salon, also an airbrush artist, tried to hide the fact that Holland could perform the popular service. Customers would ask if someone besides the owner could do airbrushing, and owner would say no. “She wouldn’t tell anybody I could airbrush,” says Holland. “She wanted to be the only one in the salon who could.”

It’s ironic: Instead of capitalizing on a technician’s individual talents, jealous owners may turn potential business away. But Holland got something positive out of her negative experiences. In the process of becoming a seasoned veteran in the world of nails, Holland learned how not to run a business. “I learned how businesses go under-just by watching them do what they did,” she says.

Common sense should tell any professional that the more skills she has, the more business she’ll generate. And isn’t that the idea? Brenda Baker thinks so. “If there are eight other techs in the shop, that’s eight other minds that can help you,” she says. Learn by watching and ask questions. Don’t dwell on your shortcoming or waste time feeling jealous of someone else’s work. Instead, find out what her secret is and practice it for yourself.

One more rule of thumb: Focus on competing with other salons in the area, instead of with other technicians in your salon.

Customers Also Contribute

Another potential source of strife is your customers. As much as nail technicians contribute to office politics, so do their clients. This is because your customers for the most part expect a lot more than just a manicure when they come into the shop. They want an ear to bend, a little therapy, someone to talk to. And sometimes they get carried away.

Brenda Baker has seen a number of altercations arise because of something a client says. “A lot of gossip is brought in by the clients more than by technicians or the owners. The hardest part is trying to control it in a very polite and in-offensive way,” she says. This can be tricky: The clients are your livelihood, so the last thing you want to do is alienate them. But, on the other hand, if a customer says something that insults someone or makes people uncomfortable, something must be done.

“When I have a problem with a client, I tell them in private – never in front of anyone,” says Baker. “I don’t mince words. I’m firm and very clear. I’ll tell them that it’s just not working out in a business sense.”

Customers feel at home in nail salons, enough so that sometimes, they feel free to divulge their controversial views on religion, politics, or some other volatile topic. It’s best to steer clear of emotional issues such as these. Hoole says it’s important for technicians and owners to leave their personal feelings on these subjects at home. Otherwise, they could be playing with fire.

“You can always ask a question to change the subject or get the client a cup of coffee to distract her,” says Brenda Baker. Holland suggests subtly turning the conversation to something else. Pam Baker agrees. “We try to be light-hearted about it and change the subject.”

“The customer comes first,” says Baker. “You have to remember that. Whether they come in grumpy, happy, rude, whatever-they’re right. And you have to work around that.”   

Keeping customers coming back while maintaining a healthy work environment for technicians means, more than anything else, polishing your people skills. Pam Baker and Dee Holland contend that the nail business is two parts public relations, one part nails. You have to be aware of people’s feelings – both technicians’ and customers’.

Says Baker, “I think most nail techs are good at picking up on people’s vibes. I don’t think they could be successful at what they’re doing if they couldn’t.”

Stay sensitive to your co-workers’ feelings, steer clear of conversational and mines, keep your personal life to yourself, and leave the melodrama to daytime television where it belongs.

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