Train clients to think of the salon when they need products.

Is your salon throwing away $10,000 each year? Before you answer no, look again. Do you have wasted space? Bare walls? Bland displays? Technical, service-only technicians? At second glance, many salons should at least say maybe. If your salon grosses an average of $50,000 per year from service sales and does no retailing, you are ignoring a potential 30 percent in additional earnings.

Salons that have shed their inhibitions about selling report that retail programs boost gross earnings by 10 to 30 percent.

Is it hard? Yes.

Can you really make money? Yes.

Does it do anything for clients? Yes.

Starting an effective salon retailing program from scratch is challenging, especially if your clients are not accustomed to buying their products from the salon. At the same time, all retail-oriented salons we spoke with say retailing can’t be avoided if you want to remain successful in the beauty industry.

Remember, this is a business. Your salon exists to provide a necessary service, satisfy clients, and make a profit. As much as you hate to admit it, the dollar signs are why you remain in business. So if your clients are already spending the money, why not encourage them to spend it in your salon? They shouldn’t be stopping at the local drugstore to buy polish.

“Selling extra services is where your high totals come in,” says Connie Sullivan of Geneses Salons in Boston. “Retail products are a part of that.”

Max D’ifray of Max D’ifary Salon in Beverly Hills, California, sums up retailing by saying “We’re all there to make a buck the best way we can. If you’re not there to sell, what are you there for? You don’t have to be a hard seller. Establish a trusting retail relationship that provides for clients’ needs.”

Lately, much emphasis has been put on selling - the actual process of recommending a product to a client based on her needs. But sales skills are just part of the retailing game. You need to carry the right products at the right price displayed prominently in the salon.

Look at the products you use for services. Have you ever used them yourself? Do your family and friends use them? Are they the same products you retail?

Product evaluation is the foundation of your retail program. How can you sell a product if you don’t know what it does? Sure, the manufacturer says the polish doesn’t chip, fade, or yellow, but you can’t really know until you try it for yourself. If you sell a client a product that doesn’t do what you say it will, your credibility is damaged, no matter how hard you try to make it up to her.

Katherine McCarter of Trifles, a Specially Salon in Seattle, Washington, says the most important factor in building retail sales is trust. Before stocking a product, she researches and tests it to make sure it suits her own needs. The result, she says, is that clients know they can trust her own needs. The result, she says, is that clients know they can trust her when she recommends a product. And when they believe, they buy.

Another rule of thumb, says Lori Samerjan of Nail Fetish in Burbank, California, is to go with a quality name brand and carry the whole line. Try the product yourself, give samples to family members, and consider the manufacturer’s presentation - packaging, displays, and product support.

All nail technicians in the salon can participate in choosing products to retail. After all, who would know better what products really work? Dianne Altobelli of Rocco Altobelli Salons in Minneapolis says the manger of each of her nail departments works with nail technicians at in-house educational classes and are included in the service and retail program once they approved by the staff. Altobelli says nail technicians are more likely to promote retail when they’re included in the product selection.

Choosing manufacturers can be confusing. Once you’ve narrowed the choice to two or three product lines, investigate what the manufacturers offer you. Promotional support, displays, charts, retail guides, brochures, toll-free hotlines, and product availability are all things to consider when choosing.

You number one concern, however, should always be quality. “I have to feel, as a purchaser, that the manufacturer will stand behind me if there’s a problem with the product,” says McCarter.


Since most salons have limited space, deciding what to retail can be challenging. Listening to clients will at least guide you in the right direction. Know your clients, their needs, and their lifestyles. “I wish I could find…” or “My friend found the greatest…..” are clues from your clients. Once you translate their wishes and needs into products, you retailing program is on its way.

All the salons we spoke to emphasized the need to retail the same items you use during services, even if it costs a bit-more in professional products. That’s the way to hook clients; if they fall in love with the cuticle oil you use during services, that’s the one they’ll want to buy. Otherwise, why shouldn’t they go elsewhere for their purchases?

Christina Jahn of Star Nail Products suggests some basic items that should be found in every retail area: polish, a selection of nail treatments, non-acetone polish remover, polish quick-dry, polish corrector pens, nail glue, natural nail files, tri-sided buffers, buffing blocks, foot files, toe separators, nail clippers, hand lotion, and nail saving gadgets. Maintenance kits are a must, she says, because they include most of the products a client needs and they make great gifts.

Many manufacturers offer prepackaged maintenance kits, and Creative Nail Design’s Jan Bragulla suggests making this the hook that draws new clients into your retail section. Consult with new clients and create a custom nail program especially for them.

As part of this first-time visit, the client and the nail artist must agree to the prescription, which should include the service,  fill-in schedule, home care regimen, and full education,’ says Bragulla.

Incorporating a home-care package in the cost of a new client’s first service is a great way to introduce retail. The first service is the time to focus on the client’s responsibility to care for her nails by presenting a home care bag, along with instructions, you draw the client immediately into your retailing cycle.

Scott Adkisson of Four Nails of Minnesota suggests providing a home care checklist should include a list of home care supplies, as well as instructions on their use.

A word of warning: Never retail professional-only products, says Essie Weingarten of Essie Cosmetics. Professional-only products include acrylic liquid and powders, wrap systems, gels, or bulk sizes of products. Professional-only products are for nail technicians trained in safety and health issues. Otherwise, you’re stealing business from yourself. What do you when the client returns with a fungal infection, blaming you for selling her the product?

Many salons also sell jewelry, makeup, hair care products, clothing, and small gift items. If you have the space, experiment with different products. Again, note your clients’ likes and dislikes. Can your salon sell jewelry and clothing? Judge what your clientele can afford to spend before you stock any extras.

“I know what my clients like and I know their lifestyles,” says D’ifray. “I’m always experimenting, I try everything. It keeps you open to change and innovation.”


Don’t assume that drug and department stores cut you out of the retail market. As Susan Weiss of OPI Products point out, drugstores carry less-expensive products, while department stores carry more-expensive designer brands. Professional salon products fall in the middle of the price spectrum, and Weiss advises pointing this out to clients.

Almost every salon we spoke with recommends a different product mark-up formula. Some advise 50 percent, others say 100 percent. Still others fall somewhere in between, and one says the sky is the limit. Out of the jumble, however, there are several good rules of thumb.

According to Adkisson, your retail program should pay your electricity and heating bills, provide incentive bonuses for retailing, and leave some fun money in the salon kitty. Jahn prepares a more rigid formula. She says to consider your cost, perceived value, market value in your area, and average salon mark-up.

For salons, market value seemed to be a strong influencing factor. Most salons said they like to be just under the average for their area because it increases sales, and also helps the client perceive all the salon’s services as “value-priced.” If you can’t settle on a price, most manufacturers provide a suggested retail price.

Weingarten advocates private label products for salon retail, because they allow more freedom in pricing. They also guarantee exclusivity because clients won’t find a product with your salon label elsewhere.

Some products may not sell as well as others, and your first instinct may be to lower the price or put the product in a discount bin. Adkisson suggests giving the product another chance first: Trying moving the slow selling product next to a high-volume seller. Run a promotional sale on both products and watch sales take off. Re-evaluate the slow-selling product at a later date to see if return business” sales have picked up.

Weiss says you can also run a promotion and include the products free with services. Some products take more time to develop a following, she says, but that doesn’t mean they’re destined to fall. Those same clients who received them free once may come back and purchase more.

All the same, there may be times when you have to adjust prices. Costs can go up, perceived value can diminish, and competition can undercut you, says Jahn. If so, you’ll have to act accordingly.


Women pay especially close attention to image. A product’s packaging makes a powerful statement to the consumer. Outdated graphics, garish colors, yellowed boxes, or amateur presentations all may affect a product’s sales.

Most professional nail products are packaged cleverly and do not present the above problems. But what about your salon’s presentation? As D’ifray says, creativity and innovation are the key. Locate retail displays throughout the salon, but make sure products are also displayed near the workstation so clients can observe and ask questions. For the same reasons, the reception area is a good location because it is a good location because it is natural for clients to look around while they wait (see sidebar on page 64).

Give your retail displays plenty of room. “Every spare inch must be used to display products,” says Susie Council of Van Michael Salon in Atlanta. “Products should be labeled, priced, organized, clean, and you must have plenty of product on hand.”

Dusty products tell clients that the products are old and unwanted. “Visual display areas are very important-it must be appealing,” adds Council.

Retail space should be well-lit, perhaps using track-lighting to brighten the area. This also makes it easier to read packages.

Several salons also stressed the importance of signage and price tags. Signs focus attention and provide information. Use signs to list prices, promotions, and combination specials, as well as to describe product benefits.

Finally, display products together as they should be used. Make your own seasonal packages for promotions. Props, such as dried flowers, sand, or mistletoe (depending on the season) also add color and interest to displays.

As Weises says, “To sell something, you have to display it creatively. This is the beauty industry and it can’t be plain.” Customers want the image or they won’t buy.


Professional hair products have enjoyed a retail boom because they appeal to a consumer’s sense of quality and prestige. Why, many ask, haven’t professional nail products gained the same stature with clients?

Weiss addresses the problem head on, suggesting changes for both manufacturers and technicians. “Manufacturers have to raise the quality of products, packaging, and displays. And the nail technician must educate clients about professional products,” she says. “Discourage your clients from purchasing products in drugstores.”

Jahn agrees that clients need to be lured into the salon for retail. “Hairstylists create the market and the demand for those items. The same can be done in our industry if nail technicians can create the same market by using, promoting, and retailing salon-exclusive products. This scenario of prestigious salon-purchased nail products will unfold.”

Now take a second glance. If you see money walking out your door, encourage it to stay by starting a retail program. Increased profits can be made by turning bare space into profit centers-without expanding your space or adding technician.

For reprint and licensing requests for this article, Click here.

Read more about