Have your ears been burning? Because I’ve been talking about you. I called several of your former clients and asked them why they no longer see you to have their nails done. I asked them all about how they were treated in your salon, what services they received, how their nails looked, and how long they lasted. And, most important, I asked what it would take to get them back into your salon.

I hate to the bearer of bad tidings, but this former client of your is very unhappy with you. She said you ignored her while you did her nails and talked only to your fellow nail technicians; she said her nails broke so frequently that she saw you more than she saw her own children; she said she developed a chronic fungal infection that blackened her nails; she said it took you two hours to do a fill and she was just too busy to spend that kind of time; she said it was too expensive for the quality of workmanship she received; she said she didn’t see the need to pay a professional for something she could do herself; she said it was too much of a hassle to get to your shop by 5:00 p.m., which she had to do because you don’t keep evening hours; she said you did nails out of your home and your children were constantly interrupting you; and she said she is very worried about the damage that may be caused to her natural nails by wearing extensions for so long.

Now I admit this is a one-sided argument and I haven’t given you a chance to refute any of these charges. But that is the point: This client is gone. She hasn’t given you the opportunity to refute these charges. If you are going to bring her back, you are going to have to find her figure out what went wrong, and fix it.

Who Is She?

Do you keep client cards? If you do, identifying this lost client will be easy. Go through the cards and pull out everyone you haven’t seen in at least two months. If you’ve been keeping good records you should be able to discern who is genuinely a lost client and who is just on hiatus. A client on hiatus may be on vacation, may have just had a baby, or, as was the case with one person I spoke to, was taking a ceramics class and wanted her acrylics removed.

When you’ve determined the truly lost, you can take a variety of tacks to reach them. You may choose to call them up and find out why they no longer have their nails done. If you’re the shy, can’t-take-criticism type, this may not be the method for you. (I told you, she’s a little upset with you; that’s why she stopped coming in.) Or you can prepare a letter to former clients that says, in effect, you appreciate her past business and would like to continue the relationship. Offer some sort of incentive to rekindle her relationship with you — you need to make it very enticing, like a discount or a free service. Suggest they call for a free consultation. You might try saying, “Perhaps your needs have changed ... we have a variety of services that will meet your changing needs, whether you’re interested in nail extensions, overlays, or natural manicures.”

Send the letter to all your missing clients and perhaps follow up with a phone call. If you don’t hear from a client within a month, try another letter or phone call. Refer to the first letter and emphasize how deeply interested you are in regaining her business. Sometimes that second effort does the trick to show a client how far you’re willing to go to win her back.

If you manage to get these clients back into the salon, go out of your way to make them feel good about their return. Show them by your courteous attention, your swift service, and your excellent craftsmanship that you intend to keep their business for good this time.

Begin this client’s appointment with a consultation. You need to find out what her current needs are and how the salon can serve her. You also need to find out why she left in the first place so you can pay special attention to those concerns, and so you can prevent them from becoming a problem with any other clients. Don’t be accusatory and don’t be defensive. Your goal is to know why she left so you can fix the situation, not defend your reputation.

If you don’t keep client cards and are not able to identify lost clients, there is little you can do for specific individuals. However, make the most of the following suggestions for getting clients into the salon in the first place. (And think about starting your own client filing system right away.)

Now, before I reveal my conversations with these former clients (who wish to remain anonymous), I will say that they all loved having their nails done. They all want to return. But this time around they want better service and better quality nails.


“My nails broke all the time”


Breaks are the bane of our existence, to be sure, and many former clients cited frequent breaks as the reason they stopped having their nails done. No one expects indestructible nails, but clients do expect hardy nails that last long and look good between appointments. Customers don’t mind the occasional break; what they mind is losing half a hand of nails a week after a fill.

Ask yourself three questions about clients who break nails frequently: Is the service appropriate for her lifestyle? Is the quality of your preparation and product as high as possible? Is the client educated on proper nail care?

I talked to one former client who lamented that her manicure looked shoddy after just a few days, what with constant breaks and chips. She had a paper overlay over tips, which is a strong application, but probably not appropriate for this woman, a police officer who spent her days hooking up cars to tow trucks. She didn’t know about other nail extension methods and her nail technician never discussed with her what sort of work she did or what other procedures were available.

I asked the police officer what it would take to get her back into the salon and have her nails done again. She said she liked having her nails done because she is a nail biter, and the tips prevented her from biting. She said she would be willing to try something that would keep her from biting her nails and that would help her grow them out.

What would you suggest to this client? Maybe sculptured acrylics? Perhaps a gel? Overlay? Or what about a nail strengthener that she could apply herself between natural nail manicures? Would you advise tier to wear her nails shorter for greater strength? Are you aware of all the new products and technology available today? Can you correctly prescribe the most appropriate service for a client?

“It’s too expensive”

Alas, the expense of nail upkeep was mentioned all too often by our respondents. While I would never suggest that you lower your prices, I would ask what you can do to reward long-term clients whose twice-monthly visits are the foundation of your business. Could you offer her a 10 percent discount on fills, for example, if she purchased 10 fills at a time in advance? Could you give her a free fill after every 10 paid fills? What about a free fill for every full-set referral she sends your way?

Another approach you might take with the cash-crunched client would be to add greater value to the product/service you’re offering. She might see greater value in paying $65 for a full set if the price included an at-home maintenance kit, an instruction guide, and maybe a little nail-saving gadget like a pop-top can opener. Perhaps you could do a hand massage or mini-manicure at every fill.

When the complaint is about cost, don’t react by reevaluating your prices. React by assuring that your level of service is as high as possible, that technicians are knowledgeable and helpful, and that your manicure is flawless.

“I can do my nails myself”

Try this one on these do-it-yourselfers: You get your teeth cleaned by the dentist twice a year even though you brush them yourself every day, don’t you?

A client who abandons professional nail care because she thinks she can do her own nails hasn’t been educated at all. The woman who told me she could do her own nails apparently had low standards of quality because she had polish on her cuticles and visible ridges in her nails. Perhaps she has no idea how good professionally tended nails can look.

When you’re trying to bring this client back you need to impress her with your knowledge. In your “come back” letter, you should talk about recent advancements in nail technology Suggest she come in for a consultation, at which time you can discuss the latest techniques available. In your letter, stress your own education and training, including any competition wins, your continuing education, and any affiliations you may have with a manufacturer.

Maybe you could try a picture postcard featuring a “nail makeover” on it. Makeovers are extremely popular and you could show a “before” picture (use a new client) and an “after” picture of the same hand a month or two later.

When you do get her in for an appointment, talk to her about nail health while you do her manicure. Do a hand reflexology treatment for her, all the while talking about the muscles of the hand, the properties of the skin, etc. Strike a bargain with her: She will see an improvement in her nails after a month of weekly manicures or you will give her a free product, take her to lunch, or figure out what you can afford to do.

One thing that is bound to impress a client is flawlessly applied nail polish. Spend extra time with your natural manicure clients applying polish and base and top coats. Make them stay put while it dries. They cannot match that kind of perfection at home.

Also, have you made a ritual of your sanitation procedures so your client is fully aware of its importance? As you prepare to do her manicure make sure she sees that you put down a clean towel and that your implements have been sterilized (or that you’ve put them in a file for her use only).

“It takes too long”

Everybody is so busy these days. I talked to one former sculptured nail client who works full time as a film production manager, goes to law school four evenings a week, and is a divorced mother of an 18-month-old. Meanwhile, she is trying to maintain some semblance of a social life. She said she just didn’t have the time anymore to have her nails done.

She’s a tough one. She’s obviously a woman who makes the most of her time and would probably value even a few moments completely to herself. Could you appeal to this woman’s sense of self-indulgence? What if you offered her a late-evening appointment or a Saturday morning time? Call the service something that sounds pampering, like “The Ultimate Hour” Include more than just nails in her service. Suggest a paraffin dip or a facial if you offer skin care. Suggest she also try a pedicure/manicure for a special price. Serve specialty coffees or exotic teas. What else can you do so she is sure to reserve an hour or two for her nail appointment? What can you do so this time alone becomes essential to her?

I spoke to a nurse who used to wear silk wraps. She loved the way they looked, but her nail technician, who worked out of her home, often took more than two hours to do a fill. You see, the technician’s children were constantly interrupting the service, she had to answer the phone frequently, and was just distracted in general. The nurse, finally fed up, quit seeing her technician despite how much she liked her nails.

Just because one works out of one’s home instead of a salon doesn’t mean the atmosphere shouldn’t be professional. If you work at home, treat your clients the same as you would if you were in a salon. Arrange care for your children, use an answering machine, and reduce any other potential distractions.

Whether at home or in the salon, learn to reduce your service time. Have you refined your technique so you spend a minimum amount of time tiling? Do you apply product sparingly and according to the manufacturer’s instructions so it works as it should? Do you work quickly and without distraction from other technicians? Do you keep conversation with your client to a minimum? Many manufacturers offer seminars on how to refine your technique with their product and shave time off your application. Consult your supplier about this kind of education.

Many restaurants whose main customers are business people on their lunch hour have found great success with a time-limit guarantee. For example, a popular pizza restaurant promises that your lunch will be ready in 10 minutes or you don’t pay for it. A national one-hour photo processing center offers a free roll of film if your film isn’t ready in an hour. Would a program like this work in your salon? Figure out a reasonable time limit for the service you’ll be guaranteeing. Take into account an average of what your technicians can actually accomplish. You don’t have to promise a fill in an hour, you just need to guarantee whatever amount of time it will take. A customer appreciates knowing for certain how long something will take. You also don’t need to give the service away if you don’t finish in time. Maybe give away a bottle of polish or a travel kit. (This gimmick works for you even if you fail because you’ll be getting clients hooked on retail as well.)

I talked to a woman, a realtor, who used to wear sculptured nails. She loved their polished, professional look. The salon she patronized near her office was 45 miles from her home. While it would be convenient for tier to get tier nails done on a weeknight after work, she couldn’t because her salon wasn’t open evenings. So she ended up driving 45 miles each way on Saturday mornings for six months, and then finally tired of it and stopped getting her nails done at all. (Unfortunately, she also took her own nails off.)

Obviously, an easy solution to this problem would be to stay open a few nights a week. Send her a postcard — maybe one with a picture of an owl on the front with the headline “Now We’re Night Owls” — and let her know about your extended hours. Be sure to offer this client at least something to drink when she arrives; she is probably very tired and very hungry, and a glass of juice may hold her over until she gets home to dinner.

Evaluate how you are catering to this working woman client. Is the salon atmosphere professional and business-like? Do you provide reading material besides the standard fare? Try the Wall Street Journal, Working Woman, or Time. Do you offer natural manicures, post-acrylic nail care, muted nail polish colors, skin care advice, and other products for this not-so-flashy woman?

“It’s too much to pay for such poor quality”

This is the client you really want back. She is WILLING and ABLE to pay higher prices for a higher level of service. She is exacting in her demands, though. She wants no breaks, no lifting, no chipping, no cracking. You’ve got to win her back by appealing to her sense of quality.

Start out with a postcard. On one side of the card you could use a photograph of great-looking nails and on the back describe your service. For example, on the front, your model is wearing a natural-looking set of tips with an overlay. The polish is pale pink. The hands look soft, the cuticles unmarred. On the back describe what the picture is. Talk about the strength, quality, and durability of whatever technique you chose. Talk about the low possibility of breaks. (If you are so inclined, offer to repair breaks free of charge.) Talk about the full menu of services you provide. Outline what is included in the price of a full set.

Or you could try a card depicting several sets of nails, each involved in heavy-duty work; for example, a set of hands typing, gardening, or exercising. Use a catchy headline suggesting that nail technology has enabled us to create stronger, more durable nails than ever before, and that a client can engage in whatever activities she pleases without worrying about her nails.

One suggestion about these special offers: Don’t put an expiration date on them. That way, the invitation to return is always open even if they choose not to take you up on the offer right then.

For clients who no longer want artificial nail extensions, there is always the weekly natural nail manicure. This service should not to be undervalued at your salon. If the figure suggesting that 85 percent of all women want natural nails is correct, then you would do well to exploit this client segment.

For clients who discontinued their acrylics, offer a “recovery program.” This could include a regular weekly manicure, with an at-home kit after the first visit. Be sure to provide written material discussing nail care. Many former acrylic clients may not want sculptured nails anymore, but they may be amenable to such techniques as wraps or gel overlays.

Well, if your ears were burning before, I hope your head is spinning now with ideas to help you find those lost clients. They’re hiding in plain sight and they want to be found.

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