After working in retail for seven years, Sharon Parker decided she wasn’t advancing as quickly as she had hope because of intense competition for jobs. Frustration and a feeling of stagnation prompted her to look for another career path. Not sure she wanted to start clawing up the corporate ladder again, she decided to pursue a career where she could make her own decisions and build from the ground up. But in what field?
“I had been having my nails done for a while and the tech always looked like she was having fun, while my job was stressful,” Parker says. “When I started looking around, I decided it [doing nails] was something I really wanted to try, and at the time we did not have to go to school.”
So, five years ago, Parker changed careers in mid-stream by opening Nail Detail.
The state of Florida did not require licenses for nail technicians until 1985. Parker says when it did, nail schools sprang up everywhere, and the local high school began offering night courses to train nail technicians.
“The state sent us notice that we would need to come to Orlando Florida for a test, and if we passed on the Florida state laws, and answered questions concerning nails and nail health, then we would be given a license.
“I passed and the other women working her at the time passed,” Parker relates. “I’m really glad Florida became a licensed state. Nail Technicians seem to know more they come out of school, they’re not as green.”
MAKING THE CHANGE
When the Nail Detail opened, however, there were few nail schools I Florida, so Parker opted to train with her nail technician for several months. Parker practiced on friends, and eventually felt she was ready to work with paying clients. Finally, she was ready to make change, so she took vacation time to find the ideal site for her nail salon, she soon chose her present location, met with management, and started planning Nail Detail’s grand opening in her spare time.
“When the salon was ready, I gave my two-week notice and went right in to the salon…Every time the phone rang, I wanted to book that person and appointment.”
Although she makes it sound easy, Parker was risking much. She had given up a job that, although frustrating, provided a regular income. She was also taking a chance in an industry she knew little about. She says people always ask her why she didn’t work in the industry first. Her answer? She knew she had to do it herself and just sink or swim.
“I knew I could do it if I was professional in attitude and ability,” Parker explains. “If I was going to do this for a living and support myself, then I had to do it all by myself.”
Her start-up capital was sparse – she only had $3,000 to set up her space, furnish the salon, and buy supplies. In the first year, she kept only enough money to live on, and poured the rest of Nail Detail’s profits back into the salon.
KEEPING IT SIMPLE
Part of the appeal of Nail Detail is the stark simplicity of its décor. Mauve carpeting and white walls provide a muted background for the white wicker furniture with mauve and teal printed cushions in the receptions area. Silk plants, magazines, and an old-fashioned bubble gum machine add color to the reception area, but the most appealing feature, at least to customer, is the “good table.”
This small circular table holds a nail dyer and may jars of candy, cookies, and other small snacks the most people avoid at home – but delight in sampling while in the salon.
The working area of the salon is simple and uncluttered Large, U-shape tables are arranged around the perimeter of the room. The desks are comfortable for the technicians, says Parker, because their supplies are on each side of them, easily accessible without cluttering the work area. The center of the salon is open, allowing room for employees and customers to move around without bumping into each other.
GIVING AS GOOD AS SHE GETS
The nail technicians, notes Parker, are what make Nail Detail a success. She chooses her employees carefully, and feels she has quality team. Her husband, Steve Parker, his two sisters, and two other women work as nail technicians with Parker. Although working with relatives, especially a spouse, can sometimes be comfortable, Parker says it works well for them.
“They realize that when we’re at work we are in a professional atmosphere. When I need to applaud them I do, and when I need to talk to them about something negative, I do, and when I need to talk to them about something negative, I do. They take it all in the spirit it’s intended,” she says.
Parker, who just recently married, hasn’t always employed family members. Therefore, to attract and retain first rate employees, Parker discovered she must offer incentives to keep the best nail technicians. But first, she makes sure she hires only the best. When hiring, she looks less at the quality of a technician as a person.
“If I get someone whose work is adequate, I can bring them up to salon standards, but they have to have a good rapport with me before I can see they’ll have a good rapport with their clients,” Parker explains. “I look at personality, disposition, poise, and the way they present themselves. Then I have them do a couple of nails for me in an interview.
“For technique, I look at their ability, and also a willingness to learn new things. I don’t like stagnation, in myself or the nail technicians.”
Once she hires them, Parker offers incentives for technicians to stay, as well as programs for improving their abilities. Some of the incentives involve money, but, more importantly, all involve striving for personal and professional.
Parker begins training new technicians immediately. She plans a full day, and works with new technician on sculptured nails, tips nail art, or anything else he or she doesn’t feel completely comfortable doing. Also, for the first month, she observes him or her at work and confirms the quality of his or her work. If there is a problem, she spends more time training the technician.
The opportunity for professional improvement, however, does not end, there for the technicians at Nail Detail. Last summer Parker took advantage of a slack period by holding a workshop in the salon. However, instead of teaching the workshop herself of hiring someone to come in and talk, she had the technicians take charge. This, she says, allows each technician not only to chare or her knowledge, but also to be recognized by his or her peers.
“I looked at each technician and wrote down what I thought each personal strength was, be it retail sales or how to do a faster fill-in,” says Parker. “Then I gave them a week’s notice, told them we would be closed at a certain time, and that I wanted them to give a 15 minute talk on their personal strength. We took a couple of hours and I had lunch created in. we learned so much from each other.”
Parker plans on doing another workshop soon because it was such positive experience for the salon.
Because Parker thinks it’s imperative that the technicians stay up-to-date in their field, the whole salon also travels en masse to the Gary Sperling Nail Show in Orlando, Florida, each year.
“We buy their time for the day Last year we rented a van and piled everyone in. we had snacks and drinks, and we bought everyone’s door ticker. We also pay for everyone’s entry into any competitions they want to be in,” Parker declares.
In spite of her efforts, Parker had a high technician turnover for the first few years she was open. Within the last few years she was open. Within the last year however, she discovered that money talks.
“We were on a percentage scale, strictly 50-50,” she explains. “But for the last year, the incentive has been higher. If you [a technician] bring in a certain amount of money to the salon, the base commission is 55 percent. If yo9u bring in $100 over that, it goes up to a 60 percent commission. A hundred dollars additional over that, it goes to 65 percent. It caps out at 70 percent.
“I’m making less, but I feel I’ve kept these quality people because the harder they work, the more money they make it’s a real incentive to them to do work and to keep their clients happy.”
Parker also offers paid vacations to all technicians who persevere through the holiday season.
“The requirement is that they survive one Christmas season, which is from November 15 to February 15,” Parker says. “As long as they are working full-time during that period they qualify for half their weekly salary.”
WHEN THE GOING GETS TOUGH
September and October are traditionally lean months for Nail Detail. Parker, however, has found a way to increase both the salon’s and the technicians’ earning during these slow months.
For the past two years, Parker has held retail sales contest for the salon in September and October. The technician who sells the highest dollar amount of retail items receives a gift certificate normally for $50 or $75, to the store of his or her choice.
“In this way, there is an added incentive for them above their commission, and it really helps me, as an owner, make ends meet,” she explains.
Besides retailing the usual salon fare of nail and hair products, Parker also retail ready-to-wear clothing, hand-painted by a local artist. Drawing from her retail background, she wanted to offer something unique with local flavor to her clients.
THE CUSTOMER IS QUEEN
Nail Detail is in a strip mall about a mile off the main drag in Tampa, Florida. The salon is centrally located between the downtown business district, the local university, and an affluent Tampa suburb. This location gives it a diverse clientele – businesswomen, college students, and well-to-do women all flock to Nail Detail.
At this time, Nail Detail offers strictly nail services. This puts the salon at a disadvantage in an area where most women want to go to one place for all their beauty needs.
Parker describes her most frequent clients as businesswomen in their 30s and 40s. Businesswomen have limited time, especially if they’re juggling both a career and a family, and want to save time by visiting just one salon and having all their beauty services performed in one appointment.
Parker overcomes this disadvantage by offering her clients other benefits. First, Nail Detail invested in tanning bed for clients’ use only.
“We keep it for the convenience of our nail clients because they want to come in and have their nails done and lie on the tanning bed… I want to keep it primarily for them.”
Parker also offers regular clients a free fill when they refer a new clients to the salon for a full set of nails. Parker says the referral policy generates new business for the salon, and free fill is appreciated by regular clients.
The referral policy has worked well. Besides a display ad in the yellow pages, the only other advertising she utilizes is a portable sign she puts out by the road.
“It’s so visual,” she exclaims. “People driving down the street see it, and not only do we use if to advertise specials, but also to advertise gift certificates, nail art for holiday needs, and manicures and pedicures in the summer.”
Clients also appreciate that Nail Detail is open six days a week and offers evening hours Monday through Thursday.
“A lot of people want to come at night, on their way home from work.” She says. “A lot of people don’t like to give up their Saturday, and they want the evening appointments very badly. We also have a lot of clients who come in Mondays.”
Pricing, too, is important. Before she opened, Parker called all over Tampa to check nail service prices.
“I wanted to be average-priced on full sets because I didn’t want to devalue our industry. If you condition your clients to pay a smaller charge for a full set, then I think it’s going to ruin the industry in the area,” Parker declares.
“Then, on the fill-ins, I realized that they would be a day-in, day-out thing that clients would have to fix in their budgets, so I took the low-end price. I wanted to be a couple of dollars less than the competition.”
Another benefit that may not be fully comprehended by customers but still a priority to Parker id Customer education.
“When we’re using acrylic on a client, we tell them exactly what we’re doing the first time – what primer is and why you need it. We take them through it one step at a time. We tell them not to clip their cuticles too closely, and not to use a metal implement. When our older manicure clients come in with discolored nails are growing out like this.”
Parker feels now that Florida is a licensed state, it is important to dispel the myths and horror stories about acrylic nails.
“The quality of the nail technicians is better. They have more education, they really know what they’re talking about and they care about their business – they’re not just in it for the money,” she states.
In the future, Parker would like to double her salon’s size, currently 665 square feet, and add at least four more nail technicians. She also plans to make Nail Detail a full-service salon, offering massage, waxing, and skin care – a one-stop shopping place. First, though, she wants to continue learning about the industry.
Although Parker says she wishes she had taken more time to learn about the nail industry in the beginning, she knows the only reason she is still open is the attention she paid to one detail – customer service.
“I was here when my clients needed me, and that’s how we grew,” she says. “I got the best nail technicians I could possibly find, and we were here 12 hours a day. Anytime that phone rings, we don’t let the client go until we have booked her.”
LEARNING TO GIVE AND TAKE
Sharon Parker feels that attitude is everything in the nail industry. She wants her nail technicians to have a good rapport with both their clients and colleagues. Judging from these comments, Parker has achieved her goal of giving as good as she gets!
“I’ve been at Nail Detail for one year. I never knew what a rewarding career it was until I started in this business. I’ve met some very special people. My fellow employees have helped ne better my qualities in my job.
“When my clients leave smiling, that’s my greatest reward.”
“With their knowledge and experience, Sharon and the other nail technicians have taught me so much. And in doing so, they have built my confidence in all phases of nail care.
“Working with family is a new and rewarding experience and I would not trade this opportunity for anything.”
“I have worn acrylic nails for about three years. Every time I came in to get my fill-ins, I felt like a new person when I left. I thought, if I feel that good and happy, then I want to do that for others.
“I didn’t realize there was actually a job out there where you can’t wait to go to work!”
“The greatest thing about doing nails is the flexibility of my hours. And the best thing about working at Nail Detail is the encouragement and support I receive from Steve and Sharon and all the rest of the staff.”
“I bring a different perspective to the industry by giving my clients a man’s point of view. I have more than just a working relationship with my clients – I consider all of them my friends.”
“I enjoy being a nail technician because of the creativity. I love to do art work, and I like the flexibility of the hours of a nail technician because I can arrange my schedule around my work as a business owner.”
Owner and Nail Technician
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