Nail art, both flat and three-dimensional, has slowly developed a niche within the world of nail salons, as nail technicians and salons attempt to broaden services to include artistic painting, gems and decals, not only as a way of furthering service to their clients but also to build the profitability of each visit.
It is an effort that is slowly evolving and developing throughout the industry, as nail technicians begin to understand the income potential and the ease by which simple, colorful and often unique designs can be administered.
One such individual making a firm commitment to this added service is Sue Vaughan, nail technician for nine years, owner of the Long Beach, California, Nail Saloon for over six. Sue, at 33 years old, is rather small in stature, sports short blonde hair, and is articulate and enthusiastic about the industry and product she has worked with and watched over the years. She is a veteran of the industry in which she has competed, both as a businesswoman and as a contestant in the many nail fantasy competitions she has entered. The mother of three ("Sometimes my worst critics"), Sue is also very active in the community, working with the Explorer Scouts and local high schools. She approaches her business with a clear understanding of what it means to "make a buck" and consequently broadened her nail salon to include hair styling and the retail of clothing, both contemporary and vintage. But the one service she is particularly proud of and convinced is a factor in her growing business is that of nail art.
"Most of my customers are just fascinated with the work," explained Sue, describing her approach to nail art and three-dimensional work, "I have two boards up with my nails and they are just enthralled and fascinated with the 3-D work and the different designs. It also seems to give the customer a better appreciation for my work.
"On one board, for example, I have over 200 nail art designs that offer all different colors and have different numbers on them so the client can pick a particular design to coordinate with the colors."
Her display boards, maintained in full view of her customers, have developed over the years and are constantly being added to.
"Most of my designs are quite simple," she described, "not loud, but subtle with different tones, enabling a customer to wear different outfits and clothing with them."
Her work with nail art satisfies a need among her clients ... a need that she claims is growing.
"This aspect of offering flat and 3-D nail art in the salon is something that is really going to boom," said Sue enthusiastically. "I really see it as a new wave of the future for the industry and the direction the nail salons will have to go in." And, she added, raising her eyebrows for effect, "it will keep getting more and more creative."
This rather artistic service, Sue is the first to admit, will require time and patience in order to perfect style well enough to actually sell to the customer. But it is one she feels is easily worth the effort.
"A lot of salons don't offer nail designs because of a lack of time, capability or ability . . . and then again too many salons are into just the basic colors as designs; red, black stripes, that sort of approach, But when it comes to different shades of plum, or brown, where you have to put five different shades on the nail, it all has to be handled with a certain finesse, and must coordinate.
"Colors should blend together, should look nice and be becoming for the person that is wearing them... their individual personality is very important as well," she cautioned. "You can't put something flashy on someone who doesn't want to show them.
The fee charged for nail art must be reasonable, said Sue, in order to entice the client to try adding that splash of color or drama.
"For flat nail art, for example, I'll start at $2 per color per set, so to put on three colors would be $6 extra, which is not a lot of money; but then I keep my prices reasonable to encourage more women to try it.
"If the service is too costly, they will not even try it. But once they do, they are hooked. Most of my clients never go back to one color again."
The response from her clientele has been very positive, according to Sue, often resulting in an extra $300 a month.
"The effect on these women is fantastic," enthused Sue "for example, one of my customers comes to me to get her nails designed, and she has her own natural nails, but every week she comes in to get a new design put on. They have become her trademark. She works as a volunteer in a hospital and everybody knows her by her nails. In fact, if her nails are not painted, they ask her if anything is wrong. She just picks everybody up with her outlandish nails."
In addition to flat nail art, and work with feathers, rhinestones and the like, Sue also provides on a limited basis three-dimensional sculptured work: another added service that intrigues her clients.
"It's like sculpturing to me," explained Sue, visibly brightened when discussing her work with product. "It's taking a flat, empty surface and literally building or sculpting a de sign. It's a great challenge and a lot of fun as well."
"You have to have a good product that you can work with, something that sets up fast, because when you are building 3-D designs, you can only put a little bit on at a time and then wait for it to dry before you can proceed. It can be time consuming, but the outcome is fantastic."
Her most popular designs are also her most simple: ice cream cones and bars, balloons, clowns.
"Those are the simplest," she said, warming up to the discussion of technique. "I just begin with a drop at a time with the acrylic until you get it to where you have this glob that is of a consistency that you can mold and shape by adding more liquid. Once the material is on the nail, or the tip depending on the customer's preference, I shape and then square it and then I'll build a little stick off it and finish by painting it. It's really that simple.
"The other one, the ice cream cone, is just two balls of acrylic. Then you paint a little cone and draw it to a point and it's done. You can make it as big or as small as you want, or need. It's very simple, yet a lot of people think that they can't do it."
Another simple design popular with her clients is three-dimensional balloons.
"Balloons are also very simple," she smiled, "just three little drops of product, and then painted with different colors. And the impact is fantastic. In fact," she added, "I have one client who is a nurse working in pediatrics. She wears balloons on her pinky all the time and they are always different colors. But she claims that all the kids just look at them and want to touch them. It's like the cookie or the apple that she gives them when they see her nails."
The fee Sue charges for her three-dimensional work depends on the time and complexity of the design. Her starting fee is $5.
"What I charge for this type of work depends on the amount of time it takes me to complete the design," she said. "For example, I do a set in a half-hour and charge $30. If it takes me that much time then I charge what I would be normally making. It is the only way to approach it."
Most nail artists, suggested Sue, charge by the minute.
"The effort is definitely worth it, although it does take practice and lots of patience in order to fully develop your work so that the customer is satisfied with it, and you can charge for it." added Sue.
The added bonus of working with nail designs and three-dimensional art is, for Sue, an opportunity to broaden her experience and knowledge of product as well as providing a break from the daily routine of sets and fills.
"I love art anyway, so my mind is into it. I just think of these different designs that I can do. Sometimes it can be frustrating because the design is often not right the first time, but by sticking with it, it either works and I like it, or it spurs me on to other designs. But in both cases, working with the product in such a different way provides me a nice break from the day-to-day."
Although protective at first of her work and designs, Sue has matured in her approach, understanding the value of her work and the need to further the excitement in nail art industry wide.
"When I first started, I thought that the best way to approach it would be to keep quiet about the work and to keep all the designs to myself, often worrying that somebody would come along and take my ideas. But that's not the way it is, really... there are millions of women out there and I can't do them all. So now I've taken the step of training people to do my designs and in fact I have trained most of my manicurists. Those that have pursued the nail art within the salon have profited from it and developed their own designs and approaches," explained Sue.
There are other lessons that Sue is willing to share that have been learned the hard way. One lesson in particular is the result of a recent court action involving one of her past clients that sued the Nail Saloon and a second salon over the loss of a "pinky nail" caused, according to the client, by negligence and hazardous materials.
"I learned a lot from that situation," Sue revealed. "Simply because I found out how easy it is for somebody to take you to court and sue for liability when there is something that is very, very minor that has been done to them. You can't believe how easy it is for someone to legally tie you and your business up for years.
"I had people investigating my business, wanting to see all my receipts asking where my money had gone, where I had bought my supplies…anything and everything that involved running my salon."
The action was settled out of court, but not before Sue's business was disrupted and her time tied up for court appearances and depositions with attorneys. Through it all, she recognized specific steps and actions that she feels are important for others to more fully protect themselves.
"The first and most obvious step," outlined Sue, showing her own obvious concern for others in the industry, "is to make sure that you are fully covered by liability insurance. You can get all the coverage you need or want for about $300 a year.
"Also I recommend, because it did come up in court, posting a sign for the client that asks if they are not happy with the services, or if they are uncomfortable, or if they are in any pain, to please tell the operator right away so we can help.
"Another important step is to tell the new client that she is putting sculptured nails on, to ask if she has ever had sculptured nails put on before, if she is aware of the process and the chemicals that are being applied to her nails. This can be done very subtly, but you have to ask them to make sure that they are aware of what they are allowing to be done to their nails.
Also, very important, you must explain how to take care of the nails. Simple facts about using gloves, and the like, are very important so the client is fully aware of the nails and how to care for them.
"But the basic lesson is this: the important thing to understand is that you have to protect yourself. You are working 6n the public, somebody's body, and you must take steps to protect yourself and your business."
Although Sue has recently been through what she describes, rightly, as a trying experience, and is fully aware of the problems and the obstacles in running a service business, it has done little to affect her basic enthusiasm for her industry and livelihood. Her future plans call for continued work with the nail industry, possibly as an educator or sales rep, as well as further growth for her salon. She is committed as always to the experimentation of nail art and three-dimensional work, and is determined to win the "big one" at upcoming competitions.
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