Business Management

On-the-Job Staff Training

Train your already skilled new-hire your way and you’ll have an employee to be proud of.

Editor’s note: This is part 2 of a 2-part series. Last month we gave you a standard technical test for new-hires to help you separate the minors from the majors. But even the brightest shining star needs additional training once she’s on the job. You don’t have to be a professional trainer to be effective. Just follow these guidelines.

Whether they provide formal or informal training for new employees, most owners have the same problem: making time for it. When you’re working on clients yourself and running a business, your ideal employee is one who needs no training. But there is no such animal in real life. Even the most accomplished nail technician needs to be acclimated to your salon, your scheduling system, your supply system, and your clientele. Almost every salon owner has a particular procedure she likes everyone to follow, mostly for continuity’s sake.

Effective training doesn’t have to involve intensive three-hour educational sessions. If you hired the right person, you shouldn’t have to spend hours on technical training. At that point you simply need a systematic plan that covers all matters a new staff member should know — from handling clientele to handling supplies.


During training, an employee is given a test run. You hired her, but can she adapt to your salon? Consider how long it will take a particular employee to learn your systems and prove herself, and then set the time limit for the initial training. Usually two weeks is adequate, although salons with more intensive training programs allow 90 days. The advantage of setting a time limit is that you can use initial training for a no-fault exit.

Says Toni Jane Smith, owner of Details Cosmetology Salon in Columbus, Ind., “I make it clear that during the first two weeks of training, either one of us can walk away with no blame and no bad feelings.”

During training, keep a watchful eye, and you’ll know when to cut your losses — and how to recoup them: It’s a good idea not to give a new technician any clients until she’s settled in.

Most training programs have the new employee observe the owner or a senior technician, learn the ropes, and then perform services on the staff or the owner. Only after she has satisfied the owner does she move on to clients.

Smith says, “Watch, get, give. With services like the pedicure, I like to have the employee observe a pedicure being done, get one herself, and then give one to another staff member. Experiencing a service the salon’s way helps her learn, and it’s fun.”


The first day on the job, walk your new employee through the salon and familiarize her with the cash register and your customer- greeting procedure, booking system, and dispensary.

Wendy Coleman of Distinctive Touch in Hamilton Square, N.J., even shows her technicians the table set-up she expects, complete with bowl arrangement.

At Maximus Day Spa Deluxe in Merrick, N.Y., which has a formal training system, general manager and co-creator Robin Kluge spends day one on human resource training.

“We go over holidays, expected conduct, work attitude, pay scales, and the orientation handbook,” she says.

Kluge’s employees get a procedures book to take home (some salons give homework on the first day!).

“I give a new technician manuals, chemistry books, and more,” says Smith. “You want to see how motivated she is right off, and it saves you time if she reads about your product line or procedures and then asks questions.”

After a day or two of acclimation, it’s time to cover services. Some owners do the training themselves, while others assign a senior technician to be the new technician’s mentor. A mentor system not only saves the owner time, it helps the new employee adjust to the salon’s culture and get to know her coworkers. The sooner she forms a bond, the better. Just make certain you’ve chosen the best possible representative to be her mentor.


Whether you use a formal training system, an informal one, or a combination of the two, the first week should be spent having the new technician observe either you or a trainer. Coleman explains everything as she goes along, which she says clients don’t mind at all; in fact, they find it fascinating. If there’s any downtime, Coleman lets the technician practice on her or another technician.

Break up these sessions, which can be tiring to the technician (who feels like she’s just sitting there), with other salon duties. Let her answer the phone, greet clients, check stock, or review your promotional materials. The longest she should sit with anyone in a single stretch is the amount of time it takes to perform two services of any type. As soon as possible, have her help out in the salon by letting her remove polish or do a fill or two.

The primary purpose of the first week is to establish a relationship, make the technician comfortable, and familiarize her with all your procedures. (Remember, you saw her technical ability before you hired her.)

Says Gina Marsilii, owner of The Perfect Ten Nail & Tanning Salon in Wilmington, Del., “I show her my system for each service. My clients can — and do — patronize any technician, so all my technicians have to follow a similar procedure. Each service step is done in a particular order.”

While most salons spend a full week teaching a technician their way of doing things and letting her demonstrate what she’s learned on staff members, at Artista for Hair in Scarsdale, N.Y., Carmela Sampogna allows for some personalization.

“I let the technician observe for a while and I explain what I’m doing; then I have her do a service on me,” she says. “As we trade off between observing and doing, I tell her where specific steps matter a lot and where she can use an individual approach. If it’s not too far off from my system and if what she does produces superior results, I let her do it her way because it makes her more comfortable. You can’t dictate every little thing and expect her to remember it all and adjust immediately.”

During this week, employees are encouraged to practice what they’ve learned at home on friends or family. By week two, definitely move on to letting the employee remove polish and do fills. It’s time to see how she interacts with everyone in the salon.


“By the second week, I provide an opportunity for hands-on with someone other than staff members, but I don’t book her a full service,” says Smith. “I want to see how she interacts with clients while I observe at a distance.”

Smith and other owners we talked to try to systematically move through services during the second week, beginning with natural nail services, then moving on to tips and overlays, sculptured nails, and specialty services such as aromatherapy manicures and paraffin treatments. Reemphasize steps and let your trainee repeat them on the staff or perform portions of services on clients.

Says Smith, “I constantly give and get feedback. When I move into extensive natural treatments, such as our hot oil treatment, I have the trainee sit with me for an hour and a half and explain the features and benefits of the service, which the client learns from, too.”


By the end of week two, your trainee should have observed every service and performed it a few times. With clients, she should have removed polis, performed fills, and given hand massage.

Marsilii meets with the trainee at the end of every day to evaluate her work and go over how to handle specific situations that arose with clients.

Sampogna sends new technicians to school during the first two weeks for extensive aromatherapy massage training. If the technician is interested, she attends an intensive three-day class.


Salons that do not have a lengthy apprentice or training program usually begin giving technicians paying clients at the end of two weeks. Smith encourages the new technician to pro­mote herself by asking her to make her own client list.

“By the third week, if we both decide to continue the relationship, I ask her to bring in a list of 12 family members, friends, or relatives that she wants to cultivate as clients,” Smith says.

“This is very formal, it’s put on paper, and if she leaves, those 12 become her client list that she can take with her. I then do mailings to all her 12 potential clients and give them extensive discounts. They get artificial nails at half price, and all repairs are free if they agree to keep the nails for six weeks (which means three fills). After 6-8 weeks, she gets clients other than her original 12, beginning with those who want natural nail services.

“While she’s working on her 12 clients, I sit with her for two hours at least three times a week and work with her one on one. This is time for intensive guidance and training. Her 12 clients know this is going on and that they’re getting a discount for participating in training,” Smith says.

Kluge pairs new technicians with senior technicians from day one. By the end of week two, the new employee gets her own table if she’s experienced or she apprentices for three to six more months if she’s right out of school. Apprentices perform hand massages, remove polish, and move on to cuticle cutting and filing. During downtime, they practice on other technicians, and at the end of each week, they perform a service on Kluge.

“We assign new clients based on rotation,” says Kluge. “Someone who has been here three years should get new clients, too; we don’t punish success.”


If you’re a large salon or want to develop a program you can follow like clockwork, you may want to develop a more formal system like Kluge’s or incorporate aspects of Smith’s. At Concept Elite Salons in Brooklyn, N.Y., Tony Fanelli set up his training program around what he calls the five “Ts” of salon educational development—Training Through Technique, Theory, and Tradition.

“Each department does its own training and workshops are held every Tuesday night,’’ says Fanelli. “Employees apprentice during the day.”

Nail technicians move through three levels of training, which encompass hygiene, basic techniques, and advanced techniques. They’re tested at each level on technical ability and communication.

While technicians attend Tuesday night classes, they work with a top trainer during the day. After two weeks, they are ready for basic-service clients, and by the end of three weeks they perform advanced services on clients.

“In one month, most of our manicurists have built up a clientele” says Fanelli “I have 27 nail technicians and they’re all busy.”

Formal and apprentice programs take longer and are best for new graduates Experienced technicians are usually trained through accelerated programs that cover the salon’s specific procedures over a one-week period.

“I only hire technicians with experience because I do not have time for training,” says Marsilii.

“They can be problematic, but I let them know what the vision for my salon is right off They have to learn quickly; I’m not a school. I will negotiate on some things, if their way brings great results, but in most cases, I need something done the way I like it done.”

Fanelli, who gives business lectures across the country, recently shocked a group in Texas by telling them he never hires anyone with a clientele.

“It’s true, they have bad habits,” says Fanelli. “We hire the inexperienced because we want ordinary people who can learn to do extraordinary things. If all you want are those who bring you clients, they’ll have power over you and you’ll never learn to increase your clientele yourself. I’m the one who fills my employees’ chairs and gets them busy. By training new people, I learn to be a good business owner and to survive in the marketplace.”

Whatever your view on new graduates versus experienced technicians, keep in mind that you need a staff with flexibility. Even a new nail-school graduate spent weeks learning to do things her instructor’s way.


Once your technician starts working on clients, develop a program for specialized training. This should include retailing, people skills, and self-promotion. Bring in manufacturers and distributors for retailing and product-knowledge classes. Attendance should be mandatory, because education is vital to your business. Tell any employee before you hire her that you require continuing education. If you don’t already do this, start now by requiring at least two classes a year.

“I encourage employees to attend shows at least two times a year or whenever there’s a particular topic they want to learn,” says Marsilii. “If they travel out of the city, I pay for the show ticket and a hotel if the) pay travel expenses.”

“Lack of formal training is a detriment to business and I make that clear up front,” says Smith.

Adds Fanelli, ‘Training is something you institute and reinforce on a daily basis. It’s not just a two-week program.”

7 Effective Training Tips

Warren Michaels, who co-owns Michael Thomas Salons in Chicago, ill., offers these seven tips for developing a training program:

1. If you use a senior staff member as a trainer, choose one with a great attitude who will convey the salon’s goals as well as you would

2. Be direct and keep it simple or your new employee will lose interest during the first week.

3. Any formal session that lasts more than two hours is too long. There’s only so much a person can observe before experiencing information overload.

4. Give praise! Give praise when it’s due, tell her what she did right, and never correct her in front of other staff members or clients.

5. Train everyone in a variety of services and products, then move on to individual situations. Different clients require different products.

6. Teach employees to talk business and not get sidetracked. They should all know how to give salon tours or how to let their clients know your salon offers additional services.

7. Establish a clear-cut employer/employee relationship and you’ll keep the employee’s respect. Don’t try to be a best friend.


Facebook Comments ()

Leave a Comment


Comments (0)


A slow-growing perennial herb with a fleshy root, containing saponins, mucin, and vitamin B, that helps diminish wrinkles and aid dry skin....
Learn More

Featured Products & Promotions   |   Advertisement

Market Research

Market Research How big is the U.S. nail business? $7.3 billion. What's the average service price for a manicure? Dig into our decades' deep research archives.

Industry Statistics for

View All


FREE Subscription

VietSalon is a Vietnamese-language magazine and the sister publication to NAILS. Click the link below to sign up for a FREE one-year subscription.

Get a free preview issue and a Free Gift
Subscribe Today!

Please sign in or register to .    Close
Subscribe Today
Subscribe Today