Business Management

How to Find and Keep Good Employees

Employees just want a comfortable place to work, a reasonable boss, and a chance to earn a living.

At topnotch schools, such as the Pittsburgh Beauty Academy, 30% of the students have secured jobs even before school starts. Five hundred salons within a 40-mile radius recruit at the school and by graduation day 93% of the students have jobs waiting for them, according to Mary Hansen, director of graduate and specialized studies at the academy. While this is partly due to the school’s reputation for training excellence and relationship-building with salons, it’s also the result of a market in which demand exceeds supply.

 According to a survey commissioned by the National Accrediting Commission of Cosmetology Arts and Sciences (NACCAS), “Job Demand in the Cosmetology Industry, 1991,” in 1991 the nation’s 19,000 nail salons had 2.67 openings than any other type of beauty establishment. The survey did not measure openings for nail technicians in full-service salons. One thing the survey did measure, however, was nail salon staff retention. Nail salons had the shortest individual tenure of all beauty establishments, with only 26% of the salons claiming to have employees still with the salon after three years or more. Virtually none had employees with a 10-year tenure. The survey also noted that 21,221 positions went unfilled in nail salons, due to a “severe nail technician shortage.” It appears that, much like a marriage, a good employer-employee relationship takes a long search, a good match, and continuous nurturing.


Unfortunately, few nail technician recruitment agencies exist. An employer seeking nail technicians will fare better in her search if she possesses an outstanding reputation and employs ingenuity and persistence.

Local help-wanted ads, direct-mail appeals, beauty school courtship, show networking, trade magazine advertisements, and word of mouth remain the primary methods of recruitment. Each has its benefits and drawbacks. If you’re going to run a local advertisement, be prepared for an influx of salon-hoppers, last-pick graduates, and the less-serious-minded. Of course, the possibility exists that you’ll find a jewel or two among them.

Says Shirley Thomas, NCA Nail Technicians America section director and owner of the Hair Port in Palmyra, Ill., “ Ads are a waste of money; you get everyone off the street. If you have to run ads frequently, technicians will wonder why you always need people.”

At Boscov’s salons, located up and down the East Coast, beauty center director Paul Mazzotta views ads a bit differently.

“We run local newspaper ads and regional ads in trade magazines. Ads are a way to let people know you’re looking and to avoid ‘poaching’ from other salons. A combination of all strategies adds up to a continuous flow of potential employees,” he says.

Mazzotta says the 19 Boscov’s salons have over 200 employees and that 20% of them were obtained through word of mouth. He says his recent regional ad in a trade magazine was more targeted than a local newspaper ad and drew 75 responses. However, the bulk of his employees come from school recruiting and newspaper ads, with a smattering of “overlooked” candidates coming from direct-mail efforts.

“We purchase the list of licensed nail technicians and cosmetologists from the State Board of Cosmetology and periodically send postcards to all of them,” he explains. “This is an ethical way to reach everyone. Although some salon owners who get the card at home call us to complain, they later see this is a professional and diplomatic way to recruit. Most of the responses we get are from nail technicians who have been out of the business for a while and are looking to get back in. It’s a good way to reach this group, even though the total response is not high.”

The direct-mail approach makes the most sense for a salon chain, but even salons that are not competitors and are geographically distant from one another can act as a chain and share the costs of a regional trade ad or a direct mailing to a statewide list. The respondents could be divvied up in a way that makes sense geographically, since the average technician won’t travel beyond 20 to 30 miles to work, and the ad could advertise job openings within a wide area. Salons that offer similar benefits packages make the best partners in such a venture.


Recruiting directly from cosmetology schools is an excellent way to find topnotch nail technicians. If your state does not require a cosmetology license to practice manicuring, visit full-option schools with specially instructors first; also consider nails-only training centers.

“Look for a school that trains through demonstrations and practical application,” says PBA’s Hansen. “Check the curriculum to be certain students are trained beyond State Board requirements. Do the instructors teach wraps, tips, gel nails, overlays, nail art, and the real money-making services? Does the school teach students how to work with clients; does it teach communication and retailing skills? Look for a school that goes above and beyond.”

If there isn’t separate nail licensing in your state, make certain the cosmetology students have had a good basic education in manicuring: then rely on your product representatives to help the new employees along. Once you’ve selected a school to work with, recruit in two steps.

Says Hansen, “Visit the school well before graduation and talk to students in the classes. Our nail classes are 10 weeks long and salons visit four to five weeks into the program.”

If  you’ve prepared a strong presentation, most schools will give you access to classrooms filled with potential employees. After all, they want their graduates to secure employment, and 100% placement will enhance the school’s reputation. Continues Hansen, “Be prepared to talk about what your salon offers, your clientele, what you expect from a technician, the type of services you do, your pay and benefits plan, and whether or not you anticipate expanding your menu.”

When you speak to classes about your compensation structure, tell them you guarantee an hourly rate until a technician develops a following.

“After six to nine months, more professionals will want the option to convert to commission because they’ll make more money,” she says. “The point is don’t lock them into one compensation plan or they’ll leave for a salon that allows them to make more money - and they may take their clients with them.”

During the seventh week of a 10-week program, enact phase two of your recruitment program. Invite students to visit your salon. (Of course, during your initial talk, encourage anyone who wants to come by sooner to do so.) You can host an open house and have your staff available to answer questions, or you can allow the students to drop by at their leisure so they can see the salon in action.

New graduates aren’t the only ones you’ll find at schools. Pittsburgh Beauty Academy offers lifetime placement assistance and many schools maintain a job bank so technicians may go back to the school to look for a job. The Artistic Academy in Fairlawn, N. J., gets numerous calls for its students because of the excellent reputation of its 200-hour nail program.

“We get calls from six to seven salons a week looking for technicians,” says Jerry Sinner, who directs nail education. “We put the job information in a book and date the listings. Any graduate can come in and look through the book. Our technicians are known for their speed, and sometimes recent graduates will come in a month or two after starting a job and go through the book because they found the salon they went to work at is too slow or wasn’t what they were looking for. I tell them, ‘Don’t stay if you don’t like it, there are plenty of jobs out there.’”

Sinner’s advice underscores the dilemma owners face today. Given the employee drought, some salons are skipping traditional recruitment routes and are hand-picking people who have not yet become nail technicians.


Hansen says 5% of Pittsburgh Beauty Academy’s students have a financial backer when they enter the school. Adds Sinner, “There is a way for the unemployed to get funding, and displaced workers will find the job opportunities in nail care attractive.” (Local laws vary, but in some states, such as New York, you can collect unemployment and attend school for a limited-time retaining program if you are signed up for school at the time you file for unemployment.)

“I’ve seen all sorts of creative approaches, including salons offering scholarships,” says Charles Penzone, owner of The Grand Salon near Cleveland, Ohio. “I had someone who had been with me 15 months who I sent to school for nails. I put up the money and after a year she paid it back. It was a no-interest loan.

A number of salons report that receptionists and former clients who showed an interest in nails became nail technicians, with the financial backing of a salon. Just remember, when you choose this route, be certain you know the person well and draw up a written contract to protect your investment.

Says Mazzotta, “At times, we award a financial scholarship to someone we know we can bank on. Make certain you and the recipient both agree on the amount of time the recipient will take to pay back the loan (or work for you, if it’s scholarship situation). You might even advertise that you’re offering a scholarship.”

Tradeshows represent another avenue recruiters can take. Attend seminars, strike up conversations with attendees, and let exhibitors know you’re looking for staff. If you meet someone you like, let her know you’re in a hiring mode, hand her your card and invite her visit the salon. This may not bear fruit immediately, but top technicians will almost always explore a good opportunity.


No one will stay at a salon for long working for peanuts, but salary and benefits are rarely the reason a technician leaves a salon. According to Hansen, maintaining communication is the most important factor in retaining your staff.

“Owners of full-service salons are sometimes unfamiliar with nails, with the new products and techniques and all the changes the industry has undergone in the last 10 years,” she says. “Hold weekly and listen to your nail technicians needs they know the business.

“Also, advertise the nail business as much as you do other services, don’t expect all your hair clients to start using nail services. And you can’t stick someone in a corner and expect her to stay. Display nail products with your other retail products, and use counter cards on hairdressers stations to announce your nail services.”

Explains Michele Heim, manager of the Nail Emporium in Pittsburgh, Pa, “Good  pay and job benefits help, but you have to treat everyone fairly. The salon has to be managed right to keep technicians busy.”

Not a single technician we asked for this article said she’d leave a job because of salary. At the Nail Emporium, a nail technician named Debbie says she’ll “probably retire at this salon” because of the way she’s treated. “I’m treated like a person, not a number, “she has emphasizes. “We get surprise bonuses. My husband has a chronic illness, and I was told to take all the time off I need.”

At the Nailway Express in Cockeysville, Md., Annie, a nail, technicians, says stays because the people are great and says she would leave a job if she didn’t get along with the boss. Apparently the salon’s owner, Janet Adams, is doing something right, because other technicians at the salon feel the same way. Says one, who was constantly on and off the phone between clients. “If I’m busy it’s a definite plus, but I’d leave a salon if I didn’t like the people. We have a great staff.”

At one time, former salon owner Maria Buchetta was considering leaving the industry. The owner of Maximus Day Spa in Merrick, Long Island, N.Y. heard about it, courted Buchetta with a terrific training program and the opportunity to learned more, and today, Buchetta says she’s there to stay.

“The educational here is great, “she explains. “In the day spa I have the chance to learn about and do more services. I’ve learned massage techniques for pedicures and about pressure points. We also do a glycolic treatment for aging hands that uses natural glycolic acid derived from fruit juice. There’s no back-stabbing here and the clients love it as much as I do.”


Again and again, technicians say they’ll stay where they’re treated well. If you’re wondering exactly  what that means, Angela Watkins, who teaches a class at Stark Technical College in Canton, Ohio, called “There’s Nothing Wrong With the American Worker That Isn’t Wrong With the American Boss, “ says it all comes down to an employee looking at herself and her policies. Many small-business owners attend Watkins’ seminar, most of whom can’t pay high services.

Explains Watkins, “If you can’t pay more, look at how you communicate and at the underlying attitudes that are built and reinforced by you. Create a level playing field. To get employees to respect the employees to respect the boss-employee relationship, you have to respect the employee-boss relationship first.

The  idea 9 to 5 has to diminish or die. No one ever wrote a book saying the good employee works 9 to 5. Nail salons know this because they’re open extended hours. Without a rigid 9-to-5 attitude, you can be flexible with hours. You can give an afternoon off as a freebie and other employees will pick up the work if they know the employee taking the time off will do the same for them.

“When I had a family emergency I was told to take the time I needed. It completely changed my thinking about my job and the people there. Nail technicians can shift clients and other technicians will go the distance if they know the favor will be returned.

“Let your employees know you’re concerned about them,” she continues. “Recognize birthdays with a lunch, a day off, however you choose to do it. You have the power to be flexible.” Make your employees feel special. There are things that mean much more to them than money!



However your recruit hiring wisely is the best way of ensuring staff retention. During the interview, look first for a positive attitude and commitment. Says salon owner Charles Penzone, “Our salon is committed to a strong training program and our new hires must be committed to learning as well. Most professionals know our reputation and realize they’ll be committing to a 12- to 18-month training program. A strong local reputation is everything when it comes to attracting the right people.”

Lois Christie, who owns Christie & Co. Salon in Bay-side, N. Y., says a thorough interview should include a complete job description. “I want to work with stable people, so I offer health benefits, paid vacation and holidays, and more to keep my staff,” she says. “Explaining the job up front avoids possible misunderstandings that can cause someone to leave. How often have you heard, ‘No one told me I’d have to stay late and help clean up’?

“We work in teams and cross-referring is part of the job. This must be discussed at the interview! A lot of full-service salons think the nail technicians aren’t as important as the hairdressers or colorists, but we don’t believe that. I tell potential technicians that the shampoo persons sets up the client to visit the nail area”

Salon manager Michele Hem works from a list of interview questions that are designed to tell her what she wants to know.

“I look for experience and self-confidence first,” she says. “I ask the interviewee why she enjoys doing nails, what she likes about the industry, whether she considers this a permanent profession, and how she feels about working late. After the questions, I have the job candidate bring in a model, or I get one for her so I can see her work.”


Shirley Thomas agrees that the demo is an important part of any interview. She has the potential employee do nails on an actual salon client or on Thomas herself. “If she’s not intimidated by me, she won’t be intimidated by my clients,” explain Thomas. If your salon mainly caters to professional women, you have to make sure that your new-hire won’t be intimidated or nervous working on them.

“I always ask applicants if they do pedicure” adds Thomas. “Some nail technicians don’t want to and I need employees who will.”

Other key interview questions you may want to ask are these. Why did you decide to become a nail technician. Where do you see yourself in five years? What are your strengths and weaknesses? How often do you expect to take continuing educational courses in the next year? At which services do you excel. Have you had training in retailing? What do you think about the job, as I described it?

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