Nail Trends

What’s It Going to Take to Make It in the ‘90s?

The 1980s were a time of extreme growth for the salon industry, and nails were its fastest-growing segment. Nail salons cropped up, it seemed on every corner. While this rapid growth was positive in that it brought professional nail care services to public attention, it also resulted in a proliferation of lower-quality establishments, which did not maintain acceptable standards of cleanliness or service.

The 1980s were a time of extreme growth for the salon industry, and nails were its fastest-growing segment. Nail salons cropped up, it seemed on every corner. While this rapid growth was positive in that it brought professional nail care services to public attention, it also resulted in a proliferation of lower-quality establishments, which did not maintain acceptable standards of cleanliness or service. These establishments, in turn, dimmed the public’s view of nail services in general.

Many experts predict the demise of the low-quality nail salon, however. For one thing, nail technicians themselves are beginning to address the problem. Across the country, technicians who witness unhealthy or unsafe practices in salons are reporting those salons to state cosmetology boards, insisting that the state boards enforce the standards they have set, or set standards if they haven’t already done so.

Technicians are also organizing, joining professional associations to further their education and increase the credibility of their chosen profession.

While the salon that consistently provides low-quality nail care, resulting in infection and dissatisfied customers, may be on its way out, the price-competitive salon is here to stay, most experts agree.

“It’s important to remember that lower prices don’t necessarily mean bad nails,” one manufacturer says. “Obviously, you’re not going to get the same kind of service for $20 a full set as you are for $50 a full set, but the client who goes to the $20 salon isn’t looking for the same thing as the client who goes to the $50 salon. Sure, she wants great nails, but she wants them in a hurry. She doesn’t want gourmet coffee and snacks. She doesn’t really care if there’s music in the background, or if the technician remembers her name. She wants her nails done, period. And if she can’t get them done for the price she wants to pay, she’s not going to get them done at all.”

Others agree that there is a place for the lower-priced salon. “We see upper-end salons increasing and lower-end salons increasing, with the middle shrinking, opting either up or down,” says another manufacturer. This manufacturer points to recent economic trends and  the idea that the middle class is shrinking, as many economists see us moving toward an ever-widening gap between the haves and the have-nots.

“The economy is headed for a recession, if it’s not already in one,” says a third manufacturer. “This is going to have an impact on all businesses, including salons. Although we’ve heard that the beauty industry is recession-proof, that doesn’t mean it isn’t touched by the economy. There isn’t a need for a major panic, but salons need to be aware of what’s going on. And the salons that succeed will be the ones that go one extra step, either by offering extra services, cutting prices, or somehow setting themselves apart from the rest.”          

For the salon that doesn’t cut prices, that prices itself on providing quality nail service in a luxurious atmosphere, going full-service is that extra step that will separate it from the not-so-successful salon.

“In order to succeed in the ‘90s, the nail technician must adopt a full-service doctrine,” declares a manufacturer. “She must be skilled at all levels of her profession. She has to be able to do acrylics, gels, wraps of all kinds, natural nails—whatever the client wants. The only way she is going to stay profitable is to have a full appointment book, and the only way to do that is to provide the services clients need and want.

“Price cutter salons are a fact of life,” this manufacturer continues. “The idea that price-cutting salons present unfair competition to quality salons is an easy excuse. The client who gets a full set for $19.95 is not going to pay $65 for that full set. The client who goes to the $65 salon is going for a lot more than a quick, cheap set of nails. She is going for atmosphere, for the technician’s personality, for the extra pampering she receives, and she is not going to sacrifice any of that for a cheaper set of nails.”

“Basically,” adds another manufacturer, “the rule of thumb is, if you’re good at what you do, you can make an honest living at it. If you treat your customers right, you will keep them. But they aren’t going to come back if they’re not happy, no matter how little you charge.”

It takes more than before to make clients happy in the ‘90s. Experts agree that today’s client is more discriminating. She’s heard about fungus and infections, and she wants to know what you are going to do to protect her. She’s also heard that there are many service options—acrylics, odourless systems, wraps, gels, etc.—and she wants to know if you provide them all.

Today’s client is also busier than in days gone by. The number of women who work outside the home continues to rise, and these women, particularly if they have families, are in a double bind. Their appearance is more important to them, but they have less time to devote to their appearance because they are working all day.

Nails are important to the working woman. Many women would no more attend a meeting with clients without their nails done than they would attend a meeting without makeup. Nails are part of the total professional look, and working women today take their total look very seriously. The nail technician is an important part of this woman’s life, because she doesn’t have the time to do her own nails.

In today’s busy world, leisure time is a precious commodity. People who have money to spend are more than willing to spend it on services that will save them time. Nail care is one of those services.

For this reason, many people foresee nails being incorporated into full-service beauty salons. Today’s busy client has enough demands on her time and often would prefer the convenience of getting her hair, nails, and skin taken care of in the same salon.

In the 1980s, nails-only salons became popular largely because of a reluctance on the part of full-service beauty salon owners to incorporate nails into their salons, say several manufacturers. Salon owners were concerned with acrylic odor, or felt that adding a new service would be disruptive to the existing employees. Many failed to see the market potential and believed nails to be a flash-in-the-pan.

Today, full-service beauty salon owners are realizing that nails are a profit center and are incorporating the service into their salons. New technologies have provided options in the forms of low or no odor acrylic systems, gels, and wraps. These new services are not disruptive to the salon atmosphere. In fact, offering nails in the salon can actually increase the hair and skin service clientele as well, as salon employees work out mutual referral relationships. Also, because nails are part of a total look, a salon can no longer bill itself as “full-service” if it doesn’t offer nail services.

When a nail technician is hired in a full-service beauty salon, she has needs that must be met by that salon if the nail services in the salon are to be successful. First and foremost, she needs to be treated as an equal part of the salon. This means she should have enough space to perform her services, and this space should be in a prominent part of the salon to give her a high profile among existing clients. Also, she needs adequate ventilation to ensure her working area—indeed, the entire salon—is safe, pleasant place to be. Finally, she needs the same amount of retail and promotional support as her fellow employees enjoy. Gone are the days when a salon owner relegated a nail technician to the little corner by the back door of the salon. Today’s technician knows the importance of her profession, and won’t stand for such belittling treatment.  

None of this means, however, that the nails-only salon is in danger of extinction. Full-service nail salons that offer all types of nail services will continue to gain popularity. However, in order to remain competitive, today’s technician needs to pay very close attention to the needs of her clients.

Many salons are recognizing that the average beauty client is not able to come into the salon during the day because she is at work. These savvy salon owners are following the lead of health clubs and opening their doors early in the morning and staying open late at night. Doing so requires a split shift, of course, but many salons report that the increase in business and customer goodwill more than makes up for an increase in staff. An added bonus: Salon employees who also have families or other daytime commitments enjoy the increased flexibility.

With clients learning more and more about nail care services. It’s imperative that technicians stay one step ahead of them with continuing education. One manufacturer recommends that all technicians take a class once every three months, just to make sure they are up to date on new technology. The time to learn about a new service is before your clients start asking for it.

Speaking of education, what’s going on with cosmetology schools lately? A few years ago, government loans and grants for vocational education were easy to obtain. This resulted in a glut of vocational schools (including cosmetology schools), and a high level of government-assisted enrolment. Unfortunately, some of these schools were not training students properly. When graduates were unable to find employment, they were unable to repay their student loans. Finally, the government reduced funding for vocational education. While this has resulted in the failure of some schools, many industry leaders believe the ultimate outcome will be positive.

“With the government funding down, we’re going to see a lot of the people who decided to go to beauty school just because it was easy and the government would pay for it—people who really aren’t interested in the industry—are going to be weeded out,” says one manufacturer who works with several beauty schools. “The people who do enroll in school are going to be more motivated, and they are going to work harder and do a better job. And they’re going to succeed. People who are looking for an easy way to make a living will have to look elsewhere.”

But for those who truly love the nail industry, who are willing to work hard and continue to increase their knowledge, nails can provide a very good living indeed.

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