Business Management

The Dawning of the Temporary Nail Tech

If the concept of nail technician temporary agencies spreads from our Twin Cities, salon owners nationwide will be able to fill last minute vacancies and keep customers happy.

You’re a salon owner whose best nail technician has just informed you that she is leaving for a week to care for her ailing mother. You sympathize, but her daily schedule is crammed, and you don’t want a lot of upset customers. What can you do?

If you live in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area, the answer may be as close as your phone. You call Nan Karnes at Salon Temps, and she’ll send you a qualified nail technician who can fill your vacancy immediately.

Although long used to fill clerical jobs, temporary help is not widespread in the salon industry. However, both salon and technician benefit from hiring through a temporary agency. A technician can try out a salon without committing to a permanent job. A salon owner can temporarily fill a vacant spot and evaluate a potential new employee without losing any customers in the process. Best of all, an owner doesn’t waste time—or money—placing ads or conducting several interviews.

In the case of Salon Temps, the salon pays only an hourly fee to Salon Temps for a temporary employee. Salon owners don’t need to worry about deducting taxes, paying insurance, or providing other benefits, because the temporary agency is the technician’s actual employer. If the salon owner elects to hire the technician as a permanent employee, however, she pays the temporary agency a fee.

Filling an Industry Gap

A few years ago, working as a part-time nail technician, Karnes noticed that her salon was always shorthanded. She assumed that the nail industry would have temporary services available, but when she checked the phone book she found nothing.

“I asked my friends and other people in the industry about temporaries,” she explains. “They all thought that it was a great idea. Starting my own company was something I always wanted to do.”

Karnes had done her market research. She found that a California company had tried the concept and failed. This company had charged the technicians an application fee. But since technicians could get jobs fairly easily in that area on their own, they chose not to pay for the service.

Unlike California, the Twin Cities area suffers from a distinct shortage of nail technicians and hairstylists. Many technicians left the industry years ago because they weren’t making enough money, and many salons went out of business. However, when the dust settled, remaining salons had employment vacancies and no way to fill them. Graduating technicians weren’t taking up the slack, either, because school enrolment plummeted and many schools were also closing.

Sue Hasler, a nail technician from Maple Grove, Minn., feels the shortage of technicians in her area is caused by the low pay a technician receives. She has been with Salon Temps for two months and has been to 12 different salons. Hasler earns more per hour with Salon Temps than she did at any of her full-time positions in her 2 ½ years in the industry.

“At my last job I was making $6 an hour,” says Hasler. “I was then promoted to assistant manager, and all I got for that was an extra $10 a week. With Salon Temps I’m making $6.25 right away, and I might get a raise after 60 days. They also help pay for my mileage.”

The Birth of a Company

With help from friends who had dealt with industrial and nursing temporary agencies, Karnes worked out a business plan. Six months later, in August 1989, Karnes opened Salon Temps out of her home. She needed only one month to realize that her company was right on target.

“Salon Temps grew quite rapidly as soon as it opened,” she says. Salon Temps doubles as both a search firm and a temporary help agency. “Twenty-five percent of my applicants like the variety that temping gives them so much that they have no plans to become a salon employee,” she explains. “They don’t want to be tied down.” However, a solid number of applicants hope to find a permanent position through Salon Temps.

Because of their industry experience, Salon Temps’ technicians have a strong sense of where and how they want to work. The company doesn’t accept new graduates. Karnes checks out each potential candidate’s references, schools, and evaluates their nail application techniques.

Salon Temps technicians are not required to know every type of nail application to be accepted for placement. “However,” says Karnes, “lacking a skill may limit where I can send a tech. It’s difficult to place someone who can sculpt nails but can’t do fibreglass or linen, for example. Sometimes I’ll suggest that they go get extra training.”

Business at Salon Temps varies depending on the time of year. Sometimes Karnes receives five to six calls per week for interviews; at other times she gets double that.

Acting as Mediator

Salon Temps does all the leg work for both parties, telling technicians about a salon’s wages, benefits, and work atmosphere while informing the salon about a technician’s education, work history, personality, and skills.

Salon Temps will also help technicians negotiate with a salon when they receive an offer for a full-time position. For example, Hasler wants to find a permanent job once she finds a work environment that suits her. She has a monthly mortgage looming, and she wants Salon Temps to help her negotiate a better salary and a flexible work schedule.

Gary Dawson, owner of Chez Chevu in Woodbury, Minn., has used Salon Temps’ services for about a year, ultimately hiring six of the 10 temps he used. Dawson likes using temporary help because it relieves him of administrative work but assures him of high quality employees.

“We don’t have to pay the taxes, and the people are qualified and do an excellent job,” he explains. “You don’t have to worry about turning away any clients or providing unsatisfactory service. Salon Temps interviews the candidates for you. They also interview you [the salon owner] at length so they can find an employee to match your style. There’s always a trial period if you think you might want to take on one of the temps full time.”

Sometimes a technician, upon accepting a permanent position, will work part time at the salon to develop a clientele, but will continue doing temporary work for extra money.

Apparently, salon owners aren’t worried about temporary technicians walking away with their clients. “Salons are scattered in such a big area that we’ve never had a problem,” says Karnes. “But we’ve found that whether our temps fill in for renters, independent contractors, or even regular employees, they all want a temp to take their customers rather than send them to another technician within the salon. Temps seem to put people at ease.”

Winning Over Skeptics

While Salon Temp’s business seems to be thriving, most of the 20 or so salon owners interviewed nationwide for this article had never heard of a temporary agency for nail technicians, and frankly, many were sceptical about the concept.

Gary Ahlquist, founder and president of Tensorlon consulting and training services in Chattanooga, Tenn., believes that salons aren’t frantic to fill those vacancies. “Ninety-five percent of all salons have at least one [unoccupied] space, and most have several,” he says.

Kenneth Andres, owner of Kenneth’s DesignGroup in Columbus, Ohio, also has misgivings. Anders, whose employees go through a year-long training program, worries that temps may not feel obligated to perform to the standards he expects of his regular staff.

Richard Calcasola, owner of Maximus Total Beauty Day Spa Deluxe in Merrick, N.Y., is not concerned. “Using a temp agency is the same as filling a position any other way,” he says. “If you have a void in your salon, you need to fill it. It shouldn’t take too long for a technician to pick up on a salon’s techniques and attitudes.”

Perhaps what it comes down to is one’s immediate needs, and the availability of a temporary agency. Irma Cameron, owner of Posh Nails in Minneapolis, Minn., was initially sceptical about hiring a nail technician through a temporary agency. “At first thought, who is going to use this? What if you get someone awful and you have no choice, no control over who your employee is?

“I was also worried about the technician being so good that he or she would steal customers away from me. I’m very particular about my quality standards and never thought I’d use an outsider.”

Cameron didn’t count on her business overflowing, however. When her clients were “practically breaking down the back door,” she called Salon Temps.

After only one day, Cameron knew she wanted Mitchell, her temp, as a permanent member of her staff. Salon Temps offered Cameron a package that only required that Mitchell continue to work under Salon Temps’ payroll for 180 hours before being transferred to the Polish Nails payroll.

Cameron couldn’t be happier. “The clients are very happy with Mitchell,” she says. “He’s exactly what we were looking for—and then some. We’re learning an awful lot from him.”

Karnes is also satisfied with how her shot-in-the-dark business is proceeding. In fact, Salon Temps is so busy that Karnes takes several shifts a week herself. “It’s such a mob scene that we can’t fill all the positions,” she explains. “It also allows me to keep my fingers in the technical skill end of the industry.”

As for future plans, Karnes contemplates opening new sites around the country. She has looked in a few areas but she says that a new office is at least a year away.

Perhaps someone else, inspired by Salon Temps’ success, will start another salon-related temporary agency or chain. Perhaps the many sceptics will try a temporary agency if one sprouts up in their area. Cameron, a former skeptic, swears she would use a temp again “without hesitation.” But until more salon-related temporary agencies are introduced outside the Twin Cities, the rest of the nail world will just have to twiddle its thumbs and wait.

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