Business Management

How to Take 15 Minutes Off Any Service

Develop a unique plan to make your services lean, mean, and profitable. Consider these real-life strategies to tame the clock, increase revenues, and stay on time.

I feel like a juggler some days. Fifty things in the air, six in my hands, and several I can’t even see. Not to mention the chaos a simple change can cause. But hey, that’s life in a nail salon. We begin the day with a schedule (though its often overflowing), and then the fun starts. Our first client forgets her appointment time, another requires some special unexpected repair work, and yet another just can’t choose that perfect color to wear for Friday night. On top of this is the note you just received from your accountant that says “Operating costs are up—increase revenue.”

It’s a predicament. You need a plan of action.

A Minute Saved . . .

Time Saved 1 day (5 clients a day) 1 month (20 days) 1 year (240 days)
  1 min      5 mins    1 hr 40 mins   20 hrs or almost a full day
5 mins  25 mins  8 hrs 20 mins  100 hrs= 4+ full days
10 mins  50 mins  16 hrs 40 mins  200 hrs= 8+ full days
15 mins  1 hr 15 mins  1 day 1 hr  300 hrs= 12 ½ full days

Do-It-Yourself Efficiency Studies

To develop your own time/work study, you will need to pick a single service and break it down into its required components. Define where those components take place and any micro-movements required to complete each.


  1. Liquid-and-Powder Fills
  2. Client washes hands
  3. Polish removal
  4. Inspect nails
  5. Push back cuticles
  6. Talk to client about service
  7. File prep
  8. Cleanse/dehydrate
  9. Primer
  10. Apply liquid and powder
  11. File, buff, finish
  12. Cleanse
  13. Polish
  14. Dry

You may have noticed that some components may be done at the same time as others, such as inspecting the nails and talking with the client while removing the polish. You may have also noticed that some steps often require many smaller steps. Applying liquid and powder can be broken down into many movements. If one of those movements is rifling through a drawer to find the right color of powder or struggling with a form, then you have just spotted a time-waster. And others, such as washing hands and drying polish, don’t require technician “chair time” and should take place in another area of the salon (while you are with another client).

The question your study must answer is, “How are you using your time and motions now?” If at all possible, have an assistant or coworker act as a time and motion tracker for you. If that is not possible, borrow a video camera and set it up to record you performing services. Study one type of service at a time. Once you have developed a written plan for that service, you can move on to another.

Carefully evaluate the services to identify motions that can be eliminated or shortened in duration. As a veteran nail tech, I “see” the finished nail with my thumb. I feel the surface for imperfections and sharp edges. When studying my own habits, I quickly found I rubbed each nail much longer than needed, taking up an additional 45 seconds total. Don’t laugh. Time adds up, or more accurately, it is subtracted as we waste it.

I also found that I spent three minutes looking for things. I’m pretty organized, but this led to me making a tray of supplies I could pull out that was specifically for one service. Then I put all of the trays in a cabinet within arm’s reach of each station. No more getting up and down.

Surprisingly, I also found that scheduling using 15-minute blocks was stealing time, and I have gone to 10-minute blocks. A 50-minute service is scheduled for 50 minutes instead of an hour. A 10-minute service is scheduled for 10 minutes, not 15. Tiny spaces are filled with polish changes and repairs or add-ons of other services. I was amazed at how the little time wasters ate away at my day without me even realizing it.

By evaluating your unique way of completing services, you will have the information needed to cut your service times. Most of the time, it’s not about learning a fancy new technique but more about refining what you already know and do. There is a saying my engineer friends use: “The best solution is usually the simplest solution.”

General Principles to Work More Efficiently

Location, location, location: Put this cardinal rule of real estate and business to work inside the salon. Where do tasks need to be performed? Spas move clients to calm areas after services, where they can take their time in resurfacing to the real world. Could you move polishing, drying, or making of appointments to another area? Ask yourself which tasks must be performed by the nail technician and which tasks may be performed by an assistant, client coordinator, or receptionist. Rearrange the flow of the salon to support minimum effort.

Overlap where necessary: schedule clients so one client can begin soaking for her pedicure while you finish polishing another. One client can be soaking off a set of nails while you are rebalancing someone else. Overlapping can save anywhere from five minutes to a whopping hour, depending on the services.

Get support: “I hired an assistant. She is my biggest time saver,” says Sherri Evans-Dahin of Nail Divas On Main in Yuma, Ariz. “She schedules my appointments, keeps the salon clean, answers the phone, sets up and breaks down for pedicures, gets pedicure clients started soaking, removes polish, and starts any soak-offs for me. She keeps me on time and my schedule flowing.”

Working in batches: Work in batches whenever possible. If you use metal implements in services, then start the day with enough to carry you through the day. At the end of each service, deposit them into a soiled implement container and scrub and disinfect them in one batch at the end of the day. It will take less time to complete and will require less product. You can then dry and store them for the next day. You wouldn’t wash one towel at a time, would you?

Technical Time-Saving Tips

Filling enhancements: Electric file expert Vicki Peters says that when she switched from hand filing to electric filing for shaping, she saved at least 10 minutes.But not at first. Because she was such a precision hand filer it took some time getting used to the electric file before her speed increased. Her filing routine also saves time. Being consistent with the steps makes a big difference. She starts by shaping the perimeter of the nail with a hand file. The rest of the top surface shaping is done with a fine or medium-small carbide barrel. She then refines and bevels the cuticle area with a fine safety bit before applying UV gel sealant, eliminating the need for buffing.

“A great timesaver is changing out your drill bits. They’re not meant to last forever,” says Austin, Texas-based success coach and nail tech Heather Goodwin. “I change my bits every three weeks, which allows maximum prep work and finish work to be done in the quickest fashion, without causing discomfort to the client. Also, use sanitizable files and only use them two or three times before tossing. Dull files will cost you time.”

Pedicures: Save time on pedicures by accepting that you cannot fix six months of damage in one session. Stop trying to remove the calluses and educate the client that calluses are there to protect against trauma and should be reduced gradually. Resist the urge to use a credo blade. Instead, retail a home treatment containing AHAs to help start breaking them down. Pre-book several pedicure appointments. For regular pedicures, do a basic massage. Up-sell appointments for longer massages or reflexology. Try disposable pedicure tubs to reduce clean-up and disinfection time.

Gel nails: To save time, use two UV lamps at the station. You can cut service time in half. You will never caught waiting for a hand to come out of the UV lamp. Trading off your clients’ hands in the lamp allows you to always get a full cure, which reduces service breakdown and the chance of allergic reactions. Too many times the cure time is reduced to save time, but this backfires. Remember to change the UV bulbs regularly for the best results.

Playing Catch Up: When Clients Are Late

What do you do when a client is late and there is just no way to complete the whole service? Unfortunately, this happens too frequently. Your client gets caught in traffic, the train is late, or she simply loses track of time. The art of salvaging time is the key to preventing lost revenue. Most of the techs I talked with charge clients for the originally booked service. Communication and education are the skills that will prevent problems in the future.

“At M&M Nails and Wellness Center, we have a late policy that is posted in-house, as well as on our service menu,” says owner Maisie Dunbar. If a guest is 15 minutes late, we explain that we might have to alter her treatment. We may have to skip the hand massage if it is a manicure or enhancement service, or forego the paraffin if it is a pedicure.”

La’Shaun Brown-Glenn of Nails Naturally in Chicago says, “If a client is more than 15 minutes late for a pedicure, she has to decide if she wants to eliminate paraffin or polish from the service. We complete as much of the service as time permits and charge for the time that was reserved.”

Things We All Know— But Might Have Forgotten

  • Talk to the hand! No disrespect intended. Look up less often while performing services to maintain your pace.
  • Keep supplies fully stocked—and nearby—including back-ups of frequently used items.
  • Sculpt enhancements with your brush, not with your nail file.
  • Schedule a break. It is hard to maintain your pace if you are tired or hungry.
  • Educate clients about expectations.
  • Work within systems to get the best results.
  • Keep up with continuing education to make sure you are using products as intended. (Veterans, remember back in the day when we wasted all that time with multiple coats of primer?)
  • Practice, practice, practice. All the tips in the world will not help if you don’t practice them.

A Comical Time/Motion Study on Form Application

Although it may cause you to chuckle in recognition, this nail form how-to from Colleen VanDurme of Tips2Toes Nail Studio in Dansville, N.Y, illustrates quite well the importance of doing what you know, and practicing what you could do better.

Analyze client’s finger. Go to drawer filled with forms. Pull out roll of forms. Realize a form from the roll is stuck to the side of drawer. Yank free. Lose grip on roll. Watch as whole roll spools to the floor. Spend 20 minutes re-rolling forms. Peel off one form. Bend and roll to get it right. Wrestle with client to get her to hold her finger correctly. Slide form under free edge. Bend, shape, fold . . . analyze.

Remove form. Re-bend, re-shape, re-fold . . . analyze. Repeat . . . get it near perfect (aka “good enough”). Release grasp on form, realize form is permanently stuck to self. Try to pull free. Form rips. Mutter explicit language in head.

Remove form from client. Apologize for skin removal. Open garbage to throw ripped form away. Spend 10 minutes unpeeling form as it sticks to the fingers on each of hands in turn. Close garbage, stick ripped form on side of nail table instead. Get a new form out.

Start over. After 20 minutes, get out box of tips. Proceed as usual. Walk around for the rest of the day with a form stuck to the bottom of shoe.

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