A Salon Is a Salon

We can learn a few lessons from our hair industry cousins (and avoid some of their growing pains).

We need to stop thinking of nails-only salons as being different from hair salons. Nail salons are not different, they’re just specialized.

Entrepreneurial in nature and boutique by design, all salons are primarily service retailers. There are no real operating differences between hair, skin, full-service, or nail salons. All salon owners, no matter what their service expertise, make their living by selling fashion in the form of technical services, expert advice, and professional products.

All salons, whether they do nails or offer full-body makeovers, are in the business of meeting a client’s beauty, grooming, and emotional needs.

All salons must make the client look and feel better by providing expert service, professional advice, caring attention, and superior products. If they do, they prosper---if they don’t, they’re history.

With that commonality in mind, nail salon owners and technicians can benefit greatly by examining the history and development of the full-service salon. Despite what some may think, nails-only and full-service salons experience most of the same business problems. They also share most of the same opportunities for growth.

Nail salons may find that there are lessons to be learned by studying the experiences of its older hair salon cousins. Perhaps it is even possible to avoid some of the growing pains felt by those as well.

That need to learn is exactly the reason nail manufacturers organized the Nail Manufacturers Council under the umbrella of the American Beauty Association (ABA).

Gary Sperling, vice president of Alpha 9, states, ‘’We joined the Nail Manufacturers Council to get inside thoughts about the entire salon industry. There’s a lot of knowledge to be gathered from the giants of hair, learning of their victories and defeats, our company will benefit and grow.’’

Christian Jahn, marketing director for Star Nail Products, adds, ‘’We joined the ABA because we felt nails were no longer a stepchild of the hair business. We felt it was important that nail manufacturers unite, work together on common concerns, and take our rightful place in the greater salon industry.’’


Nails is a relatively young part of the salon industry. While the nail industry was considered the stepchild of the hair industry for many years, nails’ phenomenal growth has changed that perspective. In 1990, total professional nail care services earned $3.4 billion sales, 10% of the salon industry’s $30 billion gross sales revenues last year. Pedicuring services produced more than $400 million of that amount, and artificial nails generated over $1.2 billion.

Nails have been increasing in importance to the beauty industry as a whole every year. From 1989 to 1990, manicure service sales were up more than 30%, pedicure services up 10%, and artificial nail services approximately 9%. This growth trend is expected to continue in the years ahead.

But nails-only salons aren’t the only ones benefitting from this growth. Full-service salons have discovered the profit potential in nail services. While their prime focus  will likely remain on hair, full-service salons have learned that offering expanded  nail services increases client traffic as well as non-nail service and retail sales.


In the early 1960’s , the U.S. salon industry was made up primarily of corner barber shops ‘’ and ‘’wash and set’’ beauty parlors. When fashion introduced long hair to men (you remember the Beatless), unisex salons started to spring up throughout the country. This changed the direction of the salon industry. Barber shops and beauty parlors started to disappear, and unisex salons took their place.

By 1980, the old taboos against men and women getting their hair done together had all but disappeared. Unisex, as a term, became unimportant. Men and women were openly having their hair done at salons.

Today, approximately 25% of all salon clients are men. Male nail services generated more than $105 million in 1990. During the 1970s and 1980’s, another phenomenon was occurring at the salon. Hair salon owners had discovered that when they offered the client more services, in relatively the same space, the salon and the stylist made more money. Salons quickly adopted a philosophy of full service. They expanded the scope of their services and set new business goals. Cutting hair was no longer enough---they wanted to cut, color and perm their male and female clients.

They also wanted to do their makeup, care for their skin and nails, and sell them more professional products.

Today, only about 20% of all salons in the U.S. are full-service. However, that 20% generates an estimated 80% of all U.S. salon industry sales revenues.


The average full-service salon in the U.S is generating 15% to 20% of its total sales revenue from nail services and retail nail products sales. In recent years, nail departments have proven to be important  profit centers for full-service salons. They yield a high return on investment, increase salon traffic , and generate new sales  of non nail services and products.

Sperling notes, ‘’ More and more hair salons are turning into mini beauty supplies, and beauty supplies are turning into salons. If nail salons are going to make it in this competitive environment, they need to find new ways to bring clients in and to keep them coming back, That’s why retailing is so important; it’s a great traffic builder.’’


Increasingly, full-service salons are turning to nails to increase profits. More so-called hair salons are moving their nail sections from the back of the salon to the front. And as they do, they signify a source of stiffer competition for the nails-only salon. If you have any doubts, just look around. Chic, uptown hair salons increasingly give equal space to their nail areas.

The reason for this shift in nail emphasis is simple. The average hair client comes into the salon every six weeks. Nail clients, on the other hand, visit every two weeks. By promoting nail services, the full-service salon owner brings clients into the salon three times as often---and hears her registering three times as often.

Jahn states, ‘’Salon owners tell us that nail services are more profitable per square foot than hair services. Nail salons have only just begun to retail their professional products. Across the board, nail products are already generating billions of dollars in sales. It is time that nail salons captured their fair share.’’

But there is another, equally important reason that full-service salons are moving their nail areas upfront. A nail client, when seated comfortably in the nail technician’s chair has time to look around, ask questions and buy.

It doesn’t take hairstyling training to sell products. A well-trained nail technician can sell perms and hair color, facials, waxing, and retail products of all kinds. In reality, full-service salon nail technicians to better use their time with the client, the full-service salon is increasing its service sales, retail sales, and its profitability.

According to Carol Phillips, a salon educator, former salon owner, and author of ‘’In the Bag’’ (due out later this year): ‘’Just from a profitability standpoint, nails-only salons need to retail more. Nail technicians have a great advantage; they have the client in a chair for 30 minutes. Nail clients have the time to talk and are not restrained from listening.’’

Let’s learn a lesson from our full service salon cousins. Nail salons can expand services to include skin care, makeup, and hair. They can also sharpen their competitive edge by increasing profits through retailing. It does take more people, it doesn’t take more space. All it takes is the resolve to do it.

W. Denis Hand is a salon industry consultant and the former editor of Salon Biz Magazine. 







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